Who is really blind? -- Lectionary Reflection for Lent 4A

John 9:1-41 (New Revised Standard Version)
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”  (Continue reading at Bible Gateway)
            For many readers the story of the man born blind will be a familiar story.  As often happens in John’s gospel, Jesus comes upon a person who provides the fodder for a story or teaching moment.  In this case, as he is walking along the path near the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, Jesus comes upon a man who was born blind.  The disciples, seemingly intrigued by the man’s condition, ask Jesus why the man is blind.  Was it his sins or that of his parents that led to this disability?  In reply, Jesus rejects the premise – at least in this case – and suggests that this man’s blindness offers the opportunity for God’s power to be revealed.  In other words, this will serve as a conversation starter – this time regarding spiritual blindness.   There is, in this case, physical blindness, but it’s not the only kind of blindness.  There are those who can see just fine, but live in spiritual darkness. 

            This is a lengthy passage, which in reality continues on into the tenth chapter, and so we can easily get lost in the weeds.  But the point here isn’t the healing itself, but the problem of spiritual blindness.  The light from God is present, but can we see it?   It is clear that there are those, like the religious authorities, who fail to see the light.  They are so focused on rules (Sabbath in this case) that they’re unable to see what God is doing in their midst.   Since the healing of the man’s blindness – something he never sought – occurred on the Sabbath, they wanted to know who broke the rules.    

The inquiry conducted by the Pharisees will include testimony from both the formerly blind man and his parents.  They want to know who it was who healed the man.  They also want to get testimony from the man as to the identity of the one who healed him.  Does he think the man is a prophet?  The man who was healed, can’t say for sure, but assumes that this healing came from God.  When they can’t get the information they desire, they decide that maybe he wasn’t blind after all.  That is, until they brought in the parents who confirmed his blindness.  But they don’t know who it was who healed him.  In fact, they suggested that their son was an adult and could speak for himself.  After all, to confess Jesus as Messiah would lead to expulsion from the synagogue.  In the second interrogation session, the inquisitors try to bully the man.  They insist that he “give glory to God” and suggest that Jesus is really a sinner. 

It’s at this point that the tables get turned on the inquisitors.  They want to coerce testimony, but the formerly blind man is too quick for them.  They insist Jesus is a sinner, but the formerly blind man confesses that he doesn’t know whether Jesus is a sinner or not.  All he knows is that “though I was blind, now I see.”  This verse has its important echo in the John Newton hymn “Amazing Grace”: “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”   

The question is in what ways have we been blind (spiritually), that is in a state of darkness?  The previously blind man, has had his sight restored, but those who question him live in a state of spiritual blindness where they are unable to see the work of God in their midst.  They’ve missed the sign.  They’re quite sure that God could not be listening to Jesus, because he doesn’t play by their rules.  The previously blind man, however, recognizes that such a sign – restoring sight – must be from God, for without God Jesus could do nothing.  So who is it that is able to discern God’s presence?  The religious leaders cannot bear the thought that this person, whom they likely deemed cursed by God, could be teaching them theology.  They, therefore, kick him out of the synagogue. 

The passage concludes with Jesus revealing himself to the man, whom the religious authorities had excommunicated.   Jesus asks if this man who stands outside the established religious realm if he believes in the Son of Man, and he asks Jesus who this Son of Man is so he can believe.  When Jesus points to himself, the man believes and “worshiped him.”   In the realm of eschatological and apocalyptic thinking, the Son of Man is the one who comes in judgment – the man faces this judge and is welcomed by him.  Having had his eyes opened he is able to recognize that he stands in the presence of God (revealed in the person of Jesus), and thus finds it necessary to express his wonder in worship, and as Gail O’Day points out, the man “fulfills the authorities’ demand that he give glory to God” (v. 24). [The New Interpreter's Bible: Luke - John (Volume 9),  p. :661]. 

The man who was healed recognizes that God is present in Jesus.  The religious leaders remain spiritually blind, still contending that the work of Jesus is demonic.  In their resistance to him, their blindness – their sin – is revealed.

So the question is – where does our own spiritual blindness lie?  In what ways are we unable to see the presence of God in our midst?  But more importantly, how does Jesus open our eyes to the things of God?  How does he reveal our blind spots so that we can let go of them and give glory to God?   The good news is that there is amazing grace available to us so as to open our eyes to the new reality that is God's presence, so that we might give glory to God!


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