Toorak Uniting Church

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Blindness un-covered

John 9: 1 – 41
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8am, 6 March, 2005

There is a blind man sitting at the gate of the Temple. He has probably been there for years. Blind since birth, a pretty hopeless case, he sits at the gate hoping temple visitors will remember their duty to give alms to the poor and needy after they have attended to their worship duties.

When they see him the disciples wonder who is to blame. In those days when people knew only little about illness and what caused it, it was believed that illness was a punishment from God. So their question makes sense: Who sinned? Whose fault is it?

Questions still asked today, even where we know a lot more about the origin of illness. Background, eating habits, lifestyle, there is quite a lot to ask and talk about when it comes to illness. Nowadays people still seeking explanations, still trying to put the blame on something or somebody. If it is somebody’s fault, if there is something to blame we don’t have to feel responsible you see, then it got nothing to do with us, we can just shake our heads and continue on our way. Poor chap, blind from birth, it must have been something his parents did……

Jesus does not join the blame game. He does not pass the buck on to the man, the parents, the environment, a bacteria or something else that will leave him in peace. He stops and sees a possible opportunity. Sees somebody that needs help and wants to be helped. Sees a human being in need.

A bit of mud, a bit of saliva turned into a paste is applied to the eyes and the man receives the command to go to the pool of Siloam to wash the dirty stuff off.

Now this was fairly normal practice among healers in those days. People thought Saliva contained some of the power of the healer and earth was supposed to have all sorts of healing power, it being the stuff we are made of and return to. The more powerful the healer, the more powerful the saliva and the more chance there was for healing to take place.
The blind man would have known this, and is quite prepared to be smeared with mud and go to Siloam to see if this mudstuff is powerful enough to give him back the light in his eyes.
And indeed, he returns healed, Jesus proving once more that he is a powerful healer that can work quite spectacular miracles.
There is nothing that special about that, really. We all know that there are people around that can work miracles, that some people seem to be able to make things happen we can’t really explain and that it is wonderful if it does and somebody that was otherwise given up as hopeless finds healing.

That however is not quite what this story is about.

Jesus says: this man was born blind so the glory of God would be revealed in him.

There is a point to this healing, and that point is that Jesus is the light of the world that un-covers the darkness and brings the glory of God to light.

Darkness is uncovered in those who surround the man and the miracle:

The neighbors find it hard to believe that the man they deemed beyond help has had his eyes opened. They find it hard to believe that the man they have seen sitting near the gate for years has suddenly joined their side of the fence and is now part of them, healthy and whole. It can’t be, those things don’t happen….
And that again will happen today. We are suspicious when people get suddenly and miraculously healed. We don’t trust sudden and complete changes, be it physical or psychological. It offends our sense of order and propriety. We find it hard to believe that somebody that has been born blind would suddenly see. We deem it impossible.
We want to know how, we try to get a handle on it, like the neighbors of this man. How did it happen? Was it a bacteria that reacted positively to the mud and saliva, was it the shock of the cold water, had the man been healed any way and was this just a happy coincidence? How did it happen?
A question that has no satisfactory answer other than: this man called Jesus did…

They, other than Jesus, have never seen any opportunity or possibility in this man. They have stopped expecting anything positive could happen to him long ago. And they find it difficult to let that presupposition go.

But Jesus does, and haleluja, healing takes place and the man, for the first time in his life, sees the light. And he sees more than that, he does not only see day light, he is immediately confronted with the eternal light, the light of the world.

The neighbors don’t know what to make of it, so they bring the man to the Pharisees. The religious authorities. They should be able to make sense out of this. What do they think of this chap that is going around opening eyes?

The Pharisees are even more worried than the neighbors: The healing has taken place on the Sabbath. Who does this Jesus fellow think he is? The light of the world? The living water? Rubbish! He is violating the rules, healing is only permitted on the Sabbath in an emergency. The chronically ill can easily wait that extra day can’t they? Proof enough that there is something not right with this guy. He doesn’t have the necessary papers, he is not one of us, he doesn’t keep to the rules. We don’t want anything to do with it!

Then they call the parents of the man. They are put in a difficult spot: if they say anything positive about Jesus they risk being thrown out of Synagoge, and become religious outcasts. On the other hand: it is their son that has been miraculously healed and they are happy for him. So they decide to keep their distance and play safe. Yes he is our son, no we don’t know what happened.

The neighbors, the Pharisees, the parents and even the disciples don’t see. They are pre-occupied with their own worries and hang-ups. They are left in the dark where Jesus is concerned.

When the blind man returns it is with eyes that have clearly been opened to more than just the outward appearance of things. He sees deeper and further than the everyday ordinary "the way things are" sort of way. He stands up and speaks up. To him it has become evident that Jesus is from God. I don’t know if this man is a sinner he says, he opened my eyes and to me that is proof enough that this man is from God.

In contrast with the resistance of his neigbors, the plain hostility of the Pharisees and the hesitant caution of his parents, this man grows to faith. His eyes open to more than one reality all at once.

It costs him dearly. He is thrown out of the temple, a place he had probably just entered for the first time. An outcast once more, pre figuring what will happen to the one he just confessed faith in. Once again Jesus finds him, outside the temple, and his eyes are opened even further than they already were. This time to see the full glory of God as it is in Jesus Christ and believe that this is the son of Man, the beloved of God.

A wonderful story, but surely, not one that very much applies to us. We all live with our eyes wide open. We are all followers of Christ, we know he looks on the poor and downtrodden, we believe he can bring light in any darkness, even work miracles if he feels like it. We know him to be Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of all creation. That he makes the rules instead of having to keep to them. We would not dream of putting the rules we live by before the well being of anybody, we see opportunities to work God’s light in God’s work galore, we never give up on anybody and we would not dream of judging anything that was beyond our comprehension and everyday experience negatively. Or would we?

If there is one thing the story shows it is that paradoxically blindness is not the real problem of the man who was born blind. On the contrary: Blindness is the problem of those who think they see clearly. It is them that miss the point completely. The opportunity for revelation not in those who think they have arrived but in the man who would have been deemed the least likely to be able to show any of the glory of God. Suddenly I am not quite sure whose side I am on, and I hope you are neither. Because I think that is exactly the point this story tries to make.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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