The crux of chapter 9 of John, which you’ll be reading shortly, is found at the beginning and end. In between, we find examples that illustrate the points being made. The verses that make up the middle paragraphs are rich with symbolism, but there’s only so much that can be covered in one page. So I will concentrate mostly on the beginning and ending. This is a powerful testament to including rather than excluding those we deem unacceptable.
Below are verses 1-7, followed by verses 30-41. I’ll then paraphrase the middle verses during the course of this post.
1-7: As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. The 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 the one 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 [anointed] the mud on his eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and returned seeing [not simply “seeing”, but “perceiving”].
30-34: The man replied, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but does listen to one who worships and obeys God’s will. Since the world began it has not been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this one were not from God, he could do nothing.” They [the Pharisees] said to him, “You were born entirely in sins, and you are teaching us?” And they cast him out.
35-41: Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’ [we perceive correctly], your sin remains.”
There’s an irony here. The man born blind is brought to see clearly and to worship Jesus. The religious leaders perceive this man’s blindness to be an indication of sin. Jesus says the real sin is in claiming to see clearly while choosing to remain blind.
The middle sections simply illustrate this main point. In verses 8-12 we can read that the neighbors – those who knew this man – believed him to be a sinner. They spoke disparagingly about him – called him a beggar – right in front of his face. They asked him what happened, and he told them. They didn’t believe him.
Then, in verses 13-17, we hear that these folks took him to the Pharisees – the religious leaders. They ask what happened – the man answers. The Pharisees want to condemn Jesus on the technicality of working on the Sabbath. The Sabbath, though, is not the point. The point is that they do not want to see – they are too caught up in their own rigid judgment.
Verses 18-23 tell us that the Jews didn’t believe the man’s testimony. The parents – remember them, the disciples asked if it was because of their sin that the man was blind – the parents are called on the carpet. We hear now that Pharisees have known about Jesus, and have put out the word that anyone who claims Jesus as the messiah will be put out of the temple. The religious leaders are beginning to seem – well, less than innocent.
Then verses 24-29 tell us that the Pharisees pressured the man to denounce Jesus in the name of God and insist that he retell his story. They basically say that Jesus couldn’t be from God because they perceive Jesus to be a sinner. The rigidity of the leadership is causing blindness – but they think they have the only right vision – and the only right to judge. They are protecting their turf – even to the point of threatening.
We reach again the place where the one born blind teaches the Pharisees. In doing so, this person knows he is about to be rejected and despised, but he states clearly that he believes Jesus is from God. The predictable response – they exclude him from the temple.
There are key points I wish to deal with this morning.
The first is the Pharisaical practice of punishing the victim. This is even apparent in the first question of the disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Grammatically, there two distinctly different ways of translating Jesus’ answer. The usual way is along the lines of what we heard this morning, which was: “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 the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
The words “he was born blind” do not appear in the Greek copies of this verse. These words were added much later – in 1952, actually – the reason was supposedly to make it easier to understand. What we end up with, though, is a verse that says this blindness is not the result of sin, but that God caused the man to be born blind, so that God’s works might be revealed.
How would you feel about a God who would do that?
The other grammatically correct way to translate this passage, without adding any words that weren’t in the earlier Greek versions, is: “Neither he nor his family sinned but, so that the work of God can be revealed through him, it is necessary to do the work of the One who sent me while it is day; night is coming at which time no-one is able to work.”
This translation, again, says that blindness is not a result of sin. But it does not say that God caused the blindness. Jesus says, essentially that the blindness has nothing to do with sin whatsoever, but rather presents an opportunity to do the work of God through caring for the blind man. The blindness is neither cause nor effect.
This stands in sharp contrast to what the Pharisees, and so many Jews, believed. Mirroring some similar beliefs today, they thought that you could indeed tell a persons faith and righteousness by their circumstances.
Are you sick?
You obviously don’t have a strong enough faith.
Are you poor?
Obviously, you deserve to be, otherwise God would give you riches.
This notion that someone who is vulnerable for any reason must be inherently a sinner or faithless stands in sharp contrast – not to just this passage – but to all of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. People who are sick do not deserve to be sick. People who are killed in wars do not deserve to die. The half of the children and the third of the women who live in Schenectady who are poor do not deserve their poverty, nor the conditions under which they live. Wars and poverty are not caused by God, but rather by the decisions of the powers that be.
Another point comes from what Jesus did when this man was excluded from the temple. He was rejected because of his perceived sins, and because of professing faith and naming wrongs.
More and more the church has become known for who it rejects – at least visibly. We live in an age of the Church of the Loudest Voice – a time when the loudest voice of Christianity is a damning voice. That voice says that Muslim people are evil – that a war against Islam is righteous – that Katrina was God’s redemption against a sinful society – that people who are LGBT are making a sinful choice and HIV/Aids is God’s punishment.
Jesus’ voice, however – if we listen to this and many other passages – would say otherwise. Jesus embraced this rejected person – as Jesus embraced all excluded people. Does the Church of the Loudest Voice that condemns so many mimic Jesus? We may not think that those loud voices speak for us but, unless our voice is equally as loud, they do by default.
So what does this mean for us as we look forward into tomorrow? Most of the people who live in this neighborhood – actually, I think most of us – would have been judged as unacceptable by the Pharisees. They would have excluded us from the temple for any variety of reasons – saying we are unrighteous, sinful, undeserving or wrong-headed.
In the extreme, we have two choices. We could mimic the Pharisees and judge who to exclude. Or we could mimic Jesus and figure out how to include – especially how to include those that others exclude.
Right outside our doors, there is a community in which people are going hungry. This church invites them in to get food from the pantry. Right outside our doors, there are people who do not have the wherewithal to buy clothes. This church invites them in to select from the clothes it has.
But right outside our doors, there are people who have been told by the loudest voices of Christianity that they are abominations because of how they look or who they love. There are young people who have rejected the church because its loudest voices are too judgmental or they don’t feel welcomed. There are people who these loud voices say do not deserve to earn a decent wage because they don’t have papers or education. There are people that the Church of the Loudest Voice gives lip service to, but don’t include because they’re too poor, too weak, too wounded, too dysfunctional, too sinful or too needy. There’s a sense that Christians believe these people are getting what they deserve, because the only voice heard regularly is the Church of the Loudest Voice.
If we say, with a quite voice, that the loud voices don’t speak for us – will anyone hear us? If we say, with a quiet voice, that all are welcome, some may find their way into this church community, but most will not. But, if we use a loud voice to proclaim their inclusion, we may actually find our way into their communities – and find ourselves loved in the process.
It could be messy and come with backlash. It did for the healed blind man who stood up and was heard – but who was excluded. It did for Jesus who did the same thing, but who was ultimately killed. It could well make us unpopular with those who really want to keep things the same – to limit change to appearances and cosmetics, rather than meaningful and dangerous change that includes everyone.
How do you feel about that?
Today’s reading was about vision. I am sure you have led by vision in the past. I have spent a lot of time dreaming about vision over the last three months. What I don’t know, however, is what visions you’ve been dreaming about. But, it’s time to find out. I can share mine and wonder if will share yours. Do you want to hear mine?
My vision includes a church that exudes life – not big numbers – but expansive life. Life that is lived in knowing, appreciating and loving everyone in our community – the only assumption being that each and every person is a living and breathing image of God. Life that is lived by not only inviting people in – but by going out into the community to love and serve with people where they are. Life that is lived in throwing open our doors and our arms to everyone that feels disenfranchised and rejected. Life that is lived by risking our reputation and what we have – erring on the side of generosity and giving – not on the side of being cautious. Life that is lived by proclaiming our faith loudly when we see lives and situations that can be changed by lovingly and faithfully fighting the good fight.
I coerced you into asking me to show you mine. Will you show me yours?
That’s why they include a comment box below – please use it to speak your mind.