Scripture: John 9:1–41
Welcome to Seeing Like Jesus 101, where we study Bible passages to gain a better understanding of how we can see others and the world like Jesus does. Today, we are looking at John 9, the story of Jesus healing a man born blind and its almost comedic aftermath. By looking at different characters in the story, we can discover three lessons to help us see like Jesus.
First, let’s learn from the Pharisees what NOT to do when we are trying to see the world like Jesus sees it. At this point in the gospel of John, the Jewish leaders are already mad at Jesus. Chapter 8 ends with the Jewish leaders accusing Jesus of being possessed by a demon and Jesus runs out of the Temple to escape being stoned. So when the Pharisees hear about Jesus performing another healing on the Sabbath, they are seeing red. They have already decided that Jesus is a blasphemous heretic and they don’t know what to do with this healing.
At first, they don’t believe the man was actually blind, that the healing was made up. After questioning the man’s parents, they accept this man was blind and that something happened because now it is clear that this man can see. So, to find out what really happened, the Pharisees find the man again and question him further. They start by saying, “Give Glory to God!”—meaning, don’t give glory to this man Jesus—tell the truth! The Pharisees say, “We know this man is a sinner—he has broken the Sabbath again and again. This time by spitting, making mud, and healing an infirmity that was not life-threatening (all three actions forbidden on the Sabbath)!” In the gospel of John, saying someone is a “sinner” is more than just saying the person is imperfect; saying someone is a sinner is saying that they do not have a relationship with God. The Pharisees have made up their minds about Jesus and are not open to hearing another opinion—Jesus is a sinner.
So, the man who was healed gives an eloquent response, saying he doesn’t know whether or not Jesus is a sinner, but what he does know is that he has been healed. And he knows that in order for someone to have the gift of healing, they must be in right relationship with God. But, The Pharisees refuse to listen, refuse to see the evidence before them, and instead shame the man, saying he is a sinner because he was born blind, so there is nothing they can learn from him, and drive him out of the Temple.
As the man is driven out, Jesus finds him again and they have a conversation where Jesus proclaims, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The Pharisees overhear this, and somehow actually let it sink in for a moment, and then ask, “Surely we are not blind?” Because they know that they can see, they know that they are in right relationship with God, but if there is any truth to what this man Jesus is saying, they might have it all wrong… and Jesus affirms that in his response—“now that you say ‘we see,’ your sin remains.”
So, what can we learn about seeing from the Pharisees? What do they teach us NOT to do? The Pharisees remind us it is easy to get stuck in our own point of view, to only see the world one way, and to refuse to admit we might be wrong, to refuse to be open to seeing the world differently.
We need to remember to not give in to those tendencies because God is always doing something new in this world. In my experience, God outgrows any box we try to put God in. As soon as we say who God is and who God isn’t, what is right and what is wrong, what is “of God” and what is not—God shows me something new. We need to be willing to always look outside the box we have built for ourselves and God.
Our second lesson from this story challenges us to rethink our presuppositions about those who are differently abled. When the disciples pass the blind man, they assume that sin is what made the man blind. Wanting to know more, they ask Jesus if this man was born unable to see because of his parent’s sin or his own sin (because at that time they believed you could sin in the womb). But Jesus says, “No! You are seeing this man all wrong. Sin did not cause him to be blind.”
After the man is healed, the neighbors see this man that looks like the blind beggar and argue whether or not this man who can see was the blind beggar they always passed. Being blind was the man’s sole identity. People always recognized this man by his blindness, so when he was no longer blind, his neighbors were not sure how to recognize him.
Then, as I have already mentioned, the Pharisees refuse to see the man apart from his blindness… claiming that there is nothing he can teach them because he was born blind and in sin.
Just as Jesus told his disciples that sin did not cause the man’s blindness, Jesus also tells this to the Pharisees when he says, “If you were blind, then you would not have sin.” Jesus affirms that sin and blindness do not have a cause and effect relationship.
I wish I could say that the belief that sin causes disability is a thing of the past, but I continue to hear stories today that make it clear that is not the case. The good news is that the rhetoric is changing. A new field of theology called Disability Theology has emerged in the past 30 years to challenge our presuppositions about those who are differently abled from us. Disability Theology argues that people who are differently abled or neurodivergent are not “broken,” but reflect the image of God in unique ways that we need to have in this world to better understand God. People only become dis-abled when society sets them apart and does not give them the resources to be fully integrated into the community. Well, we have a lot of improvements to make when it comes to this, but we can start by seeing people differently. Learning from this story, we should be challenged to NOT assume there is something wrong with someone who is differently abled, and we should not base their identity based on what they cannot do or on how they are different. Instead, we need to see all as made in God’s image and remember that we can learn from those who are different from us. We can grow to see the world more like Jesus.
Our third lesson in seeing from this story comes from the man who was born blind, who experiences physical sight for the first time but also deep spiritual insight. When the man could see, he knew he had been healed by a man named Jesus, who made mud, put it on his eyes, and told him to wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam, but he didn’t know anything else about Jesus. As he recounts the story to the bewildered neighbors and Pharisees, his understanding of Jesus grows as he answers more questions.
- First, the healed man describes the person who healed him as “a man named Jesus.”
- Then, after the Pharisees start debating the merits of Jesus, they ask the healed man what he thinks and he responds saying, “Jesus is a prophet.”
- The second time the Pharisees question the man, he has had more time to think about what they are debating and responds with a mini-sermon, saying he does not know where Jesus has come from, but in order for a man to perform such miracles, he must be from God.
- Then, the healed man speaks to Jesus.
Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and he responds by saying, “Who is he? Tell me, so that I may believe.” What Jesus says next is interesting. Jesus says, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.”… But remember that this is the first time that the man has physically seen Jesus. At the beginning of the story, he left Jesus with mud on his eyes, still unable to see. Yet, Jesus tells the man that he has already seen him. Implying believing is much more than about physically seeing something. And the healed man says, “Lord, I believe” and bows before Jesus. The healed man had seen Jesus before he had seen Jesus.
How did this occur? Through the asking and answering of questions. People were shocked and confused by this man they knew as blind that now could see and questioned him again and again, trying to understand what happened. And it seems as though the man continued to answer their repetitive questions, but as people asked him those questions, he was prompted to think about his experience and his understanding grew as he continued to answer them.
This shows us that asking questions is part of a life of faith, that asking and answering questions helps us “see” and understand God more clearly. This story also shows us that it is okay, and maybe it is even necessary, to ask questions more than once. Sometimes I get frustrated at myself when a question I thought I had solved pops back into my mind yet again, but instead of frustration, I can look at this resurfaced question as an opportunity for growth, as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of God. And I think this is an important reminder for us this week, as watching the situation in the Ukraine is bound to raise a lot of questions within us—questions about country, questions about war, questions about faith and God—and these questions have no easy answers. But our church does not turn away from asking hard questions. We take our fourth “W”—wondering—seriously and we believe that there is something to be gained as we wonder in community.
We have many opportunities to wonder this week. At 12:30 we have a hybrid two-way discussion about the sermon where we ask questions like, “I wonder what questions you have after listening to the sermon?” and “I wonder what you might want to do after listening to the sermon?” On Wednesday, in the Ash Wednesday services, we can sit and contemplate about how we are made of dust and into dust we shall return but God remains forever, and beginning the following week we have a Lenten series that can be another time for question and wondering. And then there are the informal discussions you can have with friends and family wondering and asking hard questions together.
So this week, as we are challenged to see our world in new ways—and I don’t know about you but I need to see the world afresh this week—let us pray that we can see the world more like Jesus sees it. That unlike the Pharisees, we will not cling to our point of view so fiercely that we refuse to listen to anyone else, that we will be willing to admit when we are wrong and think about things in a new way. That unlike the disciples and neighbors, we will see every person we meet as an opportunity to see the image of God reflected in their life. And that like the healed man, we will lean into questions in order to grow our faith and see the world more like Jesus does. Let it be so. Amen.