I am well aware that this was last week’s lectionary scripture but since we deviated last week and learned about how “Jesus Still Raises the Dead,” we are going to come back to the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind at the pool of Siloam. Next week, we’ll be back on track with the Palm Sunday scripture. Sorry Lazarus, you’ll have to wait.
This is the fourth “close encounter” between Jesus and a specific character in as many weeks remembering that through the characters’ struggles and questions, we see our own struggles and are forced to confront them. This Sunday with the man born blind, who not only receives physical sight but spiritual sight, we confront our own spiritual blindness.
Instead of putting the scripture in this week, I have embedded the close encounter as a video. The clip is from the movie “The Gospel of John” which does a great job of using the exact text and placing it in film. In other words, there is no “artistic license” to wade through.
Undoubtedly, the first aspect of this story that strikes us is the disciples’ question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It seems like a very insensitive question to say the least. But in Jewish history, there was a long standing connection between sin and suffering. If you had some physical ailment, it must be because you committed some grievous sin. There were two general schools of thought. One school believed that the person (man in this story) must have sinned while in the womb. This does not imply what Christians affirm in the doctrine of original sin; the idea that we, as humans, are born as a part of fallen and sinful race of people. Rather this thought, was that the un-born baby actually committed a grievous sin and thus God punishes the person with some affliction. The most popular view, however, and the one which we see later in the story is that the parents sinned and the child pays the price. Generational sin was widely believed to have caused many birth defects and childhood illnesses. “Did this man sin, or his parents?” Even though we don’t come right out and admit it, there is a prevailing notion in our culture that believes the same thing. In our time it mostly comes out as what we call “karma.” If you do wrong to someone “karma” will come back and get you for it. And since “karma” is the default god for many people, I think it is roughly the same thought process.
Jesus, however, does not address this issue directly but instead uses the situation to bring glory to God (v. 1-3). What does this mean? As the story goes, Jesus makes a paste made of dirt and spit and rubs it on the blind man’s eyes. He tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man did. The Blind man saw. I love the frankness with which the author of John’s gospel spells out the result of Jesus’ command. The Greek literally says, “The man went. The man washed. The man saw.” Of course this creates quite a buzz in the town and the usual suspects object to the healing on many grounds. In the end, the man is again banished from access to the synagogue but confesses belief in Jesus the Messiah.
So how might we relate to this? We see what this blind man’s close encounter was, but what is ours? Through healing his physical blindness, Jesus gets him to “see” the true light as well. Just like we were forced to confront our spiritual questions in the night-time ramblings of Nicodemus, here we are forced to confront our own spiritual blindness. The greatest gift the man born blind received was not his physical sight but his new spiritual sight; the understanding that Jesus is the long awaited messiah. I like how The Message Bible translates Jesus’ last words to the man, “I came to the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a pretense of seeing will be exposed as the truly blind.” Who in the story is really blind? Who in the story can really see? Many times we don’t understand our own blindness, instead pointing to other peoples’ more obvious blindness. The truth is that we are all “born blind” with no real hope of over being healed – unless we trust the One “who came to bring everything into the clear of day…..so that those who have never seen will see…”
Blessings for the journey,