ONCE BLIND, NOW I SEE
SCRIPTURE: John 9:1-41
The ninth chapter of John’s Gospel could well be considered the center of the John’s salvation story. It is packed with tension pitting old morality views by the Jews to new theological explanations and actions by Jesus, it contrasts sin versus salvation, and from the entirety of John is presented an alternative view to where the centrality of salvation in Christ rest.
And the tension of this chapter’s story is presented under the umbrella of a man who was literally blind from birth receiving his physical sight, to the Pharisees who thought they saw the law of Moses and of God with 20-20 vision, being told by Jesus that they were blind--religiously, spiritually blind.
The Jewish sect of Pharisees was more prominent in the latter first century when the Gospel of John was written than in the time of earthly Jesus. So we find built within the contextual setting of John’s Jesus-stories what sometimes made them relevant to 80s or 90s of C.E., the common era. Yet, there are some astounding theological implications for 21st century readers and believers.
Using a technique not so uncommon in that day as a treatment for the eyes of the blind or visually impaired, a mud-pack made of spittle and dirt, Jesus covered the blind man’s eyes and sent him to wash in a pool which also was believed to have healing powers--the Pool of Siloam.
In this instance of healing, it was not instantaneous, nor was it in the immediate presence of Jesus. Rather, it was from a distance, howbeit a short-distance. Interestingly, Jesus did not ask the man who was blind if he wanted to be healed as we read in other miracle stories. It seems Jesus was moved to compassion and went into action, even though the Sabbath forbade work which making the mud-pack was.
Another oddity we could note from this story is that the greater difficulty for Jesus had not to do with the “healing” of the man’s blindness, but dealing with the judgmental nature of the Pharisees. For they had been skeptical about the entire healing episode. Perhaps the man who had his vision was not the same man who had been blind. They even questioned the man’s parents who passed the buck to their son himself, for fear they would be booted out of the synagogue for believing Jesus.
The man healed of his blindness began to respond to his inquirers as if he had far more sense than did they. It seems they had made a terrible assumption about the man-previously-blind to think that he was unintelligent along with being unable to see. Something like when persons talk loudly to someone who has a different disability than hearing loss. But as the man came to meet and see Jesus face-to-face, Jesus declared because of his belief that not only did he have physical ability to see, but his spiritual vision had come upon him too.
The Pharisees became so agitated with the man for standing up for himself and Jesus against them, they motivated to send the man away. For they could not have one exonerating Jesus not only as a healer in the name of God, but claiming to do the work of God. This meant the man would have to go as well as Jesus.
The Pharisees had degraded Jesus to the man saying Jesus was not a man of God. But the man could now see. “I was blind, but now I see,” he said to them. But no, the supposedly healed man could not have a legitimate testimony because he had been born blind--a sign that he was steeped in sin or, at least, were his parents.
Now, what are the applications for us from this most involved story?
We are reminded that John’s Gospel began with an emphasis upon Jesus as “the” Word, even the Word made flesh, incarnate. The heavenly became earthly. The spiritual took on flesh and lived among humanity. On the other hand, humanity was to be spiritually born. Persons were to be born from above by way of the Spirit which like wind can blow without being known from or to where.
The writer of this book makes what could be considered by many Christians, even of today, a rather shocking de-emphasis on the cross or at least a powerful new understanding to the cross of Christ. Whereas the cross of Christ has been most often interpreted for our salvation because of two or three things, John will emphasize something almost entirely different as salvation’s impetus.
Though with certain elements of truth, but less emphasized by the theologian of John’s Gospel, the cross is often understood as “paying the penalty” or ransom for our sin, to even appease God, to diffuse God‘s anger. For humanity’s sinfulness a sentence was passed upon Jesus to be that ransom or payment, since humanity was incapable of making an honorable payment.
Then, a substitution or sacrificial reason is also understood for the cross; that is, Jesus was the stand-in on the cross for each of us. In the Son of God giving his life in our place, this was a huge sacrifice on the part of the Godhead.
The sinless Son of God was the substitution for us. Again, true.
Traditionally there is the “moral theory” for the cross. Because of humanity’s sin or immorality, Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated the grandest morality by loving humankind selflessly. Again, this holds validity as an explanation for the cross.
However, the theme of this Gospel gives a different overarching emphasis for our salvation. It goes back to the first chapter--the incarnation, becoming flesh, living among us as one of us, yet God’s Son. This is where, according to John, the hub of salvation is found. For how amazing is this--that God loved the cosmos so much to give the only begotten Son to the cosmos that none should perish. Referencing John 3:16, more than just the giving of Jesus on the cross, but giving Jesus to be of us and with us. It was the incarnation--the divine taking on flesh--that too paid the substitutionary-ransom and made thegreat moral act of love, inclusive of the cross.
John’s darkness versus light metaphors corresponding to sin versus salvation incorporates God’s desire of inclusiveness for humanity. God desires that we become light as Christ was God’s light. This well may be the explanation for Jesus saying, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.“
What then was to happen when Jesus was physically gone? And for us today?
Though Jesus is yet in the world by way of Holy Spirit, what John has Jesus in essence saying seems to be that his disciples, his believer-followers become partners in God’s mission of light.
If the Christians’ view of atonement segregates the cross from the incarnate life of Jesus and the spiritual life Jesus wants all to share, it may remain at a distance from the center of our hearts, more as a free ticket, to even become cheap grace (Bonhoffer). But that God, the Word, would became flesh that we may become spirit-participants on God’s mission, is most amazing. That we are given responsibilities living also as Christ in the world puts the spotlight on our privilege to live in relationship with God through Christ. The cross must be seen within the greater context of the incarnation, John explains in his Gospel. The becoming flesh definitely accomplishes the purpose set forth by God’s love.
Faithfulness to the truth and grace of God known through Christ, not to the law, prioritizes relational reconciliation with God over living to satisfy a moral code, not, however, to forsake the moral code. But what would be the worth of keeping moral codes if one refused the relationship which God so deeply desires? This was the kind of love God had for the cosmos, not that we could have only good check-marks on our moral report cards.
Now, the Pharisees (at least, some of them).
What was the sin of the Pharisees per this story? Relational separation from God in Christ--their rejection of Jesus. Sin singular is the sin of disbelief/unbelief, separation in/from God’s love. And God wants that love to be with us, not only to us. God may not need us, but God wants us in relationship with him.
A second sin of the Pharisees that sprang from their disbelief in the possibility of reconciliation with God through Christ was their estrangement to the man born blind and his healing. Their disbelief in Christ led them to have major skepticism and doubts of the man. Surely because he had been blind was because of his sin or that of his parents. People cannot change like that, for such persons are sub-class, almost sub-human. Some people are just bad people, unchangeable-by-God’s grace, it may be thought. I have been told that we cannot change. I vehemently disagreed, that we can be changed, for this is what Christ was about.
How dare this man formerly blind, who is unreligious, having no knowledge of the Scriptures, dare try to teach the Pharisees something new, challenge their assumptions? This is why respecting all persons regardless of their social-class, disability, race, gender, age--young or old, is important. For they may well teach us new things--even spiritual, Godly things when we minister to them, when we come to know them.
Perhaps any discomfort we may hold of John’s understanding of salvation in mostly the incarnation with the cross may give us some things to ponder. Reviewing our acceptance, or lack thereof, of those who are different enough from us to be considered inferior may be reexamined in the light of Christ and how Jesus loved such persons.
The Pharisees botched relationship with the healed man, may give us much to think about. If you and I were needing something to focus on for Lent, let us think on these things.