“There are none so blind as those that… will not see” and this thought came to me as I was reading and studying the narrative of Jesus healing the man born blind and its subsequent fall out. The whole story is about who is blind and who has sight. It sounds like a bible quote… right! But I googled it and found a website of quotes and misquotes from the bible… saying that are attributed to the Bible like “god helps those who help themselves” but are not in the scriptures and “there are none so blind as those that will not see” was high on the list. Yes it resonates with the wisdom of such verse as Jeremiah 5:21…”Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:” and with Jesus explanation of why he speaks in parables in Matthew’s gospel but it is not a bible quote. It’s been attributed to various people, including Johnathan Swift, who wrote ‘Gulliver’s travels’, but before him a man called John Heywood. 17th century Presbyterian minister and bible commentator Matthew Henry used it quite a lot as well which probably helped people associating it with the scriptures. And it’s also known to people of a certain age because of the lyrics of the Ray Steven’s song “everything is beautifu in their own way." But it sums up nicely what is going on with the people round the man who Jesus restores sight to and the religious authorities who come to investigate this healing: It encapsulates for me and for us the challenge of this encounter with Jesus.
We are working our way through Encounters with Jesus in John’s gospel and now. AS we open up the gospel narrative my prayer is that it may open us up to encounter Jesus in new and deeper ways today… That eyes may be opened to the wonderful works of God and the person of Jesus Christ. And in looking at this encounter I want to do four things; explore what it was that this sign, the healing of the man born blind tells us about Jesus, look briefly at what this incident tells us about being followers of Christ, Give some insight from this passage about how we talk about Jesus how we witness to our faith, and finally to invite us to stand in this narrative and encounter Jesus today.
Last week we looked at the end of John chapter six, and before we move on to look at today’s passage, we need to fill in the blanks to give us the context. Last week we looked at the aftermath of Jesus feeding the five thousand, where many people were leaving Jesus because his teaching had got too hard. We also looked at the affirmation of Simon Peter, on behalf of the twelve “where can we go, You have the words of eternal life, we have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God” which showed that their eyes were beginning to open as to who Jesus was.
Ok let's fill in the blanks...After that John tells us that Jesus went up to the festival of tabernacles in Jerusalem and began to teach. We don’t have what he taught, rather we have an account of Jesus interaction with the religious authorities and leaders. They thought Jesus teaching was good and they wondered where this Hick from the sticks, this unofficial rabbi got his authority. Jesus tells them, he speaks of his relationship with His Father in Heaven, and as you can imagine that does not go down well.
At the beginning of Chapter 8, we have an interlude, we have the story of Jesus and the women caught in adultery. There is some debate over whether this passage actually fits into john’s gospel here, the argument before and after it seamlessly carries on, the oldest manuscripts of John do not have it. So in many bible translations it is in brackets or italics to show this in some it is simply included at the end of John’s gospel.
But the debate about who Jesus is and where he gets his authority from continues. Just before the passage we are looking at this morning it turns ugly. Jesus last comment is to say “before Abraham, I am” and the religious leaders reach down for stones to kill Jesus. Because in that statement Jesus is claiming to be greater than their ancestor Abraham, and “I am” echoes the name of God, YHWH, that was revelled to Moses at the burning bush. They know that Jesus is claiming to be God. John tells us it wasn’t Jesus time so he manages to walk away.
That leads us into the encounter with the man born blind. And the whole narrative seems to sum up what has been going on.
Firstly, what does this encounter, this sign, tell us about Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in Sunday school hearing the stories of Jesus healing the blind and I think it can stop us from grasping the wonder of it and what it has to say. They simply become children's stories.
Leon Morris points out that outside the gospel there are no accounts of people healing the blind. Not in the Old Testament or the New, the nearest thing to it is in Acts where Ananias lays hands on Saul, and he is healed of a temporary loss of sight, again a sign. But in the gospels the most common healing that Jesus does is opening the eyes of the blind. What is it a sign of? Well in the Old Testament, in verse like Exodus 4:11, and Psalm 146:8 it is only God who can give sight to the blind. Elsewhere it is associated with the activity of the coming messiah, a sign of the messianic age. So as we go on through the narrative, for the religious Authorities to acknowledge this healing being from God, they need to acknowledge its source and what it is saying about Jesus, something they are not prepared to do. They wiggle this way and that to try and avoid that conclusion.
Secondly, what does this encounter have to say to us as followers of Jesus?
In this narrative, Jesus disciples have their understanding of suffering turned on its head. When they see the man born blind, they are perplexed because they equate suffering and illness with a direct correlation with Sin. With the man born blind they can’t work out who sinned this man or his parents. Now Christians believe that suffering and illness are a result of sin, in as much as they are consequences of a broken and fallen world, but Jesus dismisses their wisdom of the day and invites them to see things in a new way. Rather than consequence and curse, he invites them to see them as possibility for grace and the glory of God. It invites us even to look beyond the fatalism of someone being born blind so that later down the track they may meet Jesus to see these sorts of situations as opportunities for the grace and the work of God. To open our eyes to the people on the road and Jesus who wants to speak into those situations, that we can bring hope.
The man born blinds story also tells us some truths about being a follower of Jesus “ Some of us have been playing the part of a vacuum cleaner salesperson” says Paul Metzger with our "before (I met Jesus) and after ( I met Jesus) sales pitch." We promote Jesus like he's a new and improved Hoover, who will suck out all the messiness and dirt from our lives-only to find out to our horror and dismay, that he actually makes things messier.” The man born blind finds his healing and affirmation of Jesus brings him into conflict with his neighbours and friends, who cannot believe he is the same man. It brings him into conflict with the religious authorities as well. Life gets messy, they interrogate his parents, question his integrity and write him off as a sinner for breaking the Sabbath law. We may not catch the severity of what the NIV translates as “and they threw him out” but it is a technical term for him being excommunicated from the synagogue. Before he met Christ, he was ostracised because of the stigma of sin associated with his disability, a good Jew would give him some money out of religious obligation, but he lived on the edge of society, supported by his family, now he is officially ostracised as a sinner, cut off from Jewish society. He can see but everyone else will turn a blind eye to him. Bethany’s favourite verse comes from John’s gospel and captures the tension we face as followers of Jesus when he says “in this life you will have trouble, But I have overcome the world.” In light of the man being ostracised Jesus comes and finds him and invites him to believe in him, to find a new home in the kingdom of God, instead of being cast out and written off, in the gospel, even though we never learn his name, he is held up to us as an example of faith and one who can see spiritually.
What does the man born blind have to tell about how we talk about Jesus and how we witness to our faith?
AS I was preparing for this sermon I read a book review that is part of the debate in some Christian circles. A debate over whether or not apologetics is a good approach when it comes to witnessing to non-believers. Apologetics is the discipline of presenting reasoned arguments for the faith, some people see it as a sort of false intellectualising of the faith. Distilling what is basically a relationship down to principles and points of reason. Others say that the basis for our witness is what we know of God and what he has done in our lives, this is often scorned as anti-intellectualism ,which does not do credit to the rational basis of the Christian faith.
In reading the account of the examination of the man born blind, we see that he was willing to use both to defend what he knew of Jesus. He shared his personal testimony, “all I know is once I was blind but know I see”, he is obviously excited about it because he thinks that the religious leaders will see it as something amazing and wonderful, “Do you want to become his disciples as well?” But he is also willing to use their reason and logic to defend who Jesus is. The religious leaders want the man to yes give glory to God, but not to acknowledge Jesus in fact they write Jesus off as a sinner, the man born blind then points out that this cannot be so because in the scripture it says that God answers the prayers of the righteous, and as he is before them born blind and now able to see, they can’t help but acknowledge Jesus is of God. They can’t dispute either his experience or his logic so they kick him out. They don’t want to see.
Finally, I wonder this morning where you find yourselves standing in relation to this narrative. RVG Tasker says the narrative is an acted parable about spiritual blindness and spiritual sight where are we in the narrative. Where are you, where do you encounter Jesus?
Can I say I find myself in a challenging position. I’d like to say I find myself standing with the man born blind, whose eyes are open, physically and spiritually by the end of this story. He sees Jesus for who he is and worships him. But in these stories I cannot help but find myself, embarrassed and shuffling my feet reluctantly standing amongst the religious people. Maybe it’s an occupational habit, maybe we who say we know Jesus find ourselves having to reluctantly admit we sort of kinda fit there. Am I blind to the reality of who Jesus is? Or at least do I do we have significant blind spots? Maybe we don’t see the wonderful works that Jesus is doing round us, because we’ll they don’t fit in our God shaped box, that we keep carefully locked and stored away. Maybe I don’t see the people on the side of the road that Jesus wants me to draw his attention to? Maybe I don’t see past sin and curse to possibility and hope? But the place I find myself, and the prayer for all of us today is …
”Jesus Light of the world, open my eyes Jesus, help me to go and wash in the pool of “sent” and to see you and know you and worship you in all I do.”