Now I See, John 9:1-41, 11/25/12

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Nov 252012


Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

This morning we are going to look at one of the most memorable stories told in the Gospel of John.  In a moment we’ll read the first part of it and then I’ll tell you the rest of it.[1]  Before we begin, however, let me say that I believe God wants to tell you something through this story today.  Maybe God wants you to find yourself somewhere in this story.  I don’t know what God has in store for you, but I believe he has something in store.  And I pray that you will listen expectantly this morning, with your ears, with your mind, with your heart.


1As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.


2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’


3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’


6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.


8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’  9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’  He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’  10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’


11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’


12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’


He said, ‘I do not know.’ (John 9:1-12, NRSV)



How many times each day do we fail to notice the people we walk right past?  Jesus never did that.  Every single day hundreds of people would have walked past this poor, blind beggar and never even noticed he was there.  He was a fixture, a part of the landscape.  Blind since birth, he had likely been there begging every day of his adult life.  Even the people that threw something his way probably didn’t really give him more than a passing thought.  But Jesus did.  Jesus never fails to notice people, especially hurting people.


Jesus’ disciples notice that Jesus notices this man and it prompts a question.  “Teacher,” they ask, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”


Now, we might not put the question quite that way, but it’s still a good question.  It’s a question we might also want to ask God.  When we see hardship and suffering in this world we want to know, “Lord, whose fault is it?”


Sometimes the correlations are clear between sin and suffering: the crack baby, the abused child, the drunk driver, the reckless lifestyle.  We see how one led to the other.  Other times, however, the correlations are not so clear: the cancer that comes out of nowhere, or the natural disaster that wipes out a community, or the newborn son who is born blind.


Certainly God doesn’t make babies blind.  If he found out he did, how could we bear it?  At the same time, God certainly could have kept it from happening.  But for some reason he didn’t.  Why?  It’s a hard question without an easy answer.  We wait for Jesus’ answer.


Jesus says, “This man didn’t sin, nor did his parents.  He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”


So according to Jesus, the disciples asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know why this happened, which is a natural question.  But it’s the wrong question simply because it can’t be answered.  Think about it.  Have you ever found a satisfying answer to the question of why suffering and pain happen in this world?  “Why this?” is a paralyzing question, a maddening question.


A better question, according to Jesus, is “What now?”  Specifically, “What will God do now?”  In the midst of brokenness we might never be able to find out why.  But perhaps we can know how.  Perhaps we can know how God is at work in the midst of it, bringing healing, grace, reconciliation, hope?  Jesus tells his disciples that as long as God is in this world, he will be at work shining unmistakable light into the unexplainable dark places of our lives.


To illustrate, Jesus immediately bends down and spits in the dust, mixes up a little mud pie with his finger, and spreads the mixture on the man’s eyes.  Then Jesus tells the man, “Go.  Go and wash off in the Pool of Siloam.”


This is standard practice, right?  I mean, who hasn’t had their optometrist prescribe this treatment?  Jesus spits in the guy’s eye!  It’s disgusting.  And yet it makes sense when you think about it.  Even in our day, saliva is thought to have healing properties.  Think about it, where do you immediately put your finger when you burn it or cut it?  Even so, nobody had ever used spit to restore sight!


What I find striking here is the fact that Jesus doesn’t ask permission.  Did you notice that?  The blind man doesn’t call out for Jesus?  He doesn’t ask to be healed?  Since he can’t see, he may not even know what’s happening until he feels the mud on his eyelids.  And that raises a question.  Is it possible that there are times when Jesus comes into our lives and, even without our permission, even before we ask, he brings healing to our minds, our hearts, even our bodies?  One writer suggests, “When Jesus sees a need he simply and compassionately goes to work.  In theology this is called ‘grace.’”[2]


Jesus’ grace here leads to a miracle.  The man obeys Jesus and stumbles his way to the pool, washes off the mud and spit, and then, filled with what must have been an overwhelming wonder, finds that he can see!  Just try to imagine it.  For the first time in his life this man can see all the things he had only known before by sound, or smell, or touch, or taste.  Colors.  The faces of friends.  Clouds in the sky.  His own hands.  Sunshine and shadows.


Immediately, the town is buzzing with the news.  All at once this previously unnoticed man starts to get noticed.  People begin to recognize him, sort of.


Some of them say, “Look, isn’t this the blind man who used to sit here and beg?”  But the others respond, “No, it can’t be.  Looks a lot like him, but it’s a different man.”


Can you imagine if Christ came into your life and transformed you to such an extent that the people who had always known you now had a hard time recognizing you?  Does God’s grace have the much power to change us that much?  Pasquier Quesnel, who was a 17th century French theologian, once wrote, “A sinner whose heart God has enlightened and changed by his grace is not easily known.  He is no longer the same man.”[3]  Paul put it this way, “In Christ we are a new creation; the old has gone the new has come.”[4]


“It’s me!” the man says.  “I’m the man.  Don’t you recognize me?”


And the people ask, “How can that be?  How did your eyes get opened?”


“The man called Jesus, he did it.  He put mud on my eyes and told me wash off at the pool.  As soon as I did, my eyes worked.  For the first time in my life I could see!”


“Well, where is he?” they asked.  “Where did Jesus go?”


“I don’t know where he went,” the mad admits.  “I have no idea.”


Now, I want you to notice something about this man as we go through this story.  This is a man who always and simply tells the truth.  He doesn’t add anything to the story; he doesn’t take anything away.  He doesn’t tell more than he knows and he freely admits what he does not know.  He’s not especially articulate; he just tells it like it is.  And as you’re about to see, even when the truth is going to cause him harm, he doesn’t flinch.


Do you realize how very unusual this is?  How many people do you know like this?  Would you like to be known as somebody who, regardless of personal cost, always and simply speaks the truth?


Since this is where we stopped reading, let me tell you what happens next.  The story gets better.  In the following verses, John tells us that the crowd, flabbergasted by what had happened, brings the man to the Pharisees.  These men, after all, were the resident religious authorities and perhaps they could make sense of this miracle.


John also gives us a detail that hints at a potential problem.  Apparently all this took place on the Sabbath day.  That shouldn’t surprise us.  Jesus had this funny habit of healing people on the Sabbath, on that day when all other Jews refrained from all work.  It always got him in trouble.  Maybe that was the point.


On this Sabbath day, when the crowd brings the man to the Pharisees they want to hear the whole story for themselves.  Once they do, a debate breaks out among them.  Some of the Pharisees are convinced this proves Jesus cannot be from God because he keeps going around breaking the Sabbath laws.  The categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath included the kneading or mixing of mud or clay for any purpose.[5]  Jesus knew this part of God’s law.  Every Jew knew this part of God’s law.  Since Jesus blatantly ignored it, he clearly was not from God.


Other Pharisees, however, weren’t so sure.  If it was true that Jesus had just demonstrated both compassion and the power to heal, two central characteristics of God Himself, how then could he not be from God?  This was far from an open and shut case.  An investigation would have to be called.  They had to get to the bottom of this.


As the debate heats up, however, you have to wonder what the man himself was thinking.  “Does nobody here even care that I’m healed?  Could not even one person say to me, ‘How wonderful it is that after all these years you can finally see?’”  The fact that nobody does is tragic for there is almost nothing more ugly than a religion that concerns itself with clear theological vision and has, at the same time, become blind to the needs of humanity.


So without even a hint of celebration, the theological interrogation begins of this man whose life has just been changed by God.  They ask him, “What do you say?  You’re the one he healed.  Is this man from God or not?”


It’s a loaded question.  Here’s the safe answer.  “Well, you know, who am I really to say?  I don’t have any formal theological training.  What’s my opinion worth, really?  I don’t know, I suppose that since he did open my eyes that maybe, perhaps, he might be a prophet of some sort or something like that.  I don’t know. I could be wrong.  Who really knows?”


That would have been the safe answer.  True to form, the man doesn’t give the safe answer.  He gives the straight answer.  “He is a prophet,” he says.  “I believe he is from God.”


This was not the answer they wanted to hear, and immediately he is dismissed.  Next witness.  In come his parents for interrogation.  Still fishing for the answer they want to hear, the Pharisees ask these poor people, “Is this your son?  Was he really born blind?  And if so, how is it that he can now see?”


Unlike their son, these people aren’t interested in the straight answer, they’re looking for the safe answer.  They knew what people were saying about Jesus.  Lots of people were saying he was from God.  Some called him the Messiah.  They knew that he had healed their son, which meant that he must be from God.  Everybody knew this.  It was obvious to anybody interested in the truth.


But this man’s parents also knew that these Pharisees had threatened to excommunicate anybody who put any faith in Jesus and so, completely intimidated, they answer, “We know he’s our son, and we know he was born blind.  But we don’t have a clue who opened his eyes.  Why don’t you ask him?  He’s a grown man.  Let him speak for himself.”  Clearly this man did not inherit his integrity and courage from his parents.


From the Pharisee’s point of view this was a better answer, but still not exactly what they wanted to hear.  What they wanted to hear was some evidence that this whole thing was a sham.  Was there nobody who could indict Jesus as a fraud?


Desperate, they call in the man a second time.  “Stop messing around and give glory to God!” they demanded.  “We know that Jesus is a sinner!  Why don’t you just admit it.”


“I don’t know anything about that,” the man says.  “Whether he’s a sinner or not, how am I to know?  But let me tell you what I do know.  I once was blind, now I see.  That much I do know.”


There’s an old story about an English miner who became a Christian at a Wesleyan revival.  His life was changed dramatically, so much so that the other workers in the mine ridiculed him mercilessly every day at lunch time.  One day they asked him as a joke, “You don’t really believe that Jesus changed water into wine, do you?!”  The miner simply answered, “I don’t know.  I don’t really know if Jesus actually changed water into wine; I wasn’t there.  But I do know one thing: In my house Jesus did change beer into furniture.”[6]


Sometimes we can sit around and debate theology all day long and it doesn’t do anybody any good.  And I’m saying that as somebody who loves to debate theology.  If people aren’t receptive to the truth of God, Jesus himself isn’t going to be able to convince them.  Sometimes the best thing, the only thing, we can do is simply and honestly tell our story.


I used to be a drunk; now I’m sober (and I’ve got money for furniture!).


I used to be full of bitterness and resentment; now I’m full of joy.


I used to live in constant fear and worry.  Now look at me, now my life is full of peace.


My marriage used to be a wreck; now it’s good.  It’s not easy, but it’s good.


Before I was always so discouraged and depressed; I had nothing to live for.  Now I am full of hope; even when times are hard I know things are going to end well.


I didn’t used to know Jesus.  Now I do, and my whole life has changed since I met him.


People can argue with theology, no matter how articulately we state it.  But who is going to argue with your story, especially when it is honestly and humbly presented?  I don’t have all the answers.  Far from it.  All I know is that ever since Jesus came into my life, everything has been different.  I can’t explain it; I just know it’s true.[7]  I once was blind; now I see.


What are cynics going to say to that?  The Pharisees don’t know what to say.  “How is this possible?” they demand.


“I just told you,” the man says.  “Why do you want to hear it again?”  And then he asks them, I imagine with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “Is it because you are also eager to become his disciples?”


You’ve got to love this guy.  People who are committed to the truth have little patience for people who have no interest in the truth.  In the same way, however, people who have no interest in the truth have little patience for people who are committed to the truth.  That’s why, as John tells us, at this point the Pharisees openly detest this man.  “You are his disciple,” they cursed him.  “But not us.  We are disciples of Moses.  God spoke to Moses.  But as for this man, we don’t even know where he’s from.”


They don’t know where he is from?  How could they have missed where he was from?  The Hebrew scriptures, which they knew by heart, told them where Jesus was from.  Isaiah, their great prophet, told them that when the Messiah came from God one day he would do many miraculous things.  Isaiah 35 gives us the specifics.  When the Messiah comes, then “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”[8]


These men cannot see what is right there in front of them.  Can you recognize that this story, which started out as a story about a person who was physically blind, is turning out to be a story about a people who are spiritually blind?


Even the man can’t believe what he’s seeing.  “This is amazing!” he says.  “You claim to know nothing about Jesus, but the fact is, he opened my eyes.  I was blind; now I see!    You know what this means.  Nobody has ever before healed somebody who was born blind.  There is no other explanation.  This man must be from God.”


Well, that was the last straw.  It is at this point that the Pharisees immediately threw him out in the street, cursing him as they do, “You, who were born entirely in sin, are going to teach us about what comes from God?  Get out.”


All at once the man finds himself excommunicated, cut off from the synagogue and from his religious community.  Which happens sometimes.  Ironically, sometimes speaking the truth, sometimes showing honor to Christ, gets you blackballed from religious circles.  Truth tellers are not always the most popular people in religious circles.  Remember that Jesus himself was blackballed from religious circles.


As a matter of fact, John tells us that it’s outside of the religious circles that the man finds Jesus again.  Or, we should say, Jesus finds him.  The One who always notices hurting people is the same One who always finds rejected people.  Having heard that he had been excommunicated, Jesus tracks this man down and asks him a question.  This man who’s just been interrogated with a thousand questions is finally asked a question worth answering.  Jesus asks him, simply, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”


True to form, the man can only say what he knows.  “Who is he, sir?  Who is the Son of Man?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”


I love it that this man is not afraid to be honest about his ignorance.  Jesus loves our honesty, even when it betrays our ignorance.  Jesus does not expect us to know the truth.  He only expects us to be willing to know the truth, whatever the truth is.  And if we are willing to know the truth, Jesus will, in his time, reveal it to us.


Jesus says to the man, “You have seen the Son of Man.  The one speaking to you is he.”  Perhaps not the straightest of straight answers we’d hope for from Jesus, but it’s enough.  As the old saying goes, “Jesus always reveals to us just enough of himself to make faith possible and always hides just enough of himself to make faith necessary.”


At this the man’s journey is complete.  Though the blindness fell from his eyes in an instant, it took a bit longer to fall from his heart.  A day ago, Jesus was somebody about whom he’s only heard rumors.  After he’s healed and the Pharisees ask about him, all the man can say is that this is “a man they call Jesus.”  When they push him further, he admits that this must be “a prophet.”  Later he declares that this is undoubtedly “a man of God.”  Now the vision of his heart is clear.  John tells us that the once-blind man responds to Jesus’ question saying, “Lord, I believe.”  This man he knew only as Jesus has now become his Master.  And then, John tells us, he worshipped him.


Seeing the faith of this man, Jesus turns to those standing around and says, “I came into this world to make all things clear, so that those who know that they have never seen clearly may be shown to have perfect vision and those who have imagined that they have always seen everything clearly will be exposed as blind.”[9]


A few Pharisees, still hanging around, overheard Jesus and said to him, “Surely, you’re not suggesting that we are blind?”  And I have to believe it was with a touch of sadness in his voice that Jesus said back to them, “If you were truly blind, you would no longer have sin.  It’s only because you claim to see everything so well that your sin remains.”  Not even the best eye doctor in the world can help the blurry-eyed man who stubbornly insists that his vision is 20/20.


Many years later Martin Luther put it this way: “Beware of ever aspiring to such purity that you do not want to seem to yourself, or to be, a sinner.  For Christ dwells only in sinners.”


Not quite so many years later, John the Apostle, who first recorded this remarkable story for us, put it this way in a letter he wrote to his fellow believers.  I’ll close with his words from I John 1:5-10.


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.[10]


Let us pray.


Lord, we praise you because you are a God who notices us.  You notice us in our pain and suffering.  You notice us in our rejection.  You notice us in our sin.  And you do not walk by.  You are a God of compassion and justice, a God of kindness and love, a God who works powerfully to transform our lives.

Father, we praise you because you are a God who is not far off.  You have come near.  In Christ, you have come as close as possible.  You do not stay hidden.  You reveal yourself to us.  By your grace, you remove the blindness of our eyes and of our hearts so that we can see just enough to have faith.  If you do not give us vision, Lord, we will never see.  When we see, we have you to thank and praise.

God of light, forgive us when we fail to notice what you notice.

Forgive us when we walk right past others in this world who are in need.  Forgive us when we become so callous to the hurt and pain of others around us, so self-consumed that we can see nothing beyond our own agendas.

Forgive us as well when your truth is right there before us and we miss it completely.  You are at work in such obvious ways.  Your Word in scripture is always right and true.  Yet too often we are full of doubt.  We refuse to believe.  We are afraid to believe.

Forgive us, Lord.  Help us to have the faith of this blind man, that our eyes will be opened to You.  We are blind, help us, Lord, to see.

And as you do this work in our lives, Lord, as you change us and set us free, help us be sent out into this world as witnesses to your power and your grace.  Even as we stumble over theology, even as we face questions and accusations we cannot answer, even then help us to have courage to at least tell our own stories.  You have done marvelous things in our lives and the least we can do is share the news with others.

Give us opportunities to do so, Lord.  Especially in the coming weeks of this Christmas season, gives us opportunities to humbly and boldly share with others around us what you have done in our lives, what you have done in our world.  And as we share, may their eyes be opened as ours have been opened, that your honor and glory would spread in this world.

Lord Jesus, be our vision, our hope, our guide, our master in all things.  All this we pray in your name.  Amen.




The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application


Read John 9:1-41.  This is one of the most wonderfully developed stories in the whole Gospel.  What do you notice here?


Jesus always notices hurting people.  Are you like this?  Would you like to be more like this?


When the disciples ask about this man’s blindness, Jesus says, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  What do you think Jesus means by this?


What ‘blindness’ has Jesus taken away in your life?  How has he helped you to ‘see’?


How is this man Jesus healed a model of faith for you/us?  What can we learn from the simplicity of his witness?


Has there been a time in your life when you, like this man, had to speak the truth about Jesus even though you knew that it would make things harder for you?  What was that like?


In verse 39 Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  What is Jesus telling us here?


For what are you most grateful to God today?  How does this story increase your gratitude?


Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:


Monday:               Psalm 27 – The Lord is my light

Tuesday:               Isaiah 35:1-10 – The blind will see!

Wednesday:         Luke 13:1-5 – Sin and suffering

Thursday:             I John 1:5-10 – Walk in the light

Friday:                   II Corinthians 4:1-15 – Spiritual blindness

Saturday:              Psalm 25:1-10 – Prayer for guidance



[1] In my re-telling of this story I was greatly aided by two excellent biblical commentaries: Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012); F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983).

[2] Dale Bruner, p. 567.

[3] Cited by Bruner, p. 577.

[4] Paraphrase of II Corinthians 5:17.

[5] Bruce, p. 212.

[6] As retold by Dale Bruner, p. 589-590.

[7] Dale Bruner says, “Sometimes honest Christians can trump their theological superiors with the truth of personal experience.”

[8] Isaiah 35:6-5 (NRSV).

[9] Paraphrase from John 9:39, with help from The Message. 

[10] NRSV.