Physical, Social, and Spiritual Blindness

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

3/2/08

 

9As 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.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

 

            Frank Beamer, football coach at Virginia Tech, was walking down the street in Blacksburg one spring day and he saw a boy with a box of puppies and a sign that read, “Hokie Puppies for free.”  Beamer couldn’t resist, so he went up to the boy and said, “These are Hokie Puppies, huh?”  The boy said, “Yes Sir, they are Hokies to the bone.”

            The next day, Beamer was walking with his Athletic Director from Virginia Tech and he sees the same boy out trying to give away the puppies and he take the AD up to the boy thinking he was going to show the AD this cute thing he had found.  But when they got up to the boy, they saw that on his sign, the boy had crossed out the word “Hokie” and put in the phrase “UVa. Cavalier Puppies.”

            Beamer said to the boy, “What happened?  I thought these puppies were Hokies?”  The boy said, “They were Hokies, but today their eyes are open.”

            Though we as humans are born with our eyes open, we don’t always have the ability to see.  Sometimes we are born blind.  Other times we develop blindness throughout our lives.  But I’m not just talking about physical blindness.  We as humans often develop social blindness and spiritual blindness.  And today I would like to show you how Jesus can heal these three kinds of blindness.

Physical Blindness

            So Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they come to a blind man.  And John, the author of this gospel, is careful to make sure that the readers know that he has been blind since birth.  And the disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

            Again we see how slow of learners we human beings are.  The disciples seem to be convinced that someone must have sinned for this man to have been born blind.  They are searching for answers, like many of us are today, for why bad things happen.  It reminds me of the story of Job.  Everyone assumed that the bad things that were happening to him were on account of sin in his life.  But this wasn’t the case for Job, and it isn’t the case for the man born blind.  Because Jesus said that neither this man nor his parents were the cause of his blindness.  His blindness has been to prepare for today, so that God’s work might be revealed in him.

            Jesus spits on the ground, makes some mud, and put it on the man’s eyes.  He told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  And when he did as he was told, he came away seeing.  Here we have a physical healing.  A man that was once blind, blind from birth, is now able to see. Evidently the healing of this man is more impressive since he has been blind since birth.  This kind of stuff doesn’t happen every day.  Not in Jesus’ day, and not in our day either.

            It seems kind of primitive, doesn’t it?  Spit on the ground, make some mud, rub it on the blind man’s eyes, and he can see after washing it off.  Primitive, yes.  Effective, yes.  Today we have many treatments for people that are going blind.  The first treatment for someone going blind is put them in a pair of eyeglasses.  This is a treatment that has been around for who knows how long.  But that doesn’t fix the cause of someone losing their vision.  It only helps with the problem.  Then in the last century we came up with all sorts of fancy treatments.  Refractive laser eye surgery can fix nearsightedness and farsightedness with relatively little pain.  Or so I’ve been told.  I think I have seen one to many Star Wars movies to let someone shine a laser in my eye.  There is also a procedure where you implant a lens in your eye, kind of like a permanent contact lens.  There is even a product commonly known as a bionic eye, which is an electronic implant that stimulates the nerve receptors in the eyes and has been shown to improve vision in people with degenerative disorders like macular degeneration.

            But these are procedures for people whose vision is getting worse, people who could once see and their vision is fading.  I don’t know of many quick fixes for people born blind, even today almost 2,000 years after Jesus’ primitive method.  And I think that makes Jesus’ healing pretty significance.  But the real significance isn’t just in the physical healing of the man.  There are other healings taking place on that day.  Because Jesus’ healing of the man born blind reveals other blindness in the people around the man born blind: The social blindness of the Pharisees and the neighbors of the man born blind, and the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.

Social Blindness

            As I read this scripture, I notice just how hard it is for the people to be sure that this man that can now see was in fact the same blind man that used to sit outside begging.  Look at verses 8 and 9, “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.”  The neighbors did know for sure if this was the same man.  They went back and forth, “Is he?  No, he just looks like the guy.  No, I think that is him.”  And it isn’t just the neighbors, but also the Pharisees.  They don’t believe he was even the one born blind so they bring in the guy’s parents and ask him.  And they assure the Pharisees that this is indeed their son and indeed he was born blind and can now see.  So why was there so much confusion as to whether this was really the same man that used to sit outside and beg?  Well it appears as if nobody ever really took the time to meet the blind man.  Nobody ever took the time to look him in the eye.  To them he was just a blind beggar, not worthy of their time.  They dehumanized him because of his handicap.

            And I can’t be too critical of the Pharisees.  We really don’t know how closely this blind man was living to the Pharisees.  They might have never come in contact with him.  But the word used in verse 8 is neighbor.  The people that lived close to the blind man, the people who worked close by, the people that probably grew up next to him couldn’t even identify him as definitely being the same man that used to sit and beg.  And that is a shame.  I ask the question, “Who was really blind here?”

            You would have to be blind to not notice the person in your neighborhood begging every day.  You would have to be blind to not be able to tell whether this person was your neighbor or not.  You would have to be blind to walk past them every day and never bother to strike up a conversation.  So who was really blind, the man born blind or the people that chose to ignore him?

            We don’t find a lot of beggars here in Staunton.  We have plenty of poor people, but it is rare to see someone sitting outside on the street corner with a Styrofoam coffee cup asking for money.  But I assume we have all been to large cities like Washington, D.C. or Baltimore and seen these people begging.

            This summer, some friends and I went up to Baltimore for a baseball game.  And when that game lets out, everyone walks down a similar path to get back to their cars.  So the beggars know that if they wait along that path that 30,000 people with enough money to buy tickets to a professional baseball game are going to be walking by.  So their chance of getting a little money is pretty good.  And people do give them money.  If they have a dollar or some loose change they might drop it in the cup.  I’ve done it before.  And hey, I feel pretty good about myself.  I gave to the poor guy.  But I don’t think I could ever tell you what they looked like.  I could never tell you what color their eyes were.  I have never started a conversation with a beggar.  I have never bothered to ask them what their name was.  No, I hurry back to my $20,000 car so I can get back to my warm house.

            How interesting is it that this man in John chapter 9 is never given a name.  He is simply known as “the man born blind.”  It is like me referring to the guy that begs outside of the stadium, or outside the capital building as “that guy who…”  They aren’t important enough to know their name.  When Jesus heals this man, he exposes the people for what they are; selfish and dehumanizing.  Oh, sure, they might give money from time to time.  And that is great.  But is it enough?  Jesus is always challenging us to do more.  There once was a time when if someone knocked out your eye, it was okay to knock out theirs.  Now Jesus tells us that if someone strikes our right cheek, we should offer them the other as well.  There once was a time when it was sufficient to say don’t commit adultery.  Now Jesus tells us if you lust for a woman you commit adultery.  There was a time when it was enough to give to the poor blind beggar on the street corner.  This passage from John 9 makes me think that maybe now we should be taking the time to get to know the beggar, not just dropping a few coins in their cup.

            The healing of the man born blind reveals the blindness of his neighbors; their social blindness.  They didn’t even know if this was the same guy they walked past every day.  That’s pretty sad.  Who was blind?  The people who didn’t even know their neighbor.

Spiritually Blind

            I recently had the opportunity to watch a movie at home and I am wondering how many of you are familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?  The book was first published in 1950 and was recently made into a movie.  I never read the books, but I have now seen the movie twice.  And you might be thinking to yourself, “Well that is a children’s story.”  But as C.S. Lewis himself said, “There is no such thing as children’s stories or grownup stories.  There are only good stories and bad stories.”  And I believe that this is a good story.

            In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four British children are sent to live in the country with a professor so as to get them out of a dangerous city that has been under attack during WWII.  And when they get out in the country, they find there is relatively little for children to do in the home of a man that spends all of his time reading.  So they have to entertain themselves with games like hind and seek.

            One rainy day, Lucy, the youngest girl, hides in a wardrobe only to find that she is carried away to a world that exists alongside the world that she is used to.  But this is a world that very few people seem to know about.  Inside the wardrobe exists a world where things look different, where things don’t happen in the same way as they happen back home.  These children that are merely in the way back in England are important in Narnia.  In Narnia, they become co-heirs to the throne.           

But when Lucy first returns from Narnia, nobody believes her that such a place exists.  Eventually all four children find their way to Narnia and back, in spite of their disbelief.  And when all four return from Narnia, they are hesitant to tell the professor where they have been because they think he won’t believe them.  They believe that nobody will believe them as to where they have been because it is a place so different from anything anybody else has ever experienced before.

            In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe two different worlds exist.  One that is readily seen, filled with war fought with bombs and airplanes.  The other filled with beauty.  The people of the first world are often oblivious to the world of Narnia.  They don’t know what is “out there” even though what exists out there actually exists within their own world.

            In the closing verses of our story of the man born blind Jesus makes it very clear that there are others in his midst that are blind, and the Pharisees realize that he is talking about them.  These Pharisees have physical sight, but nonetheless, they are blind.  They are blind to the kingdom of God.

            The Pharisees are like those in the Chronicles of Narnia that don’t even realize that there is another kingdom at hand.  There is a kingdom that is not ruled by the strongest army, but by a humble creature that has laid down his life for others.  And the people walk by the kingdom everyday, passing by its members, interacting with those that know of the kingdom.  But so many people don’t even realize that there is another kingdom within their reach.  They are blind to the kingdom of Narnia, as the Pharisees are blind to the kingdom of God.

            The kingdom of God is at hand.  It is nearby, and in some ways, it is here.  But so many people don’t even know that it exists.  Or if they know of this kingdom, many people don’t know how to become a part of that kingdom.  Why?  Because they are blind, blind to the ways of Jesus Christ.  Today we have seen that Jesus can heal physical blindness, as he did with the man born blind.  He can heal us of our social blindness by calling our attention to how we have ignored “the least of these” in our own society.  And Jesus can heal our spiritual blindness when we realize that he is the way into a new kingdom, the kingdom of God.  A kingdom that is not only yet to come, but a kingdom enacted by Jesus himself.  May we all be healed of our blindness.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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