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Jesus and the man born blind (Jn 9:1-41)

To be a parent, a mother or a father, is an awesome responsibility, isn’t it? Having brought a new life into the world, we have a huge responsibility for our children’s physical, emotional, education and spiritual development. 

Even when they have grown and left home, parents don’t cease to care for their children, do they? They take an active interest and concern over their children’s chosen career, their relationships, and their general wellbeing long after they have ‘flown the nest’. 

In first-century Jewish culture there was one other potential cause of angst for a loving parent. If their child was born with an illness or disability, it was widely assumed that this was a consequence of its parents’ sin, an unwelcome penalty for the sins of their fathers (or mothers). There was assumed to be a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between parental sin and the health of their offspring. A case of ‘bad karma’, you might say.

A miracle to melt a mother’s heart

We see this assumption expressed by Jesus’ own disciples at the very start of our passage today. Spotting a blind beggar at the side of the road, they ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The possibility that their moral failings could have been the cause of their son’s blindness must have been a huge source of guilt and regret for this man’s parents. It must have been their heart’s desire for their son to see.

But Jesus’s reply to his disciples question completely quashes this misplaced cultural assumption. He rejects the idea that suffering is a necessary consequence of sin, or apportioned according to guilt. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” he says. Instead, the man was born blind “so that the works of God might be displayed in him”.

In other words, this man’s congenital blindness represented a God-given opportunity for Jesus to perform a remarkable miracle. A miracle that would serve as yet another signpost to Christ’s true identity.

In my family we enjoy watching ‘The Great Pottery Throwdown’ on Channel 4. Each week the twelve contestants compete to make the most sophisticated and attractive creations out of clay. Jesus also makes some clay in verse 6 today, doesn’t he? But he uses it to heal, rather than make a vase, lamp or other objet d’arte. Jesus spat “on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he then told himand “wash in the Pool of Siloam”.

We may wonder why Jesus used clay to cure the man’s eyes – its certainly not something in an optician’s typical toolkit! Mud is not your usual ophthalmic instrument! But it was marvellously and miraculously effective, wasn’t it? Because verse 7 tells us that “the man went and washed, and came home seeing!”

For the first time in his entire life, this man had eyes to see! Whatever guilt or anxiety that he or his parents had had about their past sins had now evaporated! He could now look upon the world for the first time. He could now leave his begging career far behind! How his parents’ hearts must have melted with joy when they first heard the news!

A miracle that causes controversy 

But as well as causing joy, this remarkable miracle also caused controversy, didn’t it?  In verses 8 to 12 we’re told that the man’s friends and acquaintances were (understandably) plunged into a state of confusion. How was it possible that his life had gone from blindness and begging to sight and joy? “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” they asked with amazement. Some could see that he was. But those of a more sceptical mindset said, “No, he only looks like him” – despite the man’s own protestations to the contrary! “I am the man”,he said!

A miracle that points to the Messiah

To arbitrate on the dispute, the man was taken to the religious authorities, the Pharisees. Surely they could be relied upon to pass a sound judgement on the situation? Tragically, as we see the scene unfold, the Pharisees fail to draw the correct conclusions. For all their theological qualifications and self-righteousness, the Pharisees spectacularly fail to see the wood for the trees. Physically they may have had 20:20 vision, but spiritually the Pharisees were as blind as bats.

If they had been seeing clearly, the Pharisees would have correctly interpreted Jesus’ miracle as a signpost. A signpost pointing to his messianic identity and  divine status. If they really knew their Bible’s they would have known that giving sight to the blind is a uniquely divine ability. Not even the great prophets of Old Testament time ever replicated Jesus’ ophthalmological feat. 

If they had been seeing with spiritual 20:20 vision, the Pharisees would have cast their minds back to Isaiah chapter 42, to the passage we had read earlier this morning. A passage in which God promises a Messiah, a special Servant, with power to open the eyes of the blind. If they had be thinking clearly, the Pharisees would have regarded this miracle as compelling evidence for Jesus’ claim to be “the Light of the World” (v.5).

But tragically, the Pharisees do none of this, do they? They can’t get past the fact that Jesus seems to have healed on the Sabbath. They can’t see beyond their own religious rules and regulations to recognise that the Messiah, when he comes, might challenge their expectations, prioritise those on the margins and perform the type of miracle that no one had ever witnessed before.

In their state of spiritual blindness the Pharisees begin by suggesting that Jesus is a sinner (v.16), before rejecting the blind man’s testimony (v.17), and then proceed to intimidate and threaten his parents (v.18)! Their misplaced animosity climaxes in verse 34 when they throw the man out of the synagogue. He is excommunicated for simply testifying to Jesus’ miraculous work in his life. 

No wonder Jesus calls them guilty men when he himself comes face to face with them at the very end of our passage. With Easter around the corner, Jesus knew that the hostility of these men to his ministry would culminate in his arrest and execution – the coming “night” he alludes to in verse 4 of our reading.

A blind beggar who saw the Son of Man!

But if the Pharisees are the villains of the piece, there is no doubt who is the hero and role-model of today’s passage. We might call him ‘the blind man who saw the Son of Man’ – the recipient of this great healing miracle who responded so well to the grace he received.

The first commendable quality this beggar displays is obedience. After smearing his eyes with mud, Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – and he does so without any hesitation.

After obedience, comes courage. In the face of incredulity and interrogation, this brave man doesn’t flinch from giving Jesus credit for his healing. He doesn’t hide away from the Pharisees, or deny knowing Jesus, does he? On the contrary, in verse 27 he calls himself a disciple of Christ, and hopes the Pharisees will do likewise. Despite the Pharisees’ verbal hostility and the threat of excommunication, this brave beggar stays loyal to the Lord who healed him.

Finally, this man is a model of faith. Listen again to verses 35 to 38: Jesus found him again and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.”

Confronted by all the evidence, this once blind man came to see Jesus as the Son of Man. He came to see Jesus as the Heaven-sent Saviour, his God-given Redeemer – indeed as God incarnate, God with us. And so he worshipped Jesus – he wisely gave him the adoration due to God alone.

But what about us? Because the truth is that we are all beggars like this man. We are spiritual beggars rather than street beggars, but beggars all the same. As fallen, fallible men and women, we have no intrinsic right to God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy – but it is offered to us through Christ all the same. 

And our response should be the same as the street beggar we’ve been reading about today. We should worship Jesus as our Saviour, we should obey him as our Lord, and we should boldly tell our neighbours all about him. And in the face of hardship, opposition and persecution – from wherever it may come –  may we show the same courage, strength and perseverance as this remarkable man did in our passage today.