The meaning of the passage in the gospel of John is obvious.
There is a blind man who sees who Jesus is. Compare this with the fact that
there are lots of people with good eyesight who are blind to who Jesus is. It
is meant to be a contrast, a contradiction of what is expected that will shake
up our impressions of the world. The gospel writer is sharing this story
because John wants us to open our eyes so that we can really see Jesus. John
doesn’t want us to suffer from spiritual blindness.
The problem is that from our birth we have seen things a certain way, we
have put things in certain categories, and it is very hard for us to change
that. This video demonstrates that really well:
Our minds get caught up in interpreting what we see in certain ways. It
isn’t just with 3d images. We do it with people. For example, our scripture
today. The disciples were sure that the man was blind because someone had done
something wrong. They couldn’t see that a good person might suffer. The
Pharisees were sure that Jesus was not from God because he healed the blind man
on the Sabbath day. They couldn’t see past the sin of working on the Sabbath,
to realize that what Jesus had done could only be done by God.
The same things happen to us. We get caught up in assumptions about our
faith. So perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the
church as negatives things, what would it take to change that? Or likewise
perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the church as
purely positive, without flaw, what would it take to change that?
The fact is that both of these are insufficient. Christians and people of
the church have never been completely negative, nor have they been completely
positive. They have been the catalyst for great good, and they have been the
source of great harm. Sadly, there are people who have experienced Jesus as a
frightening figure of condemnation and hatred, when it is his desire to be a
source of great healing and hope in their lives. We don’t like to admit it, but
both are true.
Likewise, if we turn the picture around, non-Christians and people outside the
church are often depicted as evil or backward by the church as we point out all
the harm they have done, and yet they have also been the catalyst for great
good, Muslims have been the source of incredible blessings, atheists have made
great contributions to society.
The challenge of this passage is to open our eyes and see where
God is at work, even in places where we may not expect it. The disciples
have to learn that people don’t suffer because they sinned. The Pharisees have
to learn that just because someone works on the Sabbath does not mean that they
are evil. In fact, that person might be the Messiah. But for that to happen,
something radical has to come that will change the way they see. The same is
true for us. What happens when God is at work in a place we don’t expect? How
are we going to see it? That’s where Jesus comes in. What Jesus says is that he
is the light of the world.
Imagine you are in a room that is nearly dark. Always your experience of that
room has been in the dark. You have learned to feel your way around. You know
that there is a big box in the corner, that is smooth and really hurts when you
smack your shin on it. You know that there is a comfortable chair just to the
right of the doorway. You even know there is a lump in the carpet that you
could trip over about three feet south of the center of the room.
Into your familiar setting, suddenly there is a new light, a bright light,
which changes how you see everything. The lump in the carpet is still just a
lump in the carpet but you never knew the carpet was lime green. The big box in
the corner isn’t just a box, it is painted in a thousand colors, depicting the
scenes of joyous celebrations from your life. The chair also holds a surprise,
it has words printed across the back that say, “When you are weary, I will give
you rest.” Plus, you notice things that you never knew were there before. The
ceiling is actually carved with thousands of flowers and animals. It was out of
reach, and you assumed that it was a ceiling like any other, but it was not. It
took the light to change how you viewed it all.
That is what Jesus claims to be. He is the light that will change how we
see the world. The problem is, that most of us, don’t really let Jesus turn on
the light. We haven’t learned to change the way we see. We have to push beyond
the ways we previously thought. That was the disciples’ problem, the Pharisees’
problem, and I think it is the problem of people in every age.
From time to time I wonder
what would happen to me if I were suddenly struck blind? Would I become
kinder to people, less judgmental? Would I be less concerned about how good
looking that woman in front of me is, or what that guy is wearing, or the color
of that kid’s skin who is walking toward me on the sidewalk, and spend more
time focusing on their tone of voice, their character, and who they truly are? Would
being blind actually help me see them more clearly as Christ sees them?
I do wonder that from time to time. Would it take something that drastic to
shake me from my certainties so that I could really see things the ways Jesus
wants me to see them? Think about it,
“When have you been pushed beyond what you once thought so certain, both in
faith and in terms of what you believed about people?”
Was it something big like going blind or being cured of blindness? Or was it
something smaller that simply had a big impact on how you looked at the world?
As you think about it, “What helped you cope with the change? What did you
As you think about that shift in your understanding of the world, what if
Christ is saying to you, I want you to do that with everything now? I am the
light of the world. In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ words
like this, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of
day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will
see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as
So how does Jesus do that?
What does he show us and tell us to help us make clear distinctions so that
we are not blind in this world? As you recall our drama, what is it that the
situation teaches us about seeing? Well, it reminds us that suffering is not
punishment for past sins. Rather suffering is an opportunity for God’s blessing
and work. It then reminds us that it is our job to do the work of God, even if
it breaks religious tradition and religious law. Finally, the blind man himself
reminds us that the miracles speak for themselves. They are evidence that God
is behind the work of Jesus.
As Christians we have no problem with Jesus being the Messiah. We accept
that Jesus was from God well enough. But the heart of the argument isn’t just
about who Jesus is, it is about the way that God works. The suggestion is that
when miracles happen, God is present. No matter what we as humans may think of
the individual or group who performed the miracle. And as Christians we aren’t
as good about hearing that message. We would much rather say, no that person
can’t be from God because they are breaking this part of God’s law, they can’t
be from God because they have the wrong opinion on this issue, or they came
from the wrong background, or worst of all they aren’t even Christian. And yet
the miracle suggests that God is with them.
So Christ as the light of the world says, you claim to see everything so
well, but when you don’t see what I am doing, you are still blind to how I
work, and you have more to learn. This passage is meant to challenge us as
religious people to realize that God is bigger than our preconceived notions. Suffering
is not condemnation. People are not poor because they deserve it. People are
not sick because they committed grievous sins. Suffering is opportunity for
God’s people to be at work. Any and all of God’s people. So wherever there is
healing, wherever there is hope, wherever there are miracles – God is there
working with whoever and whatever kinds of people are there – even if we don’t
think they are the kind God would associate with. Whether we want to see God
there or not, God is there. Christ shines his light so that we might look and
see the wondrous deeds of God, and see the people of God who do them in a new a
powerful light. His light. But we may have to go blind to see it.