I have really struggled with this text this week.
On the surface, John 9 tells a simple story about Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. The religious leaders want to know who did it because the healing happened on a Sabbath, and so investigate the circumstances of the healing in a way that almost becomes comical. Eventually, they expel the healed man from the community of the synagogue for saying that his healing shows that Jesus must have come from God. Jesus catches up with him and then gives one of his paradoxical statements about the blind being able to see and those who can see being the ones who are actually blind (v39).
It is this statement of Jesus that has sat in the back of my mind all week, making me wonder if I really see what this story is about, or whether I’m blind to what Jesus is trying to teach us.
I know I’m reflecting my post-modern culture, but we all come to Scripture with our assumptions about the message of the Bible and what God is trying to tell us through the Bible. That makes us no different from the Pharisees whose assumption was that the Law of Moses gave them their best understanding of who God is and how God is at work in the world. One of the reasons they rejected Jesus was because he worked this miracle on the Sabbath. He broke the Law of Moses and so, the Pharisees concluded, he couldn’t be from God. The assumptions the Pharisees worked with prevented them from seeing Jesus as the one through whom God was working in the world.
The key to seeing what this story is about seems to lie in verse 3b when Jesus says that this man was born blind ‘so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (NIV). What Jesus seems to be saying is that the man born blind encountered God working in the world through Jesus because of his disability. The Pharisees didn’t see it because they didn’t recognize their need for God’s grace or healing. The blind man needed it because he couldn’t see, and it’s because of his lack of physical sight that he gained spiritual insight into Jesus doing God’s work in his life and in the world.
Maybe that’s the point of the story – seeing Jesus as the One who does God’s work in the world to bring us grace which makes us whole.
I’m always cautious about drawing parallels between us and the Pharisees because, let’s face it, none of us like to be called a Pharisee. However, like them, we can look for God to be working in lots of different ways in the world – for example, through nature, or a personal experience of some kind, or a miraculous revelation, or doing good things, or even a set of rules or religious tradition. I know that we can encounter God in ways such as these, and I don’t want to discount them. What this story seems to be saying, though, is that the one place we can see most clearly the way that God is working in the world is through Jesus.
This can become a real challenge for us because Jesus doesn’t fit in with the way we expect God to work. When we look at Jesus, we see God at work in humility, in weakness, in suffering and in the cross. We can look at the man born blind and see God working in his life through Jesus who meets him in his disability. In the same way, when we are being humiliated or shamed, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our humility or shame to give us honour and dignity, like we saw in last week’s story of the Samaritan woman at the well. When we are weak, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our weakness to make us strong in faith. When we are suffering for any reason, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our suffering to give us the hope that he is with us, will give us a better tomorrow, and somehow even use our suffering for good (see Romans 28). In the cross, we see God meeting us in the worst circumstances of life to pour his self-giving, grace-filled love into us which makes us whole and gives us what we need to live in peace and joy now and forever.
I don’t see a God who works like this anywhere else but in Jesus. That’s why, first and foremost,
Discipleship is … Jesus opening our eyes to see God at work in him.
We are all like the blind man in one way or another. We all need to have our eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to see God at work in the person of Jesus, meeting us in our need, showing us grace, carrying our brokenness, and raising us to new life through faith in him. Only then are we able to live as God’s people and glorify him in what we say and do like the man born blind in the story did.
It’s worth asking: where do we look for God? What kind of God do we meet there? And how is that God similar or different to the God we meet in Jesus? We will all come to the Bible with our different assumptions, and they will shape our understanding of God and how God is at work in our lives and in the world. When we think we can see things clearly, maybe that’s when we are actually blind to God’s truth. When we admit we can’t see him, but need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, maybe that’s when we start to see God at work in Jesus.
More to think about:
- Where do you look for God at work in the world? In your life?
- What does that say to you about who God is? What might be some problems with looking for God there?
- What do you think about looking for God at work in Jesus? What might be helpful in doing that? What might be some challenges about it?
- When you look at the way God was at work through Jesus in the life of the man born blind from John 9, what does it tell you about God?
- How might it help you in your life if you could see God at work in humility, weakness, suffering or the cross?