The healing of the man born blind in John’s Gospel became especially real and highly relevant to our Tierra Nueva community this past week. In this story we see Jesus breaking the rules to heal and empower a person who meets no particular requirements. Jesus himself is on the run. But he still models and mobilizes his disciples and us to like action.
This fresh reading was triggered by including the final verse of John 8 in our reading of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.
“Therefore they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (8:59).
Jesus was on the run from religious leaders who sought to administer the death penalty there in the temple.
“What were they doing and how did Jesus respond?” I ask the participants of our Wednesday afternoon Bible study.
“They picked up stones to throw at him. Jesus hid and got away fast,” someone responds.
I then invite someone to read John 9:1.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.”
“So what happens right then when Jesus was on the run?,” I ask.
Someone points out the obvious, but it suddenly looks different. Jesus is on the run, but as he passes a man blind from birth he sees him.
I ask our group how many of them remember actually running from the police or an enemy. A number of them nod their heads or raise their hands.
“Would it be normal to take note of a blind or homeless person on the side of the road at a time like that?” I ask.
“No way! My adrenaline would be pumping and all I’d be doing is trying to get away,” someone says.
“I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror,” says another.
“So even though Jesus is running for his life, hiding from the authorities, he’s chill enough to still notice people in need around him,” I say. “Let’s see what happens next in verse 2.” Someone reads:
“And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
“How do the disciples view God based on their question?” I ask the group.
Someone mentions that the disciples think God must be looking for someone to blame in order to punish the guilty. Someone else asks how a newborn baby could sin, and says the disciples seem to view God as unfair.
“Would God actually punish an innocent infant with blindness due to his/her own sin or the parent’s sin?” someone asks.
“Do people today see God as blaming and punishing, harsh and unfair?” I ask.
People say that many see God as unjust, and see God as only blessing those who fulfill the requirements in order to deserve blessing. They themselves often see God that way! What about you?
Let’s see how Jesus responds,” I say, inviting someone to read John 9:3.
“Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
“So how does Jesus respond exactly here?” I ask. “Jesus doesn’t blame anyone⎯ the man or his parents,” someone says.
“Jesus sees the man’s blindness as an opportunity for God to act.
At this point I invite people to look back in John 8 to see why the Jewish religious leaders were trying to stone Jesus in the first place.
Jesus had challenged the religious leaders’ view of God, clearly stating that God was his Father.
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on my own initiative, but he sent me” (John 8:42).
Jesus here fulfills what was stated earlier in John 1:18. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.”
So Jesus is on the run from the religious leaders, who are trying to execute him for identifying himself with God. And as God, Jesus is now refusing to cast blame on the blind man. Instead he’s explaining that the man’s blindness from birth as an opportunity to engage in a liberating work. On top of that, Jesus deliberately includes his disciples then and now in God’s saving action. I invite someone to read the next verses, which broadens Jesus’ action to include the disciples—and you and me.
“We must work the works of him who sent me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (John 9:4-5).
“Jesus includes his disciples in the “we” when he says: “we must work the works of him who sent me,” I continue.
Jesus refuses to leave a blind man beside the road as condemned by God because of someone’s sin. Instead he steps forward as the Light of the world, bringing his followers along with them, including us in his mission. Let’s see what he does next,” I suggest, inviting someone to read John 9:6-7.
“When he had said this, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.”
We notice together that Jesus doesn’t introduce himself to the blind man. He doesn’t state his name, mention that he’s the Son of God, God incarnate, or Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus crassly spits on the ground, makes mud with the spit, applies it to the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in a pool called Siloam (Sent).
“What happened after this?” I ask our group.
“The blind man found his way to pool, washed the mud off his eyes and could see,” someone says.
I then rapidly summarize how the Pharisees question the man’s parents, criticize Jesus for breaking the rules by healing on the Sabbath, and engage in a hostile back and forth conversation with the increasingly vocal man before they throw him out of their group, telling him: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” (8:34).
The answer is of course “yes,” but we notice that the Pharisees here answer the disciples’ original question to Jesus about why the man was born blind, blaming him and his parents, and then they ex-communicate him.
“So what is God like if Jesus reveals God? What were the requirements for the blind man to recover his sight?” I ask.
“Did he have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, confess and repent of his sins, be born again or follow him?” “Did he have to go to go to detox, get clean and sober, get into a treatment program, attend church, or pay his court fines or child support as pre-requisites? I prod.
Everyone is shaking their heads enthusiastically “no,” and stating the beautiful obvious, which is very good news for people accustomed to having to comply with the many requirements of our criminal justice and social service systems, housing applications and job demands. Jesus reveals a God who sees us and loves us right where they’re at. No questions asked. This love effects change⎯ healing for this man born blind! Jesus shows that God is recruiting us all to engage with him in his Father’s liberating works.
We’d started our Bible study with the door open to keep the air circulating due to a recent Covid upsurge. Midway through our discussion Gracie had closed the door so as to shut out afternoon road noise that was making it hard to hear.
Minutes before this last discussion about Jesus’ unconditional healing, Gracie had gotten up and opened the door again. Almost immediately, two men stepped in, one of whom we knew and had been quite worried about because he’s smoking fentanyl. The other man we didn’t know stood at the door and asked us all a question that shocked us due to its timeliness.
“Hey, can you tell me what the requirements are to be part of this church?” he said.
“There are no requirements,” several people said all at once.
“Hey come on in and join us now if you’d like,” I said, while others ushered them inside and offered each of them a chair in our circle.
The man we knew peeked in but then stepped back out onto the sidewalk, and his friend then said:
“Hey, I’m really worried about my cousin, and about myself too. I know that we need God. I sure do! Maybe now’s not going to work, but I’ll be back,” before running after his cousin who was heading down the street.
We all prayed for these two men then and there, before wrapping up the Bible study by reading later in the story how Jesus came back and found the once-blind man he’d healed.
Before wrapping up our time with prayer, we read together how Jesus found the man, asking him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
We laugh about how the man has no idea who the Son of Man, but humbly says: “Who is he Lord that I may believe in him?”
I’m deeply moved by how Jesus doesn’t give a big explanation from Scripture but simply tells him: “You have both seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you” (8:37).
The man’s response: “Lord, I believe,” and his worship of Jesus is something we’re all ready to do then and there.
I ask whether there’s anyone in need of prayer before we wrap up. A man who’d suffered as a Vietnam veteran two-years clean off crack cocaine says he needs prayer for COPD, a chronic lung condition that makes it hard for him to speak beyond a faint whisper. We gather around and lay hands on him, praying for his healing. Almost immediately he notices a big change. He is astonished as he starts to breathe more freely and we notice the volume of his voice increases significantly. We all marvel at the beautiful presence of Jesus moving in our midst, delighted by the radical goodness of God.
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