Jesus was a complete master at getting the maximum amount of meaning out of the stories and the situations in his life that we have recorded in the Gospels – for his listeners there was always plenty to go away and ponder long after Jesus had moved on, even if we miss some of the hidden meanings.
And not just Jesus, because the writer of our story
today, John was also very clever in the way that he constructed his narrative,
so that it fitted into his overall theme and brought out more than one
important message for anyone listening to it being read.
So in our story today we have this man, well known in the area as a beggar who had been born blind, and to a Jew that meant one of two things – that his blindness was caused by his own sin or the sins of his parents carried forward to the next generation – and the disciples quiz Jesus about this.
But Jesus really isn’t interested in getting involved with that sort of discussion – the man has a need and this is an opportunity for showing how God can meet needs. If you read the Gospels you soon discover the compassion that Jesus had for those in need – the hungry crowd, a centurion, a leper, he didn’t discriminate! Not only that, says Jesus, but there’s so little time to do all that needs to be done.
"As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Jesus knew that his time was short, so there was urgency about his work
and always a purpose to whatever he did. He could use opportunities such
as this to put across more than one message, and by an act of healing
reveal something more about himself.
But there’s also another message to the world here. Jesus is telling his disciples and the blind beggar that there’s a limited time period to understand who Jesus is and make a response to him, and that’s as true then as it is now. Then it was that short period of time that Jesus had on this earth to recruit that small group of disciples who would change the world through spreading the Good News of the Gospel. Now, we have to ask "who is doing that work?"
The opportunity to say "Yes" to Jesus as Saviour may not come more than once in a person’s life – and to miss out, well that can have serious consequences both in the now and hereafter. God says to us "Now is the time" not tomorrow or sometime which is slightly more convenient to us.
The statistics are interesting –
the incidences of conversions increase between the age of about 8 and
16, then there’s a steep decline to the age of 20, and beyond 30
there are few who make that choice. It’s not that Jesus’ light
gets dimmer, or his power diminishes but rather that our spiritual eyesight
starts to decline and we see things less clearly, less black and white
and much greyer. It will soon be night, says Jesus and then no work can
be done because no-one can see.
When I was eleven I realised that I could no longer see the blackboard at school, and it’s been downhill ever since! Without glasses everything is out of focus, and I am unable to do so much that I take for granted – work for instance! In fact if it weren’t for the miracle of varifocals I’d have to own three pairs of glasses, for reading, computer work and long distance!
"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. 11He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
It struck me as I was thinking about this that the glass I now see clearly
through has connections to the mud that Jesus rubbed over the blind man’s
eyes – it’s a natural substance, made from silica sand and
other materials. Mixed together in their raw state with water they would
probably resemble…. mud!
Are glasses a miracle? I guess to the first person to benefit from the invention of corrective lenses they were very definitely a miracle – we’re too used to fantastic technology and developments to appreciate what we take for granted.
Why mud and spit? Well, possibly because although Jesus refused to show signs and wonders just to prove who he was, there are times when a physical sign is needed (a Minister might anoint a sick person’s head with oil as such a sign) and here was Jesus the Physician, using the methods and customs of his time.
As for the spit, the Jews regarded spit as medicinal to the eyes when diseased, but, and this is important they also banned the use of medicines on the Sabbath. They regarded the Sabbath so strictly that they considered the preparation and use of medicines as contrary to the law, and "oops" this was the Sabbath Day when Jesus healed the man – perhaps deliberately flouting the law in order to make the point that God’s love and compassion are not restricted by man made laws, which seemed to really have a grip on the lives of the people.
The use of mud could also have a spiritual explanation. Genesis tells us that humankind was created out of the dust of the earth – so we have a connection with the simple elements of which mud is composed, scientific fact I guess – and with these same elements Jesus restores this man’s life to completeness.
He also, it’s worth adding, tested the man’s faith by making him walk up to the pool of Siloam, one of the landmarks of Jerusalem, to wash away the mud along with his blindness – which he did. That’s often the way God works with us, we pray for things and expect everything on a plate – but sometimes we have to contribute something of ourselves to receive the blessing.
Unfortunately he then seems to have had difficulty persuading the powers-that-be that a cure had taken place. They seemed to be firmly locked into the mindset that said ‘This cannot happen… and particularly on a Sabbath… the man that did this must be possessed or worse!’ Maybe the blind man had been faking it all these years, and this was some sort of conspiracy between him and this Jesus person! They were certainly not ready to do as the man was suggesting and believe in Jesus!
"He answered, 'I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?' Then they hurled insults at him and said, 'You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from.'"
John includes this story here for two reasons. Firstly it chronicles Jesus’ compassion and his power to heal, but it also follows a long passage where the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were struggling to come to a conclusion about who Jesus was and whether he posed any sort of threat to their position, so it’s also a message about spiritual blindness.
In fact you have to almost ask the question as to who was the most blind, the beggar or the Pharisees? They saw Jesus walking among them and yet they were blind to who he was. The evidence was there to see and yet they were spiritually short sighted – unable to focus on anything but their own interpretation of Scripture, unwilling to accept that they were wrong.
The man knew he had been touched by God, no-one could restore sight to someone who had been blind from birth, and in his limited knowledge he recognised that Jesus was at the very least a prophet sent by God.
"We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
Two things are important to grasp from this story. Firstly that God’s
power extends beyond the limits of our understanding – sometimes
we are all as guilty as the Pharisees in saying that something is impossible.
Secondly that there is spiritual blindness out there in the world, and
indeed within our churches – a failure to recognise Jesus for who
he is and respond to that knowledge. We need to learn to put stop squinting
and put on spiritual glasses that will enable us to focus properly on
the Light of this world.
The world I see now is not only clearer because of the physical glasses I wear. It’s said that becoming a Christian is a journey rather than a destination – so if you think you’ve made it, the chances are that all you’ve done is sat down along the road. I know that since I started my journey of faith I am able to look at the world through the lens of Jesus who is the light who makes all things clear.
Seeing through this lens I am now able to understand so much more about God and my place in his world – and on my journey of faith I can now recognise and overcome the obstacles that stand in my way.