John 9: 1-7 The Message
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.
We are continuing this week looking at some of the miracles of Jesus, called signs and wonders in the Gospel of John, using the book Outdoing Jesus by Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s porch in Minneapolis, a church that focuses on addressing human needs in the community. The title comes from Jesus’ statement to the disciples at the last supper that they will do even greater works than he has done. Pagitt reads these miracles as many of us do, not as breaking the laws of physics, but breaking open human hearts and human potential, and he recounts ways that everyday people are doing the same. As I said last week, John is my least favorite gospel primarily because of its negative portrayal or all Jews who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, shown through his constant use of “The Jews” as a pejorative, which as we discussed in our book club this week, always becomes a problem when we separate people into a binary of ‘all in’ or ‘’all out,” when humans are much more complex than that. The miracle stories, though, if we read them as humans helping humans, can stand on their own, so I just skip the parts of John’s commentary that I don’t like. As we heard in the reading, this week’s miracle is when Jesus healed a man born blind. The man is sitting where he always sits, beside the busy street that goes to and from the temple. He knows that it is considered a good deed for religious people to give to the needy, so this is a great spot for him to sit with his bowl as they return from the temple with full and generous hearts. As Jesus and his disciples walk by, they see him, and one of them, in his arrogance and self-centeredness, instead of having empathy for the man, or even acknowledging him, uses his predicament for his own education, asking, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” This belief, that children pay the consequences of what their parents did, was held by many ancient religions, including Judaism, as we read in Exodus 20, verse 5, where Yahweh says, “I am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation.” It’s also the main tenet in the fundamentalist Christian doctrine of original sin, first voiced by Augustine, using the writings of Paul, that says, since Adam and Eve, the first humans, sinned, all of humanity is born in sin. But Jesus says, it has nothing to do with sin. There is no one to blame for his blindness. Let’s focus on what we can do to help. Then he makes a mud paste out of dust and his own saliva and gently applies it to the man’s eyes. Saliva was thought to have medicinal qualities. (My mother sure believed it did.) The dust is literally dust and a reference to Genesis, which says, “Then God formed man from the dust of the ground.” So Jesus is not only giving the man sight. He is giving him a new life, which is what always happens with Jesus’ healings. They are a double blessing of physical healing and being restored to their proper place in the community. He is no longer an outcast. Pagitt emphasizes that this is also a story about touch. Like Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the last supper, Jesus connects with this man through human touch. That is a lesson for all of us in how to connect with another’s humanity. I think not being able to touch each other Is one of the harshest things the pandemic has done to us. The man Jesus healed wasn’t the only blind person in the story. The disciples were blinded by their biases. They were sure that someone’s sin caused the man to be born blind. That’s what they had been taught, and they didn’t think to question it. They were also blinded by the sense of superiority they felt over this man because they had physical sight when he didn’t. Throughout the gospels, Jesus opened their eyes to their prejudices and gave them new perspectives and understanding of their fellow humans. In many of my sermons this past year and especially in our New Vision book club, we have been striving to enlighten ourselves about our own biases and long-held stereotypes, admitting that we all have beliefs that we have rarely questioned. And we are giving each other a safe, supportive space to do that now. In the book White Too Long, The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, we gained insight into racism in the Christian church, not just in the past, but in the present. For example, the author cites a recent poll that shows 83 percent of white Christians say that confederate monuments are more a symbol of southern pride than of racism. I thought about all the white supremacists who stormed the capitol, destroying property, threatening and even taking lives, while wrapped in confederate flags and carrying crosses. Will they ever question their beliefs or actions. I hope so. Otherwise, we will never get anywhere near unity as a country. The book Caste helped us see that there is a whole system that stigmatizes those deemed inferior to justify their discrimination, like we saw in the way society treated the blind man and we see every day in America. And the book we just finished, Think Again, reiterated the importance of unlearning our biases and stereotypes, rethinking our long-held views, and freeing ourselves to see with new eyes. There is always more to learn, more insight to be gained. And, thankfully, God is still speaking. There is healing paste for us, in books and podcasts and conversations, to continue to open our eyes to new ways of understanding and connecting to all our fellow humans.