Jesus and the disciples are traveling when they notice a blind man. This was apparently someone known in the community and known to the disciples, because they are aware he’s been blind from birth. On seeing him, the disciples ask the obvious to them question, “Who sinned, he or his parents?” Not an obvious question for us of course. Can you imagine living in a world where and when a blind person deals with people thinking either you or your parents caused the disability you are struggling with? That’s a tough place to live.
Jesus says that to ask questions such as these is to get sidetracked into the past, into what has happened. He says “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Stop looking in the past. Elevate the moment. See what is in front of you. God isn’t afraid of the past. The Lord doesn’t forget but the past can’t always be the measure of today or tomorrow. The line can be interrupted; something better can intersect and alter one’s trajectory. We’re not made of stone. Flesh gets injured but it heals. Souls can be bent but they don’t always break. We may have done less than we could and should have, but that cloud casting shadows over our life retreats when the spirit blows on it.
Whoever this man is that Jesus now encounters isn’t the man Christ will leave behind. There’s a new person about to spring up. There’s a new life about to burst forth. It doesn’t matter who or what he was, how he got where he is found; what matters is what the Lord can do; what matters is Christ’s power to let this man begin again.
So not only does this story start out with an off-putting question about placing blame on someone’s sin for what we know now was a hereditary condition, genetic condition, or a retinal defect, since this man was born blind, but it then moves into the unsanitary act of taking one person’s saliva, even if it is Jesus’ spit, mixing it with dirt and then putting it in the person’s eye. Why, right? The short and only answer is that saliva was believed to have healing power, which is true still actually. Your mouth will heal quicker than other skin surfaces because of saliva. Saliva heals. It’s a medical fact, not that I’m advocating you spitting in people’s eyes or anywhere else.
So, Jesus does this and then tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Today, the Pool of Siloam is the lowest place in altitude within the historical city of Jerusalem. Not that it’s very low. In fact, it sits at some
2,000 feet above sea level. When the Old Testament talks about going to Jerusalem it says, “going up” to Jerusalem. The Psalms section that pilgrims used to aid them in their journey to Jerusalem is called the Song of Ascents because you could see Jerusalem set on a hill, Zion, from a distance. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, the Pool of Siloam was the starting point for pilgrims who made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and where they ascended by foot to the inner court of the Temple Mount to bring their sacrificial offerings.
Jesus told the blind man to go to that pool to wash his eyes out and to start his new life of being able to see for the first time ever, just like pilgrims would start their ascent to the Temple from the pool. The Pool of Siloam is a place of beginnings, of new starts. How powerful that must have been for him! To see for the first time. To start his life over. To be free from his blinded past.
He could see what people looked like rather than just hear them or feel them. He could see the bird that he heard each morning sing and call. He could look at a rose rather than only smell its delicate fragrance. His mom and dad and siblings would be visible to him. The magnificence of water as if flowed down in rivulets would finally be able to cast its spell on him. The world would be new. He would get to see it all. I can’t imagine what that would have been like for him to be able to see or hear for the first time.
Of course, not everything would turn out as he might have wanted. I heard about one person whose sight came to him after being born or became blind soon after. He thought skin would look better than it does. He had felt skin while blind obviously, but he thought it would be different, better than it turned out. You can bet just about everything else he saw for the first time was amazing.
But even when we see, how well do we see? Timothy Haut, a pastor in Connecticut, wrote a beautiful poem about really seeing: BLIND.
“Once I saw a bird, But I did not see, A soaring, feathered song, Rose-breasted and alive, Rejoicing at the dawn. Once I saw a tree, But I did not see A billion green cells, Devouring the golden sunlight As they quiver in leafy splendor, Reaching toward heaven’s brightness. Once I saw a face pass by, But I did not see A holy child, brave, unfettered, The eyes seeking loveliness and love, The sweet lips that have kissed away hurt–The lips that speak my name—The lines of weariness, etched by sorrow, Wrinkling when you smile.
I did not see you, Nor any of this world’s wonders, Until you touched my eyes, Opened my senseless heart. I was blind but now I see.”
We see what we have always seen too often. Be careful about limited vision. We shouldn’t assume we have seen all there’s to see. Take another look. Peer harder. Focus better. Lazy eye isn’t just a physical issue for some people.
Jesus gave sight to the blind man, but could he start over in other ways? It’s never easy for us to start over. Could he begin again after for so many years he had heard how either he or his parents had sinned and that was why he was blind. Perhaps he had accepted this about his parents. Could he release his parents from that untruth now that he had heard from Jesus that God’s power had brough him sight? Perhaps it’s easier to see for the first time, but not as easy to begin again.
There is a fairly well known saying that occurs when Jesus speaks to a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, a member of the highest court, the Sanhedrin. The Nicodemus-Jesus conversation happens at the beginning of the famous chapter 3, which then leads to the most famous saying in all of scripture for Christians, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that God gave his son, so that those who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 3, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” or born anew—born again. This is where the idea that Christians are to be born again comes from. A person who is born again becomes a new person in Christ.
Chapter 3 introduces an extremely important theme in John’s Gospel: If you can start again, if you can go from being blind to seeing, seeing who Christ is most important of all, then you can see what God is giving, what God is doing. If you can’t be born again, if you can’t begin again, then you can’t see Christ. This isn’t just a person or religious idea. For John, this was happening in front of him in the tens of thousands. John witnessed the Jewish people rejecting Jesus while Gentiles were accepting him. As I’ve said before and will repeat—the Gospels don’t only talk about Jesus and his time. They report what was happening when the authors were writing. They have one eye on Christ and one eye on the contemporary life they knew and were living alongside other Christians.
In John’s mind, the Jewish people were so stuck to the old ways of that they couldn’t or refused to see that God had sent and given Jesus Christ. Something new and even more wonderful had happened, but they were blind
to it because they wouldn’t begin again. So much of John’s Gospel is about how the Jewish people were missing the best thing ever, but the Gentiles weren’t.
Jews weren’t accepting Jesus. John knew this. It was a major problem. It is related to the problem we recently talked about when Matthew tells a parable in which the very last workers get paid the same amount as the first workers who had worked all day. Jews were the first workers and Gentiles were the last, but they were equal in God’s eyes now. This was a problem because the Jews had done all the living, fighting, dying with God, sometimes at the hands of Gentiles, and now they were to be made equal partners in this new relationship based in Christ.
John’s problem is a later one. It’s not the same problem as Gentiles being brought into the Jewish religion. By the time, John writes, it’s become clear not only have Gentiles taken fairly well to the Christ message and Paul’s preaching of it, along with other missionaries, but inversely by now, Jews are rejecting Christ and the Christianization of Jewish religion. John’s Gospel talks continually of how Jewish leaders reject Jesus. John’s well-known antagonism toward Jews, but especially Jewish leaders, came from the historical experience of Christianity no longer being a Jewish religion by the time he wrote. It was rejected, Christ was rejected by Jews, but embraced by Greeks and other Gentiles. This was a tough thing for the author to swallow. They wouldn’t let themselves be born again. They refused to start over. They didn’t accept Christ because they were blind and didn’t want to see.
Before we agree so easily with John, and congratulate ourselves, we ought to ask how easy it is to start over. Can you begin again, start anew? Are we not all stuck often enough? We’re not even talking about the amazingly hard thing of switching a whole religion, the one our family has practiced, the one that we are ethnically a part of. We’re talking the easier: If we can’t forgive someone, if we can’t stop ourselves from having the same old arguments and issues with the same person, how much harder would it be to switch our whole identity and leave behind everyone we knew and who loved us?
Christ calls us to start again. There’s power in beginning anew. Don’t let the past be prologue. See better. Find a new way. Climb the higher path. See more fully and vividly. Start again so you are empowered to live the life Christ can give. God wants to share more to those who can see anew.
Can the church say Amen?