JOHN 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It would be easy to get distracted into a discussion on “the meaning of suffering” here, whether looking behind for a cause (in this case someone’s sin) or ahead for a purpose (“so that” God’s works might be revealed).

Let’s just say for now, that suffering doesn’t have to have a meaning at all. However cognitively disturbing or intellectually unsatisfying it may feel to just let it be, suffering – disability, illness, chronic pain, abuse, personal loss, relentless hardship, and even the mortal condition in general – might well be inherently meaningless.

Your spirituality and faith are no less genuine if you choose to regard suffering as absurd. The key thing in any case will be your ability to be present in the suffering and not explain it away, to be present to others in their suffering without reaching for one “justification” or another.

This passage is not really about suffering and its meaning (or absence of it). The man’s blindness is operating metaphorically as a condition of disorientation and being “in the dark” – a spiritual diagnosis of the human condition, according to many of the world’s wisdom traditions.

Every person is separated from the light-world of reality by a screen of ignorance, a condition which is compounded over time by the layering of additional veils with such names as assumption, belief, and certainty.

Physically blind people in the ancient world were commonly reduced to begging for their daily needs. This put them in a passive attitude with respect to the reality around them, as they awaited the charity of others. The ignorant certainty of many also keeps them in a position of passivity, laziness … even entitlement. They get to a point where they have resigned and turned in their key to the door of awakening and the liberated life.

                                                                                              

Instead of saying to the man, “Hocus, pocus, I command you to SEE!” Jesus made a mud paste and daubed it on his eyelids. “Go and wash.” 

The path out of darkness and into the light – from ignorance to understanding, from captivity to freedom – would require the man’s active effort. He needed to get on his feet and make his way to the Pool of Siloam to wash the mud from his eyes.

Once there, the man rinsed in the water – and was able to see!

Jesus performed this healing on a sabbath, which according to the rules was supposed to be a day for avoiding work, and making a mud poultice would have classified as “work.” This represents another tangent that we will forgo for now. One of the things that got him in trouble with the orthodoxy of his day was his insistence that human well-being always trumps religious obedience.

A cross of some kind typically awaits people like that.

The progression from darkness to light, then, called on the blind man – and on all human beings insofar as we are trapped behind our screens of ignorance and conviction – to take an active role in his liberation. Jesus wouldn’t let him sit there in passive expectancy, waiting around for something to happen.

Whatever fear he may have held concerning the risks involved in going on the unconventional prescription of a stranger – losing his begging post during rush-hour, getting lost in the streets, being ridiculed and shamed for his behavior – the man needed to step through the fear and do his part.

The religious leaders, still blind behind their orthodoxy, were unable to accept, much less comprehend, what had happened. This story is still playing out today …

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