Very often, when we listen to a story, especially a rather long one like this, we find ourselves feeling a certain affinity with one character or another in it. Sometimes that is because of a sense of empathy for that character, but sometimes it is because we feel we are a bit like that character ourselves.
A long time ago, one of the great Christian Saints suggested that this was actually a very good way for us to enable the story to come alive for us. By imagining ourselves into the story, as one of the characters, or as a bystander, responding to the story, we can enter deeply into the significance of the story.
I think that we do this more often than we realise, especially when we are reading the Bible devotionally. This way of reading the stories enables us to forget about the strict letter of the text and allow the Spirit of God to bring the text alive for us as we read it. This is what happens when something in the text seems to jump out at us – almost as if lit up in neon lights. These are the words in the story that God wants us to take notice of as we read it.
The stories we have had from the Gospel of John during this Lenten period are both long and complex, but I am wondering if a brief consideration of the different characters in the story today and the roles they play might just bring something to life for some of you that will be God’s word for you today.
The story begins with a question from the Disciples. They asked Jesus: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
How often, when we see a homeless person sitting on our city streets begging, do we find ourselves thinking somehow he is to blame for his situation? There has to be someone to blame, surely. Here the disciples are confronted with human need and their instincts are to seek someone to blame and interestingly inject a kind of religious/moral dimension to it.
You would have thought their first response would have been “Poor fellow, what can we do for him?”
This story could challenge us with the thought about how our respond when faced with human need. Is our first response “What can we do about this need?” or is it “Who is to blame?” The latter response certainly can derail us from responding all together.
Jesus’ response is intended to dispel a certain myth that was around in those days – perhaps even today – that bad things happened to people because they had done bad things.
Jesus simply says that this man’s blindness was not at all caused by any sin on the part of the man or his parents.
He then gets straight to the point. “The works of God will be manifest in him,” he says “if we get on and do the works of him who sent me, while we have daylight.”
In other words, “Let’s get involved. Let’s get on with it. Let’s do something for him.”
What is delightful about this story is that Jesus actually touched this man. The rest of the people shunned him – for the sake of their ritual purity. But Jesus touches him and gives him what he needs – a passport back into society.
The acceptance of those who are excluded is one of the greatest Gospel acts – and it is possible because we know that none of us deserve it, but we get it from God.
The Pharisees are a bit perplexed by something they can’t believe either. They knew this Jesus was a trouble maker, so they had already decided to see if they could trip him up by some law or another. As sticklers for the rules there had to be something they could get him on.
Then they thought of it. They could say he was a Sabbath-breaker – he made mud on a Sabbath day. But the people applied good logic, saying “How could he be a sinner if he did a miracle?”
We leave the Pharisees weaving their schemes for the entrapment of Jesus. Their day would come a bit later on.
THE BLIND MAN
It is probably fair to say that the blind man has the starring role in this story. To the healed man, all this stuff by the Pharisees proved that they were blinder than he had ever been.
But for me, the best part of his role is his simple witness to what Jesus did – under the most extreme pressure. He says simply and clearly: “All I know is this: once I was blind but now I can see!”
This simple witness angered the Pharisees. The outcome was excommunication. He was expelled from temple and synagogue worship; one of the worst things that could happen to a practising Jew. He was banned.
So, where were you in this story?
It’s not for me to say.
I simply pray that as the Spirit of God has been at work in your heart these past few minutes, you will be given the courage to heed and act upon that which you believe is God’s word for you today.