Think about some of the key things you have learned to do in your life that you can remember. Riding a bike. Driving a car. Learning to play a musical instrument. Picking up a hobby. Playing sports. In every case, there is an incredibly awkward phase that makes us feel very insecure, with seemingly every part of us freaking out. We’re usually lousy at the early stages and have to work through our insecurities, face into our ignorance, trust the new thing, and move forward with more and more learning.
Q: How do you recognize this pattern in the types of learning described above?
Deeper things are like this as well. Marriage-level relationships, adult parent-child relationships, workplace relationships – all of these come with learning new things about ourselves, discovering things we need to unlearn, embracing the new despite our fears and opposition (internally and externally), and moving forward.
Q: How have you lived out this pattern in the types of relationships described above?
Read John 9.
In the Gospel of John’s telling of the story of the man born blind who gets healed by Jesus, we see the same pattern emerge. This story is more than a “simple” healing story – it is one that we can all relate to on one level or another. For instance, we recall that the Johannine community of Jewish Jesus followers was ousted from the synagogue because they had learned and believed Jesus’ teachings which in some cases were very unorthodox. The status quo didn’t tolerate the “new” ideas of Jesus and, as it nearly always goes with systems, the system kicked out what didn’t fit. This had to be absolutely heart-breaking for this community. They were being told, essentially, that God was not truly with them in their interpretation. While they were being judged as ungodly and unwanted, they were experiencing the presence of God – they knew God was with them, despite what the “system” was telling them. This pattern happened repeatedly in the early Christian movement (and with Jesus, of course): the new insight comes that challenges the previous ways of thinking (and all who believe in it), followed by tension, followed by the system trying to kick out the new thing (which often goes “binary”), and, if the system cannot absorb and integrate the “new”, it is kicked out into the cold to survive on its own, if possible. Lots of good ideas and movements die there. We have all been the blind man in the story in one way or another. We all have known what it is like to face a system that doesn’t want to change. Maybe it’s internal – like riding a bike when your body is telling you you’re an idiot – or perhaps it’s much more complex – like learning to literally marry two systems into one when you commit at the highest level of covenant relationship.
Q: What are some of your experiences of being the “new” in a system? How did it go? How does knowing that this is the way systems work affect your thinking and feeling about it?
The story, of course, is not just about systems theory – that concept wasn’t formalized until our current era. This story of systems change is imbedded in a story about Jesus, a story that was probably a mish-mash of many stories represented by this one single story about the power of God at work through Jesus (thus providing legitimacy), and about one man’s awakening to the implications of his new capacity to see. It starts with trusting what Jesus was saying and living into it. It’s not as if Jesus and the disciples dog-piled an unsuspecting blind dude so Jesus could “punk” him by smearing the spit-mud on his eyes! The blind man was a willing participant. Nothing in the system had really been working for him his whole life (except that he was still alive, I guess). That doesn’t mean there wasn’t something to lose in saying yes to Jesus’ invitation. There surely was. This might have represented the 100th time someone had a miracle cure – could he handle one more round of dashed hope? Moving even toward health and faith is a legitimate risk. We are used to the system that we’re in. It’s home for us, even in terms of faith. There are variables that help us move forward: inner conviction that change is needed, a sense that the future is worth the risk, and someone to be with us on the journey, among others. This man evidenced great courage, his capacity to see was in play, and he was supported by Jesus (who would have been renown for healing by that time). It worked! He could see! In truth, he saw everything differently.
Q: How have you had moment(s) like this when you “saw the light”?
Over the next hours he began to see more and more differently about the system he had been in, what Jesus had invited him into, and who he was becoming. All wrapped in a story about faith. In perfect form, the system challenged the “new” even though it was legitimate, because it was going to challenge the health of the system. Even though it was a sick one, it was working and did not want to die. It fought back. It kicked the man out. Jesus returned to him, reintroduced himself (!), and invited him to keep moving forward in following him.
Q: How have you experienced the backlash of even faith systems after you started living out of your new vision?
This one story of a blind man’s restored sight is the metaphor of life and faith. In terms of faith, there is much to see here. While I don’t think we are born blind, I do believe we all have grown up in systems that train blindness and support our blindness. The same Spirit of God that was at work in Jesus – the “Christ” part of Jesus Christ – is always inviting us to see, to trust, to follow toward healing. Always. When we say yes, my experience has been that it truly does open our eyes. There is a reason why the first verse of Amazing Grace ends with “was blind, but now I see” – this is the way spiritual renewal, realized resurrection goes. The “born again” thing from John chapter three is another way to articulate the same thing.
I know personally and as a pastor for nearly 25 years that we share the blind man’s path as we face the system that do not want us to change. It fights back in myriad ways, even on good, healing things of God. For many, this is an insurmountable impasse, and they shift back into their former state, the new vision fading to black over time. For a relative few (honestly) the inner conviction, dream of a brighter future, and a sense of being supported coalesce into breakthrough. New life and new vision propel the person forward to their next phase of resurrected life. We stay there until we are invited again (and again and again and again) to trust once more to see anew, because we will find ourselves in more systems in which we find great comfort and stability. The process continues.
Q: How do we know if we are stuck, blind once again, in need of saying yes to the perennial invitation?
To paraphrase a friend of mine who pastors a church in Santa Clara, Jesus was never interested in creating Christians. He was inviting people to simply follow him. We as a church should not care much about making Christians. We should, however, be clear on inviting people to follow. The old-school word is disciples – learners and followers of Jesus. For us it is the same. The Spirit of God that inspired and informed Jesus is still coming alongside, still inviting us to trust and follow. For our whole lives. For our lives. For all people’s lives. For our healing. For the healing of the world. And so the invitation is before you…
Q: Do you want to see?
Beasley-Murray (Word Biblical Commentary)
q Sins of the parents visited on children a common thought, and even scripturally affirmed (Ex. 20:15; Dt. 5:9) 154
q Some thought was present about children sinning before birth, using Jacob and Esau as examples of a struggle in the womb. 155
q Light of the world reference is that Jesus is such for all humanity. 155
q Saliva, especially that of a first-time father, was thought to have healing powers. 155
q The washing in the pool of Siloam (Shiloah) may have been a fulfiment of scripture affirming Jesus’ position as the Messiah: “The scepter shall not depart from Juday until Shiloh comes (Gen 49:10). 156
q The interrogation by the man’s neighbors signifies that something significant happened. Interestingly, Jesus, who is absent from these discussions, is the centerpiece. 156
q Jesus’ decision to perform this on the Sabbath created the dilemma: he broke Sabbath law (Dt. 13:1-5), but how could a sinner perform such signs? 157
q The blind man was slowly beginning to see more and more – Jesus was a prophet, which was tied to Messianic prophecies. 157
q The parents’ fear of the Jews was tied to the prophecy piece. Being a miracle worker wasn’t too disruptive, but agreeing with their son that Jesus was a prophet may have meant expulsion from the synagogue. 157
q “Give glory to God” is a demand to confess his sin of lying about his blindness and subsequent healing, and to admit the authorities are right and Jesus is a sinner. 158
q The Pharisees illumine the disappearance of impartiality: they have made up their mind about Jesus, because they made up their mind about Moses – they know where Moses came from. 158
q The amazing thing is the unbelief of the Pharisees, which the man is pointing out. The Pharisees condemn themselves by noting the sinfulness of the man born blind, and therefore the truly miraculous nature of Jesus in healing him. He is getting more and more bold with those who are opposing Jesus. 159
q Jesus reveals himself as the Son of Man – the Messiah. Compare the Samaritan woman. The man’s response is to fall prostrate and kiss his feet. 159
q Judgment is concomitant to grace. To those who desire to see, Jesus gives light. To those who do not, Jesus condemns to their chosen darkness. 160
q This narrative exemplifies the progression from sight to insight, and also to judgment. 161
q For those in contexts that are unreceptive to the Light, this text serves as comfort. 162
Borchert (New American Commentary)
q For children with symptoms of sin, it was the parents’ obligation to confess on their behalf. 313
q Jesus shifted the focus from placing blame on God to the grace of God in the face of need. 313
q Jesus’ day/night discourse has a double meaning which the disciple’s do not yet grasp. 314
q In giving the man specific instruction, Jesus makes the connection between experiencing God’s power and obedience. 315
q Siloam=sent. This is indicative of Jesus’ mission and his command. 315
q Pool is also the source for water for Jerusalem, and specifically for the Feast of Tabernacles. Even in times of siege, the pool provided water (Hezekiah). 315
q The original intent of the text was not to support baptism, even though it was used later. 316
q The crowd was looking for quick and easy answers to complicated questions. 316
q Not wanting to give more attention to Jesus, the Pharisees shifted their attack to the man. 319
q The man’s statement “This I know” is akin to a sworn testimony. 321
q The man’s backlash on the Pharisees is because they failed to recognize the healing of congenital blindness, and the healer. 322
q “This statement (30-33), therefore, is the man’s affirmation of the need for authenticity with God and his testimony was that the healer must be a God-authenticated person.” 323
q Irony is that the Pharisees missed the point of the Tabernacles – hope and joy – and were, rather, still in a spirit of bondage as were those who died in the wildnerness even though they crossed the sea as a result of the Passover. 323
q Believing meant the active commitment of himself to the Son of Man. He had already believed without seeing, itself a sign of the believers who were to come after the resurrection. 324
Brown (Yale-Anchor Study Bible)
q Blindness in the first century. Popular theology held that people blind from birth had lost their sight because of sin on the part of their parents.
q Washing in the Pool of Siloam. Water as a miraculous agent was not unknown (Elijah and Naaman).
q Confession of faith. I once was blind, but now I see. This simple confession was likely used by the early church as they celebrated baptism.
q Light of the world. Jesus was indicating that what was really being played out was a battle between good and evil, and that he would overcome.
O’Day (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary)
q “In the Fourth Gospel, “sin” is not a moral category about behavior, but is a theological category about one’s response to the revelation of God in Jesus (8:21, 24; 9:39-41; 16:9)”. 653
q Jesus’ making clay was significant, because kneading was one of the thirty-nine categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath. 654
q The interrogation provides the opportunity for the formerly blind man to bear witness to the healing. 656
q The progression of the man’s ability to see is related to faith. The point is that our belief must develop similarly. 656
q Part of the man’s boldness was in his refusal to play the Pharisee’s game of legal interpretation. The man kept at this original scheme, simply repeating what had happened to him. 659
q The Pharisees get the tables turned on them, and they become the interrogates, bring much joy to the contemporary readers of John. 659
q “For the Fourth Gospel, faithfulness to the grace and truth available in Jesus, not faithfulness to the law, is the decisive mark of true discipleship.” 659
q Jesus not driving anyone away who comes to Him is in contrast to the attitude of the Pharisees. 660
q Man’s belief progression: the healer, the prophet, the Son of Man. 661
q His worship of God ironically fulfills the Pharisees’ request that he give glory to God. 661
q Contemporary readers would recognize that “their confession of Jesus will secure them in community with him at the same time it excludes them from their former religious home.” 661
q Jesus redefines sins as not the presence of an illness, nor the violation of the law, but as one’s resistance to Jesus. 661
q “The story of the blind man has been used as a symbol of faith and new life throughout the history of the church. The healing of the blind man appears as a baptismal symbol in second-century frescoes in the catacombs in Rome (as do the stories of the Samaritan woman and the healing of the man in John 5). These same stories were used in Lenten baptismal liturgies dating at least as far back as the fourth and fifth centuries. The blind man’s movement from darkness to light and his confession of his faith in Jesus provided a vehicle through which the church could celebrate the power of new life that begins in baptism. The blind man’s word in John 9:25 also offer eloquent testimony to the transforming power of God’s grace in the hymn “Amazing Grace”: “I once was blind, but now I see.”” 665