This story about the man born blind takes up a whole chapter of John, so let me just summarize what happens after the man born blind has been healed by Jesus. Meeting Jesus seems to be trouble for him, though, because the story continues that the neighbors took him to the clergy and the clergy questioned him.
After all, this healing happened on the Sabbath.
In fact, the clergy didn’t even believe that he had been born blind, so they summoned the parents.
But the parents were afraid of the clergy so they distanced themselves from the whole matter.
“He can take care of himself. He’s of age. Ask him.”
So the clergy started in on the man born blind once again. “Why don’t you just clear this up by admitting you’re a sinner and give God the glory.” He replied, “Whether I’m a sinner, I don’t know. But one thing I do know (and he continues with that famous line) “I once was blind but now I see.”
That really riled up the clergy. They told him, “You were born in sin and you want to teach us?” They kicked him out of the synagogue, the church, the congregation.
A short story by Willa Williams is entitled “Personal Testimony.” The story is about a little 12 year old girl.
She is the daughter of a fire-breathing West Texas evangelistic preacher, and every summer her father compelled this little girl to go to a fundamentalist Bible Camp in Oklahoma for a couple of weeks. The Bible Camp during the day is like most other camps for kids: softball and crafts and hiking and swimming. But at night … every night … there is a sweaty “come-to-Jesus” revival meeting with fiery preaching. The unwritten rule is that sometime during camp every single camper will come forward with his or her personal testimony.
The problem is, however, many of these kids are not super-religious, just normal kids and they just don’t have a personal testimony. That’s where our 12 year old preacher’s kid comes into play. She has, after all, heard personal testimonies on Wednesday night services all her life, so she figured out how to make some extra cash at camp … as a ghost writer for Jesus!
She fabricates personal testimonies for the other campers. For five dollars she wrote a personal testimony for a kid named Michael which he delivered, tear-stained, before the camp congregation. He told of how in his old life he used to be bad and take the Lord’s name in vain at football practice, but now that he met Jesus his mouth is as pure as a crystal spring.
Her most dramatic work, however, was a testimony she wrote for a kid named Tim Bailey. He was able to say that his life was empty and meaningless until that fateful night when he was in a pick-up truck that had a near accident just outside of Galveston. It looked like he was going to die but Jesus Himself took the steering wheel and steered them from disaster. Now that story took such imagination that she got 15 dollars for that one!
The root of Williams’ short story, of course, comes from the tradition of personal testimonies given in certain churches. They are predictable. They all have the same formula, the some plot: once my life was in shambles, but then I met Jesus and was saved. I was given a new life. These testimonies are built on the original personal testimony of the man born blind when he said, “I once was blind but now I see.” But the one person who could never give one of those formula testimonies was the man born blind. The day he met Jesus was not the day his troubles ended. It was the day his troubles began.
What happened in the story is that Jesus and his disciples come to this little village, a nice little village. It is peaceful with a traditional values and a strong moral order. There are good institutions here and friendly neighbors.
One of the values it has is the blind man … born blind. This is not just a physical description. It is also a social role. He is the village blind man and the rest of us do not have this affliction. This is a religious issue because an affliction like blindness is the result of sin so the village blind man is the designated sinner … and we get to be the righteous ones. This is the way communities maintain moral order.
When you move to our town, those neighborhoods are bad but ours is safe, those schools are weak but ours is strong, watch out for those sinners but we are good. Even the disciples buy into this moral order. As soon as they enter the village they look at this blind man and ask Jesus: “O Master, a man’s born blind. Who sinned, he or his parents?” … we understand that question as it reveals what we are really thinking when things go wrong and we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”
Jesus replied, “neither” because Jesus is suggesting a different moral order, an occasion for a new vision.
Like God in Genesis, Jesus kneels down on the ground and he spits on the dirt to make mud and he spreads it on the blind man’s eyes and says, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” And then the man born blind comes back from the pool of Siloam and he can see… and all hell breaks loose. When the man who is supposed to stay blind can see, and the man who is supposed to be the sinner is radiating the glory of God, it throws the whole moral order off kilter.
Before the end of the day he is accosted by his neighbors, abandoned by his parents, accused by his ministers,
and thrown out of the synagogue. The day he meets Jesus is not the day his troubles end. It is the day his troubles begin. He is the last person to sing, “Once I was blind but now I see!” What he says is, “Once I was blind, but now… now, I see.”
That’s the way it is. When you get drawn into the life of Jesus, your eyes are opened and you begin to see that behind the presumed moral order there is a darker element … and then you cannot be easy with it anymore.
This might be OK if Jesus would hold our hand through it all (“Put you hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee”). But did you notice what happens in this story? No sooner is the man healed than Jesus disappears! … leaving the man to handle these troubles all on his own.
Jesus stirs the pot, turns up the heat, then gets out of the kitchen. But there is a reason for Jesus’ absence. He wants us to know that having your eyes opened so that you can see is not some “before and after” formula: Before I was blind… but now I see. The way our eyes are really opened is in the middle of the fray. In the middle of the struggle our vision becomes focused… and is shaped by seeing with our eyes wide open.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk (he wrote Seven Story Mountain) in another one of his writings said that whenever a new monk came to Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky, there was a ritual of welcome for him. It was not a ritual in which everyone rushed forward to pat him on the back and say, “Welcome to the monastery. Hope you have a good experience.” All the monks gather in a circle in silence and the new brother stands in the middle. Then the Abbot speaks: “What are you seeking? Why are you here?”
And the correct answer is not, “I’ve come to seek happiness; I’ve come to be at peace with God.”
The correct answer is, “I seek mercy.” And Merton wrote that every monk in the circle knew that the only way to find mercy is in the midst of the struggle to overcome our blindness … and he who has ceased the struggle is the one (wrote Merton) who is really blind.
When my nephew was a student at Princeton – which is a pretty snooty place – he was one of 10 students selected to go to Ghana to learn native drumming. Ghana is a desperately poor country with an economy in shambles. When the students arrived at a village they were to visit, they were greeted by the village elders and about 200 villagers. In describing their life, the one leader who spoke English told of a critical problem. They had applied to the government for a water system and were told they had to provide 5% of the cost which was 2.1 million cedis. In the last six months the villagers had amassed only 20,000 cedis – about 2 dollars American.
The 5% they were to provide amounted to $200 American, so the 10 students quickly decided to each contribute $20. When the elder told the villagers, they began applauding and shouting with joy, the kids ran about screaming, the women got up and danced.
Afterwards they brought the Princeton students to the hole where they collected water so they could understand their joy. It is about a quarter mile from the village where rainwater drains. The water is green and filled with tadpoles. Women go every morning with pans on their heads to collect water from the pool and then use it for all their needs. When the students left the pool, they were herded onto the bus, waved good-bye, and driven to a beach resort.
My nephew wrote that the experience was disturbing and deeply subversive … his life, he wrote, had just become more difficult. He went back to snooty Princeton … but now his eyes were opened and moral worlds collide and yes, it was a lot more difficult.
When the headline in the Oconomowoc Enterprise tells of racism at our High School, your eyes are opened and moral worlds collide …
When Family Promise makes clear that there are homeless families in our community, your eyes are opened and moral worlds collide
When you discover that 22% of the students in our school district are enrolled in the free lunch program, your eyes are opened and moral worlds collide …
It’s Jesus (who he is, what he teaches) it is Jesus who opens our eyes to see the tragedy of such a reality,
And when Jesus opens our eyes, it’s not when our troubles end.
It’s when they begin.
Scripture: JOHN 9:1-12
As Jesus walked along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned;
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
When Jesus had said this, He spat on the ground and made mud with His saliva,
and spread the mud on the man’s eyes. He said to the man,
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
Then the man washed, and came back able to see.
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?”
Some were saying, “It is he!”
Others said, “No, but it is someone who looks like him.”
But the healed man kept saying, “I am the man!”
But they kept asking him “Then how were your eyes opened?”
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.”
They said to the man, “Where is this Jesus?”
He replied, “I do not know.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would teach us today.