More Than One Kind of Blindness
We must open our eyes & hearts to see God at work.
One morning, while mom and pop were seated at the breakfast table, the doorbell rang. It took a moment for the older couple to hear it, and the husband said over his paper, “The door bell is ringing.”
The wife reluctantly got to her feet and went to the door. Opening it, she saw a man standing outside. His shirt said “Best Blinds.” The man said, "I’m here for the Venetian blind." Excusing herself in a preoccupied way, the wife went to the kitchen, fished a dollar from the loose change jar, and returned to the door. She pressed the coins into the man’s hand, then gently closed the door and returned to the table.
"Somebody collecting for a foreign charity," she explained, pouring herself some more coffee.
“When is somebody gonna get here to fix that shade?” the man asked resignedly.
Get it? Venetian blind? Well, not everyone knows good humor when they see it!
That joke illustrates how misunderstandings arise, especially when we aren’t looking. Today let’s open our eyes to see Jesus’ teaching. In John 9 we see three kinds of blindness; one physical and two metaphorical.
1. Mental blindness: ignorance. (9:1-5)
As we all do, the disciples struggled to understand God’s reasons for a tragic circumstance (vs. 1-2). All blindness is tragic, but the disciples were moved by this man born blind.
Let’s think about their question. First, it is evidence of a frequent human shortcoming: fault-finding. When something is wrong, the first thing we want to do is find someone to blame. Sad, isn’t it?
Second, the question itself doesn’t sound right to our ears. The first half of the question sounds ludicrous: how could an unborn baby be guilty of any sin, let alone one deserving of such a penalty? We need to evaluate this question in the light of the Scripture and the traditions that gave rise to the inquiry; what information the disciples had at that moment.
In Psalm 51:15, David wrote, SURELY I WAS SINFUL AT BIRTH, SINFUL FROM THE TIME MY MOTHER CONCEIVED ME. This indicates David had at least wondered if an unborn child could be considered a sinner. Jewish teachers of the time thought that if a pregnant woman committed a sin, the baby within her was guilty too. In verse 34, the Pharisees accused the former blind beggar of being “STEEPED IN SIN AT BIRTH;” they believed him guilty. The first half of the question made more sense in Peter’s situation.
The other half of the disciples’ question sounds unfair: why punish a baby for the parents’ sin? In the Second Commandment the Lord warned, “I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM A JEALOUS GOD, PUNISHING THE CHILDREN FOR THE SIN OF THE FATHERS TO THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION OF THOSE WHO HATE ME (Exodus 20:5). To be fair, this warning is later replaced with a promise NOT to do that but our point is simply that this was a legitimate issue at the time this miracle occurred.
Though we have shown there were biblical and traditional bases for this question, the disciples’ question is still the wrong one to ask as the focus of the question is on the people, not on God. A better question is, “How is God at work here? How can we join Him?”
Jesus explained the ultimate reason for human suffering (vs. 3-5). The man’s blindness was not a punishment for sin but an opportunity for THE WORK OF GOD TO BE DISPLAYED IN HIS LIFE. Every circumstance has this purpose because God is ALWAYS at work in ALL our lives. Verses four to five tell us the WORK OF GOD was to be displayed by Jesus while He ministered among them. He had a limited time to minister but the world needed a lot of LIGHT shed on it.
2. Physical blindness: inability to see (9:6-8).
Jesus used unusual means to heal this man’s blindness. The miracles Jesus performed were as individual as the people involved; there is no set pattern to them. For a set of reasons not expressed in this passage, Jesus chose to make mud out of spit and put it on the man’s eyelids. This required him to wash his face in the Pool of Siloam. John saw the name of the pool as being significant; Jesus SENT the blind man there to receive his sight and Jesus was SENT by God the Father to give LIGHT to the world.
The man’s blindness was cured. One reason for Jesus’ method in this case may have been that it required an act of obedience on the part of the blind man. Once he demonstrated his obedience in going there and washing his face, he could see. Afterward, he wanted to go was home to see his parents for the first time in his life.
3. Volitional blindness: refusal to see. (9:9-41)
Some of HIS NEIGHBORS refused to believe he was healed (vs. 9-12). It’s stunning how some people refuse to acknowledge what’s right in front of them. We might call “selective seeing.”
Look at verse nine. The blind beggar’s appearance in the neighborhood caused quite a stir. Some recognized him but others denied it, saying “NO, HE ONLY LOOKS LIKE HIM.”
Do you ever wish people would stop and listen to themselves? If these doubters had just listened to what they were saying, they might’ve heard how ridiculous they sounded. It’s as silly as if they’d said, “No way. It’s the 1st century! Nobody believes in miracles anymore! That’s so B.C.”
Once they were ready to accept his identity, they had to know how it happened. The newly-seeing man told them about Jesus.
The Pharisees refused to see beyond a Sabbath violation (vs. 13-34). The situation caused such a ruckus the busybody neighbors brought the man and his family before the Pharisees for them to decide the truth of the matter.
Vs. 14-34 are almost comical to read. It’s almost as if the meeting was run by the Three Stooges. At one point (v. 28) they even resorted to name-calling. As is typical with hypocrites, the Pharisees didn’t care much about the man’s healing; they cared about the comparatively trivial matter of Jesus making mud violated the command to not work on the Sabbath.
On the other hand, this was serious business as the Pharisees could have barred the man from the temple or given corporal punishment. Verse 22 tells us the parents were afraid of them. The end of the matter was throwing the man out of the meeting.
Jesus condemned the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees (vs. 35-41). When Jesus heard the outcome of the investigation, He sought the man out. As they conversed, the formerly blind man confessed faith in Christ; he said simply, “LORD, I BELIEVE” (v. 38). Jesus received his confession with an explanation of His mission; ‘FOR JUDGMENT I HAVE COME INTO THIS WORLD, SO THAT THE BLIND WILL SEE AND THOSE WHO SEE WILL BECOME BLIND.”
Some Pharisees were on the scene and took Jesus’ comment personally. They said peevishly, “WHAT? ARE WE BLIND TOO?” Jesus confirmed their spiritual blindness when He said, “IF YOU WERE BLIND, YOU WOULD NOT BE GUILTY OF SIN; BUT NOW THAT YOU CLAIM YOU CAN SEE, YOUR GUILT REMAINS.” The Pharisees had spent their lives studying the Scriptures and hundreds of interpretations of it but still didn’t see the truth. They were guilty of a willful, intentional blindness; they refused to acknowledge the truth about Jesus.
We must open our eyes & hearts to see God at work.
In this passage we’ve seen how physical blindness - a congenital birth defect resulting in the inability to see anything ever in his life - lead to Jesus’ confrontation of two forms of symbolic blindness.
Jesus’ disciples exhibited a kind of “mental blindness” that was typical in that culture, a willingness to blame the victim, explaining trials as punishment for sin. The disciples asked an innocent, theological question. Jesus’ answer opened their eyes to new theological truth; tragic circumstances cannot always be blamed on sin. However, all circumstances can always be seen as a circumstance in which THE WORK OF GOD might be DISPLAYED. Every experience of life is an opportunity to glorify God, to make Him known in how we react to what happens to us.
Some of the blind beggar’s neighbors and many of the Pharisees chose not to believe in Jesus’ miracle. They didn’t want to believe. They preferred to make a fuss about their legalistic approach to Sabbath-keeping. I guess it’s just easier to disbelieve.
Faith requires looking at the world in a different way. It requires putting what the world calls “common sense” on the back burner and its so-called “scientific worldview” one burner further back. Faith involves adopting God’s point of view first and foremost. It’s a change of mind where we seek His wisdom from the word and from the Spirit. Faith requires us to tear down the idols of self and all other material things and build an altar to God in our hearts.
Faith is looking at our self and our world with eyes that once were spiritually blind, but now see the spirit world. As we grow and mature in our faith, God gives us increasing sensitivity to what actually true, truly important, and worth expending our lives upon. Open your eyes to see it.