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“Learning to See” on John 9:1-41 by Joe Ellis — March 10, 2024

What were you born with that you wish was different? What were you born into that you wish was otherwise? What do you carry through life that you had no choice over, that was given to you against your will? What do you carry forward due to no fault of your own? For some, this question might lead you to draw a blank. For others, something immediately may come to mind — perhaps, like the blind man in John 9, it has to do with your body, or maybe it's your mind, or moods, or family, or even your culture. As you think about this inheritance, I wonder how many of us have asked the question that the disciples asked Jesus in John 9:2: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  

Few people would ask it as bluntly, but many skirt the underlying premise of the question: Whose fault is it? Why did this happen? Is God’s hand in this in some way? Whenever we see something that appears to violate our sense of order and justice in the world — these questions are not far away. Who’s fault is this? How could such chaos be in a world where, as our catechism says, “All things, in fact come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.” If such is the case, then it makes sense to ask the disciple’s question — “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Surely, God in his providence, in his goodness, in this justice and mercy — surely He would not inflict this man with blindness for no reason. Many people feel this question deep within their bones.

Whenever we come face to face with trauma, suffering and hardship, we search frantically for the reason behind it all. There must be a reason. Is it Karma? What goes around comes around? Is it that these people just ‘get what you pay for’? There must be a reason. Right? Reasons serve a real purpose for us: when there is a reason, this world seems more reasonable, more safe. So we might go to all sorts of lengths to restore our world to safety by finding reasons to explain why bad things happen. When someone or something gets in the way of how we make sense of the world, we may find ourselves unduly harsh, as the Pharisees were with the blind man: “‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.” (John 9:34)

Jesus does not cling to this mirage of safety. Jesus does not subscribe to a karma view of the world. Here is how he explains the blindness in v 3: “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in this blind man.” Then he says in v 5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

The light of the world, that’s an echo of how John begins His Gospel. Shortly after those immortal lines in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the word, and the Word was God.”  John tells us on v 4-5 that in the Word “was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”  Unlike the disciples grasping to find a reason for the blind man’s darkness — John’s Gospel just acknowledges that the darkness is simply there. This is a true mystery. There is no attempt to explain how the darkness got there. The darkness is simply there, but the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood the light!

This prologue in John is written to echo Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Now, look at how darkness is described in Genesis 1: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Notice again — the darkness is simply there. The author of the book of Genesis make no attempt to explain why the darkness is there, it just is — yet into that darkness God speaks: “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness.”  And throughout the rest of the chapter God brings order out of the formless, empty darkness. God brings order out of shadowy chaos. The darkness is there but it isn’t allowed to stay. We don’t know why the darkness is there, except that out of the darkness resurrection unfolds the beautiful goodness of God’s magnificent creation. Into the darkness, God brings order. God’s brings beauty. God brings harmony. God brings peace. God brings relationship. God brings Sabbath rest.

Genesis 1 does not tell us why the darkness is present — we just see God bring out of the darkness order, beauty, harmony, peace, relationship and rest. And so it is in John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”  And so it is in John 9:2-3: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus declares: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” 

The Light has come into the darkness. And from this darkness, Jesus is bringing order, beauty, harmony, peace, relationship and rest. In short, Jesus brings about a new creation — Perhaps this is why it is so significant that Jesus did these healings on the Sabbath — the climax of Creation. Now Jesus is bringing about New Creation in every one of us, enabling his people to see His light. Chapter 9 begins with an act of new creation. A man was born blind — and now he can see.

But, remember — the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood the light. The healing of his blindness is merely the man’s first step out of the darkness and toward the light. Although he can see, the blind man is still very much surrounded by darkness. Throughout this chapter we see the Pharisees desperately trying to extinguish the light of Jesus, threatened by the light of Jesus, deeply confused by the light of Jesus, countering the light of Jesus with violence. Jesus points to this in a foreshadowing statement. He tells his disciples and the blind man (in v 3) to enjoy His light because “night is coming, when no one can work.”

At the end of the last supper and Judas departs to betray Jesus, John adds this ominous final sentence: "And it was night.” That is when the night truly set in, yet throughout John 9, we see the night working to eclipse the light of Christ. We see darkness and light struggling against each other. We see the Pharisees, presuming on their own righteousness which leads them deeper and deeper and deeper into darkness — so that in the end they ask Jesus in John 9:40, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus responds: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

In this story of the man who was healed from blindness, we see light struggling to break free of the darkness. His story begins with a physical healing, a first step on this man’s journey to see, yet his journey to truly see would have many twists and turns. Watch how His ability to see Jesus deepens as the story progresses:

First, his neighbours ask, “How were your eyes opened?”  He answers, “The man they called Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes”.  That’s initially all the man knows about Jesus. He’s ‘some man’ who put some mud on his eyes. Then the Pharisees ask, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man’s understanding has grown some. Now he can say, “He is a prophet.” (John 9:17) He has gone from seeing Jesus simply as a man who made some mud to now seeing Jesus as a prophet. The man thinks he is like the prophets Moses, or Elijah, or Elisha — they all did miracles. Yet this man has not yet fully gained his sight.

So Jesus comes and finds the man, the man who was learning to see. Jesus asks in v 35, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Here Jesus is helping the man see with startling clarity. We meet the Son of Man in Daniel chapter 7:13-14 — “As he appears in the heavenly throne room, he approaches God and is led into His presence. And before all nations and all peoples the Son of Man is given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language are to worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

In John 9 :35-38, Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man asked, “Who is he sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

So the miracle has come into its fullness. The man has gone from blindness to truly seeing Jesus — seeing Him not simply as a man who can work miracles, not simply as a prophet like Moses or Elijah, but as the Son of Man: this one who is to share the throne with the Ancient of Days, to be crowned with authority, glory and honour and power. Before whom every knee shall one day bow. Now that this man has gone from blindness to truly seeing, he falls down and worships him.

Our story began with an act of new creation, a man called out of darkness and into the light, yet he did not travel an easy path into the light. His neighbours doubted his identity. His parents threw him under the bus. He was kicked out of the synagogue. Ostracized by his community. Mocked and insulted by religious officials. This man learned to see as he groped through the darkness, trying to understand this miracle in the midst of so much confusion. Clambering his way out of the darkness, grasping his way towards Jesus on an uncertain, difficult process of learning to see. Yet the Light of the world resolutely draws this man towards Him as the surrounding darkness works with all its power to pull this man down into darkness when he was told (in v 24) “Give glory to God and tell the truth,” they said, “We know this Jesus is a sinner.”

Sight given to a blind man was certainly a miracle, but merely the start of a great miracle — a miracle which came to its fullness when the blind man truly saw Jesus and worshiped him — the darkness could not overcome the light.

So, we began with the question — what were you born with? What were you born into? What do you carry with you that you had no choice over, that you just inherited? The disciples assumed that this man’s blindness must be the result of some sin. Not so, says Jesus in v 3. “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  We then looked at the story of Creation — how the spoken light of God shone on the chaos of darkness, drawing out from the darkness order, beauty, harmony, peace, relationship and rest. We don’t know why the darkness was there, but we do know that from darkness God brings good. He is the God of resurrection.

With all that being said, let me invite you to pray. If God were to perform an instantaneous miracle in any area of your life — describe to God how you’d like that miracle to work. What would you like Him to do?

Jesus, look at this in my life. This feels most in need of a miracle. Perhaps, Jesus, you can take this part that I so wish were different, perhaps you might shine Your light on this darkness. Will you draw out order, beauty, harmony, peace, relationship and rest in my life?  Will you bring your light into the darkness? But here is what I want more than anything else: as you shine Your light into my darkness, I want to see you most fully. I so deeply want to see you Jesus, and worship you in your glory as the Son of Man.



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