When the man born blind receives sight from Jesus, his world is irreversibly changed, but not his isolation from his community. Jesus Christ draws close to him (even when no one else does), transforms him for new life, and sends him into the world to bear light.
Vicar Bristol Reading
The fourth Sunday in Lent, year A
Text: John 9:1-41
Beloved community, wherever you are at this moment, may the peace of Christ be yours.
What a time it is to hear this story from John’s Gospel. To hear about Jesus’ curative touch, when we are being told to stay 6 feet away from one another. To hear about an experience of physical restoration, when we are facing a pervasive virus and rising death tolls.
And yet there is so much in this ancient story that feels so relevant right now. This is a story about a man miraculously receiving sight, but it is also a story about stigma, judgment, fear, and isolation. The unnamed man at the center of this story had been blind since birth. His physical difference had always set him apart from others in his community. His whole life, he had been navigating a society that was set up for sighted people. He had been forced to beg in order to get by. This man already knew what it was to be isolated, and then this whole incident with Jesus happens.
Jesus gives him sight for the first time, but somehow this actually isolates him even more. People had been publicly accusing this man of being sinful because of his blindness, but even after he receives sight, they continue to accuse him of being sinful, because of his association with Jesus. His parents are so afraid of stigma that they won’t stand up for him. His neighbors are so caught up in their own bias that they don’t even recognize him, this person they’ve walked by how many times before. But they’ve only seen him as his blindness; they’ve only seen him as his begging. His community might have the literal, physical ability to see, but they certainly seem to lack the ability to see him as a person. They may have the literal, physical ability to hear, but they lack the ability to really listen to what he tells them. No one seems to hear him when he answers their incessant questions about what has happened to him.
In the end, their fear and judgment get the better of them, and they drive him out of the community. This man was isolated when he was blind. And he’s isolated when he can see.
He’s isolated, but he’s not alone, because Jesus meets him where he is.
While others pontificate about whose sin is responsible for this man’s condition, Jesus outright rejects all this moral condemnation and praises this man’s embodiment of God’s glory, just as he is. While others ignore and reject this man, Jesus reaches out to touch him, to put healing hands on him, even when the Sabbath laws forbid such action. While others distance themselves from this man, Jesus draws close to him. And when Jesus hears that the man has been isolated completely, driven out of the community, he goes out to find him. Everyone else questioned this man’s experience: Why were you blind? Who gave you sight? How did it happen? But Jesus simply asks him: Do you trust me? [The Greek word often translated “to believe” also means “to trust.”]
This man doesn’t have all the answers – actually, he repeatedly admits how much he does not know [see vv 12, 25, and 35.] But what he does know is his own experience. He knows that Jesus has changed him, and he knows that Jesus is trustworthy. When Jesus finds him in isolation, he says simply “Lord, I trust you.”
And that’s no small thing. Consider how significantly his life has been upended since he encountered Jesus.
Imagine what a radical change it would be to suddenly have a new sense that you’d never had before. This man is seeing everything for the very first time. That must have been confusing, overwhelming, and terrifying. The life he knew is gone, and now he is living in a completely different way. This new life will open up possibilities for him, and he seems grateful for his sense of sight. But, still, the loss that this transformation entails for him is unavoidable. He has lost the world he’d lived in since birth. His relationships with his family, his neighbors, his religious community have been damaged, perhaps permanently. And it is clear that declaring his faith in Jesus puts him at odds with both the Jewish officials and the Roman imperial powers.
Stating that he believes in Jesus is an enormous leap of faith. He takes that leap because he has encountered the light of the world – who could not be changed by that?
The pool where Jesus commanded him to wash was called Siloam, which means “sent,” and that is his fate now. He is “sent” into the world as bearer of the same light he has encountered in Christ. He can’t go back to the life he had before; he can only forward into the life God has called him into. Even when the way forward is difficult, grief-filled, or lonely. The God he trusts will go with him every step of the way, and the testimony he bears about how he has been changed will bring glory to God.
Beloved ones, know that this is true for you as well. When you are sent into a world so radically different than the one you have known, know that God goes with you; know that the testimony of your life, just as it is, is a treasure to God. These are times filled with fear, filled with questions, but you don’t have to have answers or explanations. Trust that your experience will be a reminder that Christ will meet you where you are, even in your isolation.
The light of the world shines even in the darkest of times. May it shine within you, around you, and through you.