Jesus and Sight
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 9:1-41
February 09, 2020

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has just left the temple. He sees a man on the street begging. This man was unable to see. He had been blind from birth.

Jesus gives the man his sight. Then a controversy erupts with the Pharisees over this. Jesus gave the man his sight on the Sabbath. So His wonderful work comes into conflict with the Sabbath rules and regulations of the Pharisees.

The disciples see the blind man sitting there. They ask Jesus this question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents so that he was born blind” (John 9:2).

The disciples are thinking that there must be a direct, causal connection between specific and particular sin and this man being born unable to see. This way of thinking is natural to us. It links our natural tendency toward legalism with our natural tendency to have to find causal connections.

Jesus rejects this kind of thinking. He teaches that the man being born without being able to see should not be taken as an occasion for finding out about sin. It should be taken as an opportunity to do the work of God (John 9:3). Thus, it is an opportunity for kindness, grace, and mercy. It is an opportunity to do what one can to help the man, to find ways for him to cope, to find ways for him to be able to develop his potential. Just because he cannot see, does not mean he does not have potential in other ways. For Jesus Himself, it meant an opportunity to do His creative and restoring work for human beings for whom He has compassion and mercy.

The question about who sinned was not relevant. What was relevant for Jesus was to give the man His sight as redeemer in the grace and kindness of God.

Jesus takes action. He spits on the ground and makes a little mud with the saliva. He puts the mud on the man’s eyes. John uses the word “anoint” here (John 9:6). Jesus anointed the man’s eyes with the mud. This elevates Jesus’s action to a divine action.

Jesus then tells the man to go wash off the mud in the pool of Siloam. The man did so, at Jesus’s command, and received his sight.

It might seem odd that Jesus made the mud as part of giving the man his sight. What can we make of this?

I’m thinking of the famous passage in Isaiah about the potter and the clay. The Lord says there: “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it’ He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16). The word used for “clay” there in the Greek Old Testament is the same word John uses in our text for the mud. 

Similarly, I’m thinking of what the prophet Jeremiah says: “O House of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6). Again, the same word in Greek is being used.

Jesus makes mud. He is the potter in whose hands are the people of Israel. So Jesus uses mud to show them who He is. The potter is working with the clay. The maker is giving the man His sight. They could have seen and understood the sign. It even goes back to the beginning when God took dust and formed Adam and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7).

I think there is another reason Jesus made the mud. This was to challenge the Pharisee’s Sabbath regulations, and their self-righteousness and hardness of heart. We’ll say more about this in a minute.

And why go to wash in the pool of Siloam? As we unpack what Jesus did, it looks like this. The water in the pool is just ordinary water. It was intended to be part of the water supply for Jerusalem. But Jesus attaches His word of command to the water. It now becomes a water that can accomplish divine purposes. Because of Christ’s command, the man can wash in this water and receive His sight.

What Jesus does here has the same pattern as baptism. Ordinary water used according to Christ’s command becomes a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is receiving sight indeed.

In would be great if the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Conflict arises. It is amazing how often the goodness that God brings and allows humans to do gets judged by humans who are so sure they are in the right about what must not be done.

In our text we have the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. They object to Jesus healing the man, because He did it on the Sabbath. His healing violated the rules and regulations they had devised about what work one should not do on the Sabbath.

They think they have it all figured out. They think they see.  But how blind they are. They are blind because they cannot see the wonder and goodness of what Jesus just did.

And what is worse, they cannot see who is standing right in the front of them. It is not just any old human being that can do what Jesus just did. The Lord, who brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, is in their midst doing wonderful things in His grace and love.  The one who stood over the rock at Horeb which Moses struck with his staff and water came out, is in their midst. He uses water to give the man his sight. But their Sabbath regulation blinds them to wonderful redeeming work of God in Jesus the Christ.

Going back to the passage in Isaiah about the potter and the clay, the Lord says this: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” (Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV).

The Pharisees think that they are supremely wise in their Sabbath rules and regulations. They think they are discerning of the Lord’s will. But they are blind. Their wisdom is a wisdom of death, because it condemns Jesus for bringing life. They couldn’t be further from the heart of God. Yet, the Lord does wonder upon wonder in their sight and brings their wisdom to nothing. Jesus gives the blind man his sight.

It seems that people do the same sort of thing today. Their reasoning is different. Wisemen say they know how the universe works. Jesus couldn’t have possibly done what the Gospel claims He did. Oh yeah, we believe and can understand how Jesus died. But that He rose again, that is just not how the universe works.

But the interesting thing about the story today is its facticity. The Pharisees call the man to testify. He says, I was blind but now Jesus gave me sight.

This is not good enough. They needed to corroborate his testimony. They call the man’s parents. Is this your son. Yes. Was he born unable to see. Yes. How is it that he now sees? We don’t know.

But their own question condemns them because in their question they admit the facticity that he now sees.  

The man’s parents are afraid to answer this question. Like all tyrants, the Pharisees of that time made another law that whoever would confess Jesus as the Christ would be thrown out of the synagogue. Just because they confess Jesus, they should be disenfranchised, cut-off from the community of faith, be delegitimatized, and brought to shame.

But the facticity of Jesus and God’s action in Jesus remains. Tyrants and those who regard themselves as being absolutely right in their man-made laws, are not terribly responsive to facts, however. They weren’t then. They aren’t today. They think they have the moral high-ground. They are blind to their prejudice and hypocrisy.

But this does not really matter.

For judgment I came into this world, Jesus says, so that those who do not see may see, and so those who claim to be able to see, may become blind (John 9:39).

Jesus does His wonderful work. He does it in God’s love in the facticity of our physical world, and so the facticity of it remains. The blind man who could not see can now see, and believes, worships, and rejoices.

So we too, whom Jesus has caused to see and believe, were blind, but now we see. We see the grace of God in forgiveness, won in the facticity of Jesus’s death. We see the hope of life in God in the facticity of Jesus’s resurrection. And our hearts believe that nothing shall be impossible with God in Jesus. We see forgiveness. We see life. And with the man born blind, who now sees, we worship and rejoice. Amen.


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