March 26, 2017 John 9
Prayer: Dear Lord, Please go with us into the study of your word. Help us to understand the wisdom of your servant, John, as he tells us the stories of Jesus. In his holy name we pray, Amen.
The Rest of the Story
Some of you may have seen the faux pas last month on the Academy Awards.
At hour 35, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were presenting the best picture award. Warren Beatty opened the envelope and looked confused, and looked at the card again and looked more confused. Finally, he handed the card to Faye Dunaway.
And she announced that La La Land had won best picture. All of the La La Land producers and actors and costumers and director swarmed the stage and began giving speeches. And it was only after two and a half speeches that the audience learned, Whoops! Wrong movie. Moonlight won.
Everyone on stage looked stricken. Warren Beatty explained that he was mistakenly handed the supporting actress card that named Emma Stone of La La Land.
Host Jimmy Kimmel said he knew he’d find some way to ruin the Oscars.
But it was all over in about two minutes.
And the audience was left wondering, Wow! How did that happen?
We wanted to know the rest of the story. Sure enough on Tuesday morning, USA Today was filled with stories explaining how Price Waterhouse Cooper had made the mistake.
How the only two people who knew all the winners had handed out a duplicate supporting actress envelope rather than the best picture one.
Then on Thursday morning, NPR reported that one of those Price Waterhouse employees had been tweeting and got distracted. Both employees were removed from future Oscar nights.
So often things happen and we are eager to know the aftermath. What radio newsman Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.”
We don’t always get that in the gospels. Often a story ends, and we think, Wow! I wonder what happened next.
Like when Jesus turned water into wine. Suddenly this wedding had barrels more wine than the parents originally thought they needed. What did that mean for the morning after?
Like when our Easter morning reading comes from the gospel of Mark. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16: 8)
What? What happened next? They must have told someone or we wouldn’t have the gospel today. Why did Mark stop there?
But today’s passage is one of those rare instances in which the gospel writer, in this case John, follows a story all the way through. Through its ending. Through its consequences. Through its repercussions.
Because it is such a long passage, we will break it down into three readings. You might want to keep your finger in there so we can return.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to John 9: 1-12.
As he walked along, (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We* must work the works of him who sent me* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
8The 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?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’
He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’
11He 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.’
12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
In the 21st century, what may strike us as the oddest part of this passage is the disciples’ question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
We’d never ask such a thing. But in the first century, Jewish rabbis believed that terrible punishment could come upon a child because of the sin of his parents.
The rabbis also believed that a child could sin in the womb, or that a person’s soul could have sinned in a pre-existent state. So this question was not unusual.
The man’s blindness, the disciples assumed, was punishment for
No, Jesus responds, that’s not right. Neither of them sinned.
And he heals the man of his blindness. Nowplenty of miracle stories
would end right there. The person is healed, and that’s the last we hear of
him. The healing is a sign that points to Jesus’s divinity.
But that’s not where John is going with this story.
The neighbors, who had seen the blind man begging throughout his life, wanted to know what happened and who did it. But the healed man doesn’t have any idea who Jesus is, beyond his name. And he admits it.
Let’s continue reading at 9: 13-34.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.
He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’
16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided.
17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’
20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’
22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus* to be the Messiah* would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’
25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’
26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’
27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’
28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’
30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’
34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
They drove him out.
In the early days of Christianity, Christians worshiped in the synagogues alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters. But by the time John was writing near the end of the first century, Jesus had been gone for 60 years or more. Some of the people who thought he was coming back immediately had gotten discouraged, and gone back to Judaism.
The Jewish authorities encouraged this return to Judaism. And so by the time of this writing, they were buckling down and throwing people out of the synagogues if they professed a belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. John inserts that state of affairs into this story.
Ex-communication was a painful thing. If you were thrown out of the synagogue, you lost relationships with family and friends. You lost your spiritual community. You lost the religion of your youth and your culture.
This was exactly what the blind man’s parents feared – that they would be put out of the synagogue. So they admitted that the healed man was their son. They admitted that he had been born blind.
But they refused to admit that Jesus had healed him for fear of being ex-communicated.
So the authorities went back a second time to the healed man. And in response, he spoke some of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible.
“I do not know whether he (Jesus) is a sinner,” he said. “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
We sang that a few minutes ago. “… was blind, but now I see.”
And then the healed man began to learn a little something about the cost of discipleship. Because for him seeing meant truth-telling.
Social scientists are familiar with something called “confirmation bias.” That’s when I turn to the editorial page of The Greenville News and read the columnists I agree with, and don’t read the stupid, ignorant columnists I don’t agree with. I happily get my bias confirmed, and all is right in my little world.
More importantly, we see confirmation bias when we receive new data or information. If it opposes what we already think we know, we push back against the data or the source rather than change our opinion. Our bias is confirmed, because we ignore the new evidence.
That’s what is going on in this gospel story. The Pharisees were operating out of confirmation bias. Nothing they saw was going to change their view that Jesus was a dangerous interloper and a threat to Judaism.
They would rather challenge the healing than accept that Jesus was a healer.
So they badgered the healed man, asking him questions that he had already answered. And he got a little testy.
“Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”
Yikes! That really set them off. John says they “reviled” him. Angry words were spoken on both sides. The Pharisees said adamantly that they were following Moses and they didn’t even know where Jesus came from.
And the healed man, sarcastically, responded, “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes…. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
The Pharisees refused to see the evidence. They reached back for those bedrock beliefs they were so sure of, so comfortable with. “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” they asked.
And they threw him out of the synagogue.
Isn’t this an amazing end to a healing story? Think of all the people Jesus healed. Think of the 10 lepers and blind Bartimaeus and Peter’s mother-in-law and the hemorrhaging woman and the centurion’s servant and the man with the withered hand and the man at the pool. Did they face this same persecution afterward? We don’t know. We don’t know the rest of their stories.
But thanks to John, we know the rest of this one. And it was not pretty.
The healed man was thrown out of his synagogue. He was shunned. He was persecuted.
All because he acknowledged that Jesus healed him.
And still, the story is not over. John 9: 35-41:
37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him.
39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’
41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.’
This is a quiet little ending compared to all the shouting and turmoil of the previous section. Jesus sought out the healed man and explained that he was, indeed, the one worthy of worship, the so-called Son of Man.
And the healed man worshiped him.
Still, the Pharisees were lurking about and overheard Jesus’ words of comfort to the healed man. “Surely we are not blind, are we?” they protested.
And Jesus turned it around on them. If they had never been confronted with the truth, they would not be guilty of sin. But because they have seen and heard it so clearly and rejected it, they are guilty.
Which, of course, didn’t help the healed man at all. He had a relationship with Jesus. But he lost his earthly relationships, his earthly standing. He learned that the cost of discipleship is costly indeed.
In this single story, John gives us the entire journey of Christian faith. We are initially healed. And then we learn that’s only the beginning.
Because the world is going on as it always did. To truly follow Christ means examining our politics, our social mores, our culture, our workplace, to see how all the things we formerly believed line up with our new command to love others as ourselves. To make sure we are not succumbing to confirmation bias and just making Jesus conveniently fit in.
That may mean standing outside our comfort zone. In this day and age, it won’t mean ex-communication, but it may mean alienation.
But according to John’s story, Christ will turn around and seek us out.
Christ will turn around and seek us out.
John was human, and he was writing in the only context he knew – the persecution, the ex-communication, facing Christians at the end of the first century.
I would argue that our path is different but perhaps as difficult. For while it’s easy in 21st century America to espouse Christianity, expedient even, it’s not easy to practice it well. For to practice it well involves protecting those out of favor, protecting the weak, the vulnerable, the persecuted, the maligned. And that may look different from decade to decade.
Nowhere in the gospel is there a promise of ease or comfort or popularity or prosperity, though some would have us believe it.
No, just this: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8: 34)
Or this: “Any who professed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”
This ninth chapter of John’s gospel gives us a rare vision of what may have happened to lots of people who confessed Jesus. This ninth chapter of John’s gospel gives us a rare vision of what may happen when we confess Jesus.
For the moment of healing, the moment of acceptance soon passes. And we must get about the work of living out the rest of the story.