The Sign of Openness
We are almost finished with our exploration of the miracles of Jesus in the gospel of John. Because we are following themes instead of preaching straight through the story, we are jumping around a bit. We explored Jesus turning water into wine in chapter two. In chapter 4 he heals a little boy without ever seeing him. In chapter 5 he heals a man who was paralyzed and sitting by a pool. In chapter 6 he feeds a multitude of people and then right after that walks on water. Today we are in chapter 9. Next week we will explore the seventh and final sign in chapter 11. But again, today we are in chapter 9, entering the story of yet another miraculous sign where the point is not the miracle but what the miracle tells us about Jesus and how that understanding draws us into deeper relationship with God through Christ, the Word Made Flesh.
This is one of John’s particularly long stories, and so I’m going to cut out some of it. I encourage you to read it all for yourself this week, and then keep reading what comes after it. This is John chapter 9.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. But in order that God’s works might be made visible in him, it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
[The man’s neighbor’s question how he was healed, and then take him to the Pharisees.]
Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
[The Jewish leaders question the man’s parents, who are not helpful to anyone.]
Therefore, the Jewish leaders called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they drove him out.
Jesus heard they had driven him out. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you trust in the Human One/Son of Man?”
He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to trust in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.John 9
These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
There’s a lot happening in this story, and thus a lot of places where we are tempted to get stuck and start trying to pick apart one verse. I know, because that happened to me a lot this week as I was preparing to share this story with you. I encourage you to read this whole story for yourselves this week and see what the Holy Spirit shows you. Maybe one verse will hold some healing and life-giving insight for you. But for us as a community this morning, I’d like to consider some of the larger patterns, specifically the difference between the man who is healed and the religious leaders.
We meet a man who is assumed to be a sinner, and accused of being a sinner. He’s supposedly a sinner and he’s blind.
Then we meet some religious leaders. Side note: John uses the phrase “the Jews” to refer to several different groups of Jewish people. This gospel has unfortunately been used as justification by Christians for some incredibly anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions. To equate all Jews everywhere for all time with any of the several Jewish groups in this gospel is a narrow-minded oversimplification that will lead us down a dark path and we don’t want to go there. OK? OK. So we meet some religious leaders. They are convinced they are not sinners, but Jesus says they are. They also are not blind, but Jesus says they are.
The most important difference between the healed man and the religious leaders is not about sin or sight. The most important difference between them is how open they are or are not to Jesus. Openness to Jesus, trust in Jesus, makes all the difference in the world.
The man was accused of being a sinner and was blind. But because he was open to Jesus, he was saved and could see. The leaders were not sinners and were not blind, but because they are closed to Jesus, it turns out that actually they are sinners and blind. The man was open. The leaders were closed. Which suggests that if we are open to Jesus, anything is possible. But if we are closed to Jesus, not even a miracle will save us.
Because everyone in this story experiences a miracle. The man experiences it in his body. But the leaders are witnesses to it. They know this man. He’s part of the community. They know that once he was blind but now he sees. But they can’t accept it. They are closed.
I’ve thought a lot this week about why the man is open and the leaders are closed, about why some people in the world are open to Jesus and some people are closed. John’s gospel does not give us a definitive answer, but it does suggest an interesting pattern. Throughout this book, we can see that the people who are usually most open to Jesus are the people who have nothing to lose. They are already marginalized or already at the end of their rope. The woman at the well and the man with the sick child are other examples of this. They have nothing to lose and are open to whatever Jesus might do.
The people who are usually the most closed to Jesus are the ones who have the most to lose. The people with power or wealth or status. Nicodemus and Pontius Pilate are other examples. These people are invested in something that would be threatened by who Jesus is, not just by what he is doing, but by what his existence means to the world. That’s certainly the case with the religious leaders. Those leaders were heavily invested in a system, in an institution that gave them status and power. And yet the institution wasn’t all bad. It also provided structure and security for an entire community, a way of forming and maintaining identity in the midst of a world that wanted to eradicate them.
Just like the Jewish leaders, Christian leaders today have to manage the tension between maintaining the stability of the establishment and being open to new things. The question for us still is, “Are we able to see God when God is at work right in front of us?” Or do we reject the work of God because it doesn’t look like what we expected or what we are comfortable with? Let’s be honest, we all have a lot to lose. Most of us have pretty comfortable lives and we don’t want them to be shaken up, especially not any more than they already have been. The more privilege we have, the more money we have, the more Jesus threatens us. The more we want to find ways around what he has to say or shut him down entirely. This church has been here for a long time, and although I’d like to think that we are reasonably flexible, there are definitely some things that I wouldn’t want to give up. And if Jesus were to challenge me, I would have a hard time being open.
Our openness to Jesus is intrinsically tied to our trust in Jesus. If we trust Jesus, then we will be open to him, even when he challenges our status and our comfort. If we trust Jesus, then we will anticipate abundance. If we trust Jesus, we will release the false sense of security that comes with assuming that we already know everything. If we trust Jesus, then we will be willing to listen when calls us to change things, because we trust that he will build something better in the place of anything he removes. Amen.