John 9:1-41 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Similarly to last week’s text on Samaritan woman at the well, John 9 is another massive text with extensive commentary. And this long text can get even longer because many commentators point out that it should be read alongside chapter 5’s healing story in contrast. AND it can get even longer, because it can be read historically as one of the catechetical stories of baptismal preparation along with the Samaritan Woman (4:5-42) and the Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45).
Themes of the Light of the World, Blindness vs Seeing, Belief and Unbelief, Choice and Rejection, and Sin, can all be thoroughly examined throughout our preaching. But I would say “Seeing and Believing Jesus vs. Rejection” is the main issue at hand. In many ways that can be described as the greatest “sin” in the Gospel of John: rejecting God after seeing God face to face.
Again, if you want to go the theological route, there are so many incredible commentaries out there and there is so much that we can choose to go over (though narrowing would be crucial). But again, I wonder if there is a way to connect with the humanity of this man. Like with Nicodemus and Samaritan woman what if we connected with the encounter with Jesus. What it felt like to be with him. What it felt like to witness to him afterwards. After all, the Greek of “man” is anthrōpos, theologically meaning “every person.” How do we experience an encounter with the divine, the Light of the World?
(There are several commentators that suggest this scene in John could be read as a play. And so, below I offer a narrative telling that reads into some of the emotions the man may have been feeling. I read into the situation, thinking about it taking place during the Festival of Booths and with strangers and city residents in his midst. I think about the chaos of the situation and how overwhelming it would have felt. I hope this is helpful for your creativity or for sermon ideas.)
A Narrative Telling
He was sitting in the dirt just off the busy market street. It was his usual place but because of the festival he was worried that he might be stepped on. So many people were in the city during the festivals. They were flooding the streets. Not being able to see all these people, it was easier to just sit in the corner of this street and try not to be noticed rather than being bumped and pushed around.
He sat listening to the bustling crowd move about. The sounds of shuffling feet and marketplace transactions were familiar to him. Without his sight, his other senses were heightened. His ears and nose particularly attuned to the sounds and smells of the city. Some people murmured about him as they passed by, unaware or uncaring of his keen ear. This was usual during the festivals. People new to the city were often talking about other people’s sin. And they questioned whether his blindness was due to his sin (which he never understood because he was born blind). It was easier to just sit back and ignore them as they talked.
In the distance, his ears picked up some different voices speaking and asking questions to one another. They stopped a little way away from him. “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents?”
He heard a calm, yet authoritative voice come closer to him while speaking. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” At least this man understood. Maybe he even knew the law in Leviticus (19:14), “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” He had heard that verse many times from the religious leaders of the city.
The man with the calm voice was still speaking but now he was just feet from him. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The man’s voice seemed to be right in front of his face, kneeling before him. Who was this man? What did he want?
And then the blind man heard him spit on the ground in front of him. It sounded as if this man was rubbing and mixing the spit into the dirt right in front of him. And suddenly, the blind man felt something cold and wet on his eyes. The stranger was spreading mud over his closed eyes that had never seen the light of the world. The blind man almost pulled back but for some reason he didn’t and let this man continue to coat him in spit and dirt.
He was confused. He then heard again the calm voice of the man, a Rabbi, speak to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” So he got up and went. Why he listened to this Rabbi, he did not know but for some reason he trusted the certainty in his voice, the authority with which he spoke.
He walked through the crowds of people with the mud still over his eyes. Though his feet were accustomed to feeling their way over this terrain, he bumped into people at every turn. They jeered at him and murmured as he went by, grumbling about the man with the mud-covered face being in their way.
He finally reached the pool of Siloam. He lowered himself into the cool water and washed the mud off his face. As he raised his head above the water, he slowly opened his eyes. Light flooded into them. He blinked over and over again. He was seeing something. The world started coming into focus. He looked down and saw the water dripping off of his face and into the pool. He whirled around, he saw the people walking in the streets. He saw strange moving shapes and bright, vivid colors. He looked up and, for the first time in his life, he saw the blue sky overhead.
He climbed out of the pool and ran towards the street as the water dripped off him. “I can see!” he shouted to everyone. “I can see!”
The people in the street looked at him and got out of the way thinking that something may be wrong with him. He ran back to the place where the man had put the mud on his eyes, this time led by his sight rather than feeling his way with his feet. As he ran, he attached brand new images to the sounds and smells that he had grown so familiar with. He got to the place and saw his mat where he usually sat to beg. He looked around wondering where the man went. “Rabbi!” He called out! “I can see!”
People around began to stop and look at him.
The neighbors crowded around him and began asking him questions.
“Are you the man who used to beg?”
“Are you the man who was blind?”
“How is it that you can see?”
How is that they did not know him? He sat here every day. Flustered he yelled, “The man named Jesus gave me my sight. I was blind and now I see.”
The crowd brought him to the religious leaders and they demanded answers.
“How is it that you can see?”
“A man spread mud over my eyes and then I washed at Siloam.”
“Who was it that healed you?”
“I don’t know! They called him Rabbi. They called him Jesus.”
“What do you say about him?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a prophet?”
“Was he a sinner?”
“I was blind but now I see.”
“What did he do to you?”
“I don’t know! Do you want to learn from him as well?”
“How did he open your eyes?”
“I was blind but now I see!”
He did not know what they were demanding of him. They had even went to talk to his parents to ensure that he really was who he said he was. He did not know what kind of person this Rabbi was. He did not know how this man knew that this mud and water would give him sight. All he knew was that this man healed him. He was blind and now he could see.
The neighbors and religious leaders deserted him, calling him a sinner and driving him away.
He stood in the street, alone among the crowds who were wading through the city. Looking around, he had not been able to take in all of his surroundings with everyone rushing him around. He was speechless and had no idea where to go.
Then a man approached him. He had never seen this man before, but somehow, he knew who this was. This must be the man who had rubbed mud onto his eyes. The man who gave him sight. The one that they call Rabbi. The one that they call Jesus.
Jesus walked right up to him. He did not know what to say. What could he say to this miracle worker?
But Jesus spoke first, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He looked into Jesus’ face, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
The formerly blind man dropped to his knees and said, “Lord, I believe.”
It was in that moment that he saw the man standing before him. Seeing what he already believed all along. He was looking at the Son of God, the light of the world.
 Sandra M. Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, 149 & 152-154.
 Schneiders, 153.
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