Once again, we have a really long reading for this Sunday. Even so, this story is so crazy, so messed up, I have to read the whole thing for our congregation. As I read through this passage again and again this week, I couldn’t help by wonder if John himself realized what all was coming through this passage. Well, here we go!
9:1-12 ~ The discussion here is rich and flies in the face of much contemporary thinking that—knowingly or not—thinks there is some kind of ‘karma’ that rules the universe...the attractive but misguided idea that good earns favor and evil brings suffering (last I checked, rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike...). This guy’s blindness is not the result of his sin or his parents’—it’s the result of living in a broken, sin-wracked world...and it’s an opportunity for God’s grace and power to be revealed.
Again, John provides no name. Maybe there is a sense of “everyman” behind these stories, but this narrative is so specific, I want to give this fellow a name. Can we call him Daniel?
So, Daniel’s great neighbors are completely thrown of kilter by this miracle. I’m guessing that his blindness somehow affected his eyes so that he could not or would not open his eyelids...or the blindness affected the coloring of his eyes. His face was so changed by the healing, by opening his eyes, that the very people who lived around him weren’t even sure if this was the same guy!
When asked who did this and where he was, Daniel answers appropriately—“I dunno! I COULD NOT SEE!” ha,ha...
9:13-23 ~ “They” brought him to the Pharisees. Who are these “they”? John again doesn’t indicate it, but I’m guessing there was a crowd...and, since it was the Sabbath, there was nothing better to do. All of the closet theologians and front-porch-Pharisee-wannabes take poor Daniel to the Pharisees—either to show off the grand event or to question it. The Pharisees are ticked off that someone is working miracles on the Sabbath.
They interrogate the newly seeing fellow, asking him questions that he may not be able to answer—he’s been blind since birth. Since there was no Braille in those days, we can be fairly confident that he didn’t learn to read and write at the local Hebrew school. Perhaps he has listened well to the many conversations taking place around him, people talking freely since a blind man is often unseen himself in this time (today as well?)
The parents are brought in to testify in this now-established court case. Their response? He’s of age; ask him. John provides one of his ubiquitous parentheticals in v.22—anyone who gets close to Jesus is going to be in trouble! So, Mom and Dad let Daniel answer for himself.
9:24-34 ~ There seems to have been a lull in this. Maybe they took a lunch break. We don’t know, but “a second time they summoned” Daniel, really pressing him for the ‘who’ and ‘how’ and all of that. And here, Daniel proves himself a thinking fellow. He answers tit for tat, not backing down in the face of this increasingly frustrated and angry group of Pharisees. “Why are you so interested? Do you want to follow Jesus? You don’t know what’s going on here—you actually think this guy is against God?...” Well, in the end, Daniel is kicked out of the synagogue. Cut off. But, my guess is, he wasn’t one of their more active members to begin with.
9:35-41 ~ Jesus hears about all the brouhaha and finds Daniel. Of course, Daniel doesn’t recognize him, but I have a feeling he recognized the voice (you see, my wife, Jeanne, and I are watching Covert Affairs on Prime, and Auggie—blind CIA agent—remembers voices). Daniel is so grateful for this gift of sight that he believes, trusts, puts his faith in “Son of Man” and worships him.
This is crazy stuff. When someone receives their sight—someone born blind—this is a time to REJOICE! Celebrate! Go nuts! The neighbors, the parents, the local congregation completely miss the miracle! As I read this, I felt soooo badly for Daniel. I wanted someone to step forwards and say, “WOW! This is great!! God is good!!!” But, no. And, to be honest, when I’ve read and heard this story before, I didn’t either. I guess, I couldn’t see the forest of God’s love and grace for the trees of details, theological questions and pharisaical arguments.
This narrative leaves me a little unsettled. Daniel didn’t ask for the miracle...at least as far as John tells the story. Then, Daniel’s life is turned on its head. What should be the best day of his life turns into a nightmare—no celebration; his neighbors can’t recognize him; his parents basically save their own butts by throwing Daniel under the bus; and then, Daniel gets kicked out of the local congregation! What does this passage really say to us?
Perhaps this passage is a reminder—
First, it’s a reminder of God’s desire to bring wholeness to a broken world, of God’s love for each of us in our brokenness, of God’s power before the brokenness of the world.
Then, this is a reminder that once we are sure that we see, we immediately become blinded to important things around us. The blind are the ones who see; those who claim to see so clearly are blind. We all want to say, “Yes, yes, I was one of the blind, but now I see....” But, as soon as we claim to see, we are blind again. It’s too easy to think we see and yet be blind to things that are before us. How many times have we failed to see the best intentions behind an act because we were blinded by their failure to go through the proper channels, to ‘get permission’? Perhaps this passage reminds us that we need to celebrate whatever good thing comes our way, comes to our congregations, whatever act of good intention...and worry about the details later.
And finally, maybe it’s a reminder, too, that inviting people to follow Jesus just may turn their lives and their world upside-down. Experiencing God’s grace can really shake up our lives. Knowing God may open doors...and close doors. Not everyone is going to be happy for the good things that happen in our lives. And, we don’t see all the ways that a seemingly simple event may affect or impact a life—in positive or negative ways.
Did Daniel regret this miracle? My guess is, he was set free—from blindness, from a bad family, and from a judgmental congregation. No regrets.
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)