BLINDNESS AND SIGHT - based on John 9

by Robert Brow      (

(A sermon preached at St. Paul's, Kingston, Ontario, March 14, 1999)

John structured his Gospel around seven signs. The first was the turning of water to wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11, note v.11). The last sign was the resurrection of Jesus. And John explains to us exactly what these signs were meant to do. "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

I suppose just about all of you believe Jesus is in some sense the Son of God. But some of you may wonder if you have much spiritual life. To understand what John is getting at in chapter 9 we need to grasp what he is saying about the blind man, the Pharisees, and Jesus Himself.

We all know one or more blind people. Some people go blind in their old age. This man was blind from birth. Here in Canada blind people are on disability. They do not have to beg, as this man had to (John 9:8). And the CNIB gives them all sorts of braille reading material and cassette books for free. Sitting by the roadside, this man could hear passers by talk about the colors of the beautiful sunset, the lilies in the field, the dresses of the women, but he couldn't see a thing.

But John, the writer of the Gospel, wasn't just interested in one blind man receiving sight. He wanted us to "see" the metaphorical meaning of blindness. We all use metaphorical expressions like, "I can't see the point . . . I can see how to do it . . . I can't see the way ahead." Perhaps some of you feel like that today. "I can't see the point of life . . . I can't see the way ahead. I am in a fog."

Probably John had been present when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.

In his introduction Jesus had said "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8). That means that if we can't see God as the Creator of our world, or God's love in and through all the mess of life and death, or the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire and empower us, we are blind. And the reason is that our heart has not been purified to "see" spiritual truths. What does that mean in practice?

If you glance through John 9 you will see that two thirds of the chapter is about the Jewish Pharisees. They were blind to the obvious. Jesus had given sight to this man that everyone knew had been blind from birth. But they desperately tried to discredit Jesus and explain the facts away. "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath" (9:16) They called the man's parents. "Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How then does he now see?" (9:19). The parents suggested the Pharisees ask their son. They didn't want to get involved as "the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue" (9:22-23).

Finally when the Pharisees had tried every which way to prove that Jesus had not given the man his sight, "they drove him out" (9:34). When people lose an argument, they say "Get lost." That's a sure sign of spiritual blindness. And it ended up with hoping Jesus would get lost on the cross and remain buried for ever.

Why were the Pharisees so blind? In Matthew 23 there is a whole chapter about the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees. Jesus says to them "You blind guides . . . You blind fools . . . How blind you are" (Matthew 23:16, 17, 19). And he had explained to the crowd why this was so. Jesus was intent on freeing people to live joyful lives John 8:32, 36). But "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others" (23:4). Jesus tried to help people into purity of heart, but "They do all their deeds to be seen" (23:5). Jesus taught and practiced humility, but "They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue . . . and to be greeted with respect in the market places" (23:6-7). They focused on the minute rules of religion (23:23) and getting the externals correct (23:24), but completely missed the things God cared about : "justice and mercy and faith" (23:23). So if you don't want to see God, just spend your life fussing like the Pharisees about the rules and petty details.

With the blind man and the blind Pharisees in mind, John wants us to see what Jesus says about himself. "I am the light of the world" (John 9:5).  And right at the beginning of his Gospel John had explained what that meant.

John the Baptist was not the light of the world, but he pointed to the fact that "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1:6-9). That means that the eternal Son of God had always been enlightening people to see God, to see God's love, and to see the power of the Spirit. And the same Son of God, the light of the world, had right then come in among them. Like the Pharisees, one could refuse that light. But those who allow Him to give them vision get to see.

So this sign of the blind man points to the fact that in his earthly ministry Jesus could give physical sight. And He is also the one who can give us spiritual sight. But the gift needs to be accepted. For the blind man accepting the gift meant going to the pool of Siloam to wash off the mud from his eyes. That might have appeared to be a totally ridiculous things to do, but he went and did it.

Many people think that what you have done coming to church this Sunday morning is a totally ridiculous things to do. Why not sleep in, or go and enjoy life? And now what Jesus invites you to do seems even more ridiculous. All you have to do is come forward, take the bread and the wine from Jesus, and tell him you want to see. "Lord I want to see you as the Creator of my life, I want to see your Love in my situation, I want experience the Power of your Holy Spirit." It's as simple as that. And you could be wonderfully surprised.

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