“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
John 9:1-2 (NIV) – Read 9:1-11.
By: David Shumate
“Was blind but now I see.” These words from the familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound” by John Newton (1725-1807), remind us how Jesus frees us to truly live. Jesus frees us from blindness and every ill precisely because of the way he relates to us. Not through focusing on the past and its problems like most of us, but looking beyond the present into the future with all of its possibilities. That’s the way it was during his earthly ministry. His way of relating to people went beyond what society considered normal. He was different. Thus the captives went free, the lame arose to walk, and even the blind could see.
The story of the blind man in John 9 is a beautiful illustration of how Jesus moved others from disability to ability. He treated the blind man in an unusual way. He went beyond merely labeling the man as a disabled man, as a blind man, to a stance which respected that man as a person. All Jesus’ disciples could see was that here was a “blind” person, more “blind” than person. They saw a stereotype and not a human being. That way of seeing in itself is dehumanizing. Anytime we see another as a label rather than as a person we rob them of their dignity. How would you like it if you were known, not as who you really are, but by whatever category others choose you to fit? Labels remove one’s personhood and reduce individuals to case studies.
But Jesus’ example is different. He saw the blind man as worthwhile because he was God’s creation. It was this respect for the man as a person which kept him from ignoring just another blind beggar alongside the road. He saw a real human being, a person with possibilities beyond disability. Secondly, he did not do what people normally do. He didn’t pity the man, nor did he allow pity to create over dependency. You will notice that Jesus didn’t lead the man to the pool of Siloam, but he sent him there. So often we view others as needing us to do for them instead of freeing them to do for themselves. The consequence of “leading” instead of “sending” is that we actually confirm them in inability (rather than freeing them) and we help ourselves meet our own “neededness.”
Jesus was not interested in “why” questions or placing “blame.” The disciples looked at the blind man and, rather than feeling compassionate, wanted to know who sinned. In their day and age disability and sicknesses were considered the result of sin. But Jesus saw that “sin” and its effects had no place here. Instead, this man, as with every person, was on earth for the glory of God to shine through!
Our attitude is often like that of the disciples. Always wanting to know “why did this happen?” rather than seeing God’s hand at work. We see a learning disabled or autistic child and want to know why. Didn’t the mother take care of herself? Did the father have a poor genetic make-up? Why didn’t God prevent it? We see the AID’s sufferer on television and want to know why? Is it judgment on homosexuality, or being a drug user, or on being Haitian, or being a free-bleeder, or because a child is born to a certain mother? Always the question, “Why?” Asking “why” allows us to feel righteous and holy. If I don’t have a learning disabled child or blindness or AID’s or other problem, then I must somehow be better than those who do. In so doing, we fail to recognize our own sinfulness and our own subtle disabilities.
Our efforts to place blame only deals with the past. When we wallow in the past we do not allow others or ourselves to be freed for the present. We trap ourselves and others in what has been rather than what could be.
Jesus modeled a compassion toward all persons as he dealt with them the led them toward healing. Nothing, not even blindness, was final when Jesus was around. He moved beyond the past into the present toward the future. Jesus moved beyond human fixation on disability toward the ability of God to bring wholeness. The blind man in John 9: 1-11 was just one of many examples of disabled people who were opened to God’s ability and power in their lives because Jesus freed them. Not only do the physically-disabled received new life, but also the emotionally-disabled and the spiritually disabled.
His healing can happen in as many ways as there are persons. Our call as Christians is to be an agency of God’s healing. That means that we will treat all persons in a way that frees them to be human rather than a stereotype. It means that we will not focus on blame-placing and the past, but call others and ourselves to be who they can be. Our call is to bring one another toward the center of discipleship rather than allowing “margin-dwellers.” The same Lord who healed the leper, and caused the lame to rise can raise you up. Let yourself be free to be who God calls you to be.