“Jesus saw a man blind from birth. He told his disciples, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Then the man went and washed and came back able to see. Those who had seen him before as a beggar asked, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes and said to me, ‘Go wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus performed the miracle. The Pharisees began to ask how he had received his sight and he told them. Some of the Pharisees believed and some did not. So they said again, “What do you say about him?” he said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind until they called the man’s parents and asked them. His parents answered, “This is our son and he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him. “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.
So for a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said, “We know that this man who you said healed you is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. “ They reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses who comes from God. As for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he answered, “And who is he? Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world so that those who do not see may see.”
John 9: 1-41
In the gospels, Jesus often brought up sight and blindness as a way to point out how he was misunderstood. In the gospel story we just read we can see how confused people were about who Jesus was and what he was doing. Jesus said, “I came into this world so that those who do not see may see.” This begs the question, what is it that Jesus wants us to see?
Like the man in this story, we learn about Jesus over time, and the way we see him changes based on our experiences and our insight.
In the passage from John, Jesus is first just another man on the road, but after the blind man is healed he sees Jesus as a prophet. Next he tells the Pharisees that Jesus was a man from God. Finally, he is face to face with Jesus and calls Jesus Lord. An incredible miracle has been performed and yet it takes the man some time to comprehend what it means. We may hear similarities to ourselves in this man. We too may struggle with our perception of Jesus.
In this season of Lent, our focus is directed again and again to Jesus in anticipation of Easter. We are encouraged to explore the question of “who is the Jesus we are preparing to celebrate?”
The conventional view of Jesus says that we should see Jesus as the answer to the problem of original sin. Everyone is a sinner, not living according to God’s laws, and so we all deserve to be punished. The only way to be saved from eternal punishment for our imperfections and sins is to repent and believe that Jesus was punished on the cross in our place. His suffering atones for our sins. If we believe in Jesus as our savior in this way then we will be guaranteed to go to heaven. Our gratitude for this undeserved gift of grace will lead us to be more obedient to God and live better lives.
Another view of Jesus sees Jesus as sent by God to let the world know that God loves humanity and all of creation even with its brokenness and wrongdoing (sin). God sees the hurt and destruction we cause, and God invites everyone to follow a way that leads to peace and hope instead. Jesus came to show us the way and teach us about the path to follow to be transformed and to take part in the transformation of the world. Through his life, death and resurrection he shows us true forgiveness and hope and assures us that good will prevail over bad. Believing in Jesus means believing that you have a part to play in shaping the world to be the glorious place it was intended to be.
Does one of these views seem more familiar to you than the other? Does one resonate with you more than the other?
I have set out two ways of seeing Jesus but realistically there are many, many more. Another view that is particularly important to explore is how Jesus was seen in his original context over 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire. The political system in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus maintained peace and security through the use of force and domination. The emperor was the ultimate source of power, known as the ruler of all rulers. Any opposition from enemies outside the empire or unrest within the empire was crushed in the name of maintaining peace and prosperity. Difference and dissention were not tolerated. It was a system in which only powerful, wealthy men could enjoy the fullness of life. There was oppression, injustice, violence and lack of freedom.
Minority communities within the Roman Empire suffered greatly. The Jews were one such minority group. One of the often overlooked facts about Jesus is that he was Jewish and his heritage had a significant influence on his life. Jews had an especially difficult time in the Roman Empire. Greco-Roman culture celebrated many Gods but the Jewish people believed in only one God. They refused to think of Caesar as a God, and this made it harder for Caesar to rule over them. Some Jews fantasized about creating their own isolated communities away from the empire where they could worship as they pleased. Others found ways to conform to and prosper within the dominating system, but they were despised among their own people. The burden of persecution weighed heavily on many Jews and led them to dream of liberation and in particular a liberator who would lead them to a better life. Jesus came on the scene right into the middle of this mess and tried to unite the people and offer another solution, an alternative to empire.
When Jesus became known as the Messiah or Christ, which means “the liberating king promised by God,” he fit right into the expectations of this oppressed group of people who were more than ready for a savior. He was the leader they were looking for to start the revolution, or so they thought when he called himself things like “Son of Man,” as he did in the John passage. This is a reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel where “one like a son of man approaches God and is given authority and power over all peoples and his kingdom will be the kingdom of God.” The book of
Daniel was also written during a time of oppression and reflects the desires of a people longing for a revolutionary.
At the end of the story about the blind man he says “Lord, I believe.” This was actually a dangerous political statement. Lord was a term that was used to address the Emperor who considered himself to be the supreme authority, the king of kings, the lord of lords. Do these words sound familiar? So when Jesus is called Lord, it was a recognition of Jesus as the ultimate authority and not Caesar. This would have been a very unsafe thing to say in the Roman Empire. Calling Jesus Lord was a way of saying, “you will be our king, King Jesus instead of King Caesar.” They truly believed that if Jesus said he was the messiah, the Son of Man, the Lord, then he meant he would be the next ruler. It was shocking to some people to discover that is not what he meant.
We are used to hearing Jesus referred to as the Messiah, Lord, son of man and we have lost the radical message that Jesus was conveying. He used the terms of the day for subversion. For example, if we used today’s language Jesus might have shown up and said “I am your divine dictator” or “I am here to start a love insurgency.” In the news they have been using the phrase “regime change” a lot recently. Jesus wanted to create a spiritual regime change. It’s a little shocking isn’t it? I hope it helps to give you a different perspective. Many of the people Jesus shared his message with thought he was talking about an actual regime change. The spiritual change he was talking about would lead to real changes in the world, but those were not the central part of his purpose. There is a sense of somewhat mixed messages with the use of political language to describe spiritual change leading to physical change.
Now with our understanding of the complexity of the situation, we can see more clearly why people kept getting confused about who Jesus was, like in the story from John. They were expecting a revolutionary like Che Guevara and instead they got a guy like Ghandi. Many people who encountered Jesus seemed to be blind to seeing him and only saw their expectations. It hasn’t gotten much easier over the years to figure out who Jesus was and what he meant. But how we see Jesus is important. It has implications for how we live our lives. Please take a moment to think about it. How do you see Jesus? Have you been blind to Jesus? Who do you say he is and what does he have to do with your life?
I don’t think that there is one right way to see Jesus. Some people would say that there is but I just can’t. I don’t want to tell you how you should see Jesus, but I do want to offer you my view for you to consider. I see Jesus as God in human form. I see him as God’s way of trying to tell us that there is a way to live that creates peace and brings joy instead of destruction and pain. We can choose to follow that way but ultimately we are free to do what we want. When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am saying that I believe that life triumphs over death, light will always be stronger than darkness, and love and forgiveness have more power than all the evil and bad things that can possibly happen in the world. That is what I see in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I see that we should always have hope. There may be abandonment, intense suffering, loss and even death but love is a stronger force in the world and love will have the final say. We are asked to trust that God will find us when we need to be found. God may spit in our eye and put mud on our face but somehow we will come to see the way, the truth and the light. May it be so. Amen.