“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” (John 9:1-7 ESV)
First, notice what happens at the outset of this story. It sounds simple, but it is so much more than it seems… as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus saw him, and because Jesus saw him so did the disciples. John’s narrative doesn’t tell us that Jesus drew attention to the man, but he obviously did something that drew the disciple’s attention to his condition. Their immediate reaction, which we will discuss in a minute, is not really what I want you to note here. But notice that Jesus saw someone who was suffering and hurting, which caused his disciples to take notice. We must be willing to do the same. We must be willing to notice those folks the world ignores but God notices. (See Isaiah 1:11-20)
Being a believer or disciple of Jesus is so much more than just living a good, moral life. There are lots of folks out there who, because of personality, religious convictions or guilt, live out a morally adequate life. Not World changing, but safe. Adequate. Mediocre. Average. They don’t do anything extremely bad, but neither do they do anything that causes people to take notice. If our relationship with Jesus is real, if we truly have the incomparable power of God’s Holy Spirit living within us, then our lives should never be adequate, mediocre, or average.
Scripture says we should do more than just take notice of them. We should go out of our way to help. The most famous parable in scripture is The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The entire story is one of contrasts. The priest and Levite in the story represents the religious leadership that despised Jesus and his healing on the Sabbath. They intentionally ignore the needs of the man beaten and left for dead. They literally move over to the other side of the road so as to avoid him and not become ritually unclean. Their actions are contrasted with a despised Samaritan who helped the injured man, and even went out of his way to care and provide for his needs.
To be honest, I think one of the primary reasons why the Samaritan helped and the religious leaders didn’t was because the Samaritan saw himself in the same position and the religious leaders could not. He could see himself being caught in the same circumstances, the religious leadership were above such thoughts. They would never be in such a situation or have a need that required assistance. I think this is how many of us tend to see those who are struggling with addiction, joblessness, homelessness, or mental illness. We think they have brought this on themselves, or they should be able to get themselves out of this situation if they really wanted to.
But, we must see those who are hurting, suffering, and struggling and respond to their needs in the same way Jesus did.
“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:15-17 ESV)
Which leads me right into how the disciples respond to the situation…
We seek blame, Jesus seeks purpose…
When it comes to suffering, we want someone to blame. Notice the disciples ask what caused the man’s blindness, his or his parents’ sin? Before we tackle this topic, let me state clearly, all suffering and disease is ultimately caused by sin. When sin entered our world so did death, disease, suffering, and struggle. But, I like what John Piper says about these verses: “specific sins in the past don’t always correlate with specific suffering in the present.” So, while we suffer and struggle because we live in a broken world we shouldn’t look for specific sins (or persons) to blame.
However, Jesus cuts straight across blame and goes to purpose. He says, it isn’t about WHO sinned but WHO will become the focus of your struggle. Will you focus on who’s at fault, or who’s in charge? Jesus specifically states that this man’s blindness is purposeful. What was its purpose? To show God’s glory through his healing.
I think most of us struggle with this idea. My suffering can be a source of honor or glory for God? That seems cruel and inhuman. Why should God receive honor because of my struggle? But, when we look at it like this we are still looking at cause and blame. We want to make someone else hurt because of our pain.
You did this? Well, let me show you you what I think of that! SLAM! How did that feel? Like it? Well, I didn’t like what you did to me either!
Just for a second, consider this idea… this man’s blindness has now put him on a collision course with the Son of God. He is about to be the the recipient of one of the most amazing miracles in scripture. John is, once again, showing us Jesus’ authority over everything physical. This man hasn’t just lost his sight over time, and Jesus performs some psychological trick and overcomes a psychosomatic condition. No, this guy has been blind since birth and his purpose lies in being an instrument of God’s amazing grace. His blindness and cure become an opportunity to encounter the living God. In the bigger picture, a few years of blindness are inconsequential when it becomes the reason you encounter the Light of the World! By the way, this isn’t the only reason given in scripture for such events but it is the reason given in this circumstance.
So, will your personal struggle be the very issue that keeps you blind to the love of God or will it become the gateway that leads you to the Light of Life?
Ordinary Things, Extraordinary Purpose…
Finally, Jesus indicates that we have a limited amount of time to accomplish God’s purpose in this life. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” If you’ve ever tried to do a outdoor job in the middle of the night, you know know exactly what Jesus is saying. We now have the luxury of artificial light at night, but imagine trying to do the same job without it. Imagine trying to change a flat tire on a rural road at 2:00 AM without a flashlight.
Jesus says we have to do the work of God while we have time. Night is coming when it becomes impossible.
Notice though, Jesus doesn’t say “I must work…” but says “we must work…” The very work of God must be carried out by the people of God. You and me, we must work while it is day. We must stop waiting for someone more qualified or called. God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. We are the called ones…
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:15-18 ESV)
In this picture, Jesus uses some spit and dirt to accomplish the very miracle of God. Common, ordinary things being used for divine, extraordinary purposes. Just for a moment, stop and look around you. Our lives are full of ordinary things that are simply waiting to become tools in the hands of an extraordinary God.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 ESV)
If God can use spit and dirt to heal a man blind from birth, surely he can use us if we submit ourselves to His purpose. Ordinary Things in the Hands of an Extraordinary God!