Crisis & Choice, Pt 2: “More Than Conquerors”
MORE THAN CONQUERORS (JOHN 9:1-39)
One embarrassing game day, after giving up nine home runs in a row, Charlie Brown cried out in despair, “What can I do?!!” He complained to his catcher, “We’re getting slaughtered again, Schroeder. I don’t know what to do. Why do we have to suffer like this?” Schroeder turned around, walked away, and quoted to a bewildered Charlie Brown: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
Linus, who overheard the quote, explained to Charlie Brown, “He’s quoting from the book of Job, Charlie Brown…seventh verse, fifth chapter,” but added, “Actually, the problem of suffering is a very profound one.” But before Linus could continue, Lucy interrupted, “If a person had bad luck, it’s because he’s done something wrong, that’s what I always say!” Schroeder corrected her, “That’s what Job’s friends told him, but I doubt if…” Again, Lucy quipped, “What about Job’s wife? I don’t think she gets enough credit!”
By this time, Charlie Brown’s head was turning left and right, straining to hear what everyone had to say as all the players had gathered at the mound and were speaking out of turn. Schroeder opined, “I think a person who never suffers, never matures. Suffering is actually very important.” Lucy yelled, “Who wants to suffer? Don’t be ridiculous!” A newly arrived kid turned to Charlie Brown: “But pain is a part of life.” And Linus voiced to Snoopy, “A person who speaks only of the “patience” of Job reveals that he knows very little of the book!” The last frame has Charlie Brown resigning to himself, exclaiming: “I don’t have a baseball team. I have a theological seminary.”
Suffering is a prominent subject in the Bible, an unavoidable topic for Jesus, and a staple of life. As someone said, “Preach on suffering and you will never lack an audience.” In John 9, Jesus met a blind man who was never short of hearing theories on suffering, usually negative ones from people who hardly knew him at all. On this occasion, the disciples postured on the cause of suffering. They were not the only ones who believed that the blind man had some explanation to do or something to hide; the Pharisees, too (John 9:34). In one episode, Jesus rejected the popular theology of suffering, overturned the suffocating view of Sabbath work and alienated religious officials.
What kind of attitude, behavior and mission characterized Jesus when He was around people who suffer? Jesus saw them as vessels for God’s work- made to conquer and not suffer, and cared for their mind, body and soul.
How did Jesus view suffering? Does God delight in man’s suffering? What is the way out for those who suffer? Let us examine Jesus’ comments to the disciples, then his contact with the blind man and, lastly, his conversation with the blind man.
God Cares for Sufferers’ Personal Dignity
9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)
First, in Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question, He gave dignity not only to the blind man but to all who has suffered mental anguish from a weakened physical condition.
For the disciples the blind man on the road was a foregone theological, moral and philosophical conclusion. The blind man was a freak of nature, his existence a sore to the eye and his condition a judgment from God. From the way the disciples posed the question, they seemed to have no conceivable answer except the culpability of the victim or his parents. They could not have picked on a better target, a worse man or an easier prey: the man was born bind, not made blind, half blind or almost blind. It was a proof of guilt, but who was the black sheep - parent or child? Who in the family did it? Was it nature or nurture?
Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” He emphatically, dogmatically and categorically rejected the judgment call and resolved him from guilt. The first Greek word Jesus uttered meant neither, none of the above, not even. This is the only instance Jesus had ever answered a question, began a sermon or initiated a conversation with an exclusive “No.” He repeated the negation in Greek to make sure the disciples get the point: “Not” this man sinned, “not” the parents. Not individual sin, collective sin or any outstanding, living or unknown sin. Not what the parents did to others, what the blind man brought upon himself or what is merited from God.
What a wondrous declaration of hope, what glorious words of comfort and what a thrilling defense Jesus offers to those who suffer, those who are afflicted and those in pain. Once and for all He had lifted the unnecessary burden, the second curse and the mental torture of the disabled, the ailing and the helpless.
The blind man had no burden to prove his innocence, no need to apologize for his condition or feel guilty about himself or feel ashamed before God and others. Jesus advised him to do the only thing he could: to allow and invite God to work in his life. The passive verb “be displayed” meant that the man could be on the receiving end of God’s work in a wonderful relationship. Jesus did not talk about finding the cause of suffering, but choosing the course in suffering. Our mind cannot explain the reason for our suffering, but our attitude can determine the outcome of the suffering.
A water-bearer carried two large pots on each end of a pole to his master’s house every day. However, one of the pots had a crack and could only deliver half a pot, in contrast to the perfect pot. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
The water pot said to the water beater one day by the stream, “I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “For these past two years I have been able to deliver only half of my load because of the crack in my side that causes water to leak out on the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws you have to do all of this work, and you didn’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The bearer felt sorry for the cracked pot, and said to the pot: “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, my master would not have flowers to grace his house.”
God Cares for Sufferers’ Personal Welfare
6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:6-7)
Jesus did not come just to care for the mental health of the blind man, but to care for him as a real person.
The word “saw” in verse 1 implied that Jesus had already known of the man’s presence, condition and need before the disciples posed the question to Jesus. After answering their question, Jesus demonstrated that the blind man was a person to love, not a topic to discuss.
Though Jesus had used saliva to heal a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and another blind man (Mk 8:23) before by touching their ears or eyes, He did the unthinkable this time: He healed on the Sabbath (Jn 9:14), redefined the law and, in the process, angered the legalistic Pharisees. Jesus not only broke the Sabbath, He took his time, repeated his motions and tended to the patient. The word “anointed” or “put on,” meaning “smear” or “make contact,” occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Jesus rubbed, massaged and touched the blind man’s eyes lightly, patiently and compassionately. He was in no hurry to heal, the blind man was not a person to avoid and the disciples had a lesson to learn.
The risk of meeting, offending and angering religious leaders did not stop him from healing. Previously in John’s gospel, the Jews were already seeking to find Jesus, to kill him for healing a paralyzed man on the Sabbath day (John 5:14, 18). In this final Sabbath day account in John’s gospel, would Jesus risk antagonizing the Pharisees and heal another suffering soul on Sabbath day again? Couldn’t Jesus heal from a distance? Could he not wait till the day was over, the time was right or the coast was clear? Jesus’ answer was obvious: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world (Jn 9:4-5).
A short while later, Jesus was accused of not keeping the Sabbath (John 9:16) and the blind man was banned from the synagogue for acquiescing to healing (Jn 9:22, 34). For the Pharisees, Sabbath day meant inactivity, even if it included hunger (Mt 12:1-2, Lk 14:1), danger (Mt 12:11) or sickness (Jn 5;10). So anything physical, including physical healing (Lk 13:10-14, 14:3), was out of the question.
A Jew was on his way home one Friday night. It was past midnight when he passed the house of his pious grandparents. To his surprise they were still up, the Sabbath candles burning brightly, so he went in. “Why aren't you asleep?” he asked. “It's past midnight.” His grandparents looked sad, and replied, “We can't go to sleep because of the candles. If we let them burn out, the house may catch fire; and we can't snuff them out because it's the holy Sabbath.”
Several years ago, an Israeli institute that specialized in inventing devices for religious Jews to use on the Sabbath without violating the biblical command that forbade work came up with a $10 Sabbath pen that it claimed fit the bill. The institute's director said that the pen was invented for doctors and patients and was kosher because the ink it uses disappears after a few days, becoming literally “nonexistent,” meaning no work was involved in the first place! Among the institute's popular invention is an electric timer - or Sabbath clock- that turns lights on and off since that action is considered work by the religious (San Gabriel Valley Tribune 5/24/91).
Jesus cared too much for the blind man to care for what others think of him, say about him or do to him. Jesus came to alleviate suffering, not debate suffering; he would rather put himself in danger than to leave others without hope; he was a physician, not a politician or a philosopher.
God Cares for Sufferers’ Personal Salvation
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:34-35)
Jesus has come to give dignity to those who suffer and to care for people in affliction. Not only that, He has come to find and save those who are lost. He is the Lamb of God, who has come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!
Do you know the line from the song “Amazing Grace” that says “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” was taken from this passage. I had always thought it was taken from the parable of the prodigal son, except that the lost and found phrase was not uttered by the prodigal son, but twice by the father (Lk 15:24, 32). But if you look at what the blind man’s words in verse 25, he said he was once blind but now he could see. But how was he lost? Later the Jews “threw him” literally in Greek out of the synagogue and when Jesus returned to find the blind man when He heard about the injustice, mistreatment, and plight (v 35).
More importantly, Jesus returned for the salvation of the blind man. The blind man had heard about and heard from Jesus, but had never talked to and with Him. The blind man’s three simple words - “Lord, I believe” - were an extraordinary statement of faith. There is no stronger, firmer or clearer way to express one’s belief in Jesus in the gospels though there were two other similar “I believe” utterances of faith: from the father of a demon-possessed who exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) and from Mary whose actual words in Greek to Jesus at the death of her brother Lazarus was, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27) Note that the demon-possessed man’s father did not call Jesus “Lord” and needed help to overcome unbelief and Mary’s belief was basically doctrinal creed- “I have believed”- and not critical faith.
Jesus, however, was not surprised by the blind man’s confession of faith but the Pharisees’ persistence in blindness. Spiritual blindness, separation from God, stubbornness of the heart is worse than social rejection. Being dead in sin is worse than being marked a pariah. Being Jesus’ captive was compensation enough for being society’s outcast. The blind man, to his surprise, discovered that the mean streets were not over, the unkind labels would not go away and a cold reception was not a thing of the past. He thought he would be treated better, nicer, kinder, but exclusion, ill treatment and facts of life remain.
However, there was a difference in the man. The blind man confessed Jesus in the face of religious persecution, repression and discrimination. He could not remain quiet, be a yes man, or play the role of victim anymore. Now, sitting alone and begging others were replaced by believing Jesus and worshipping Him. Beneath the defective eyes of this man was a seeing soul. This is what Jesus meant in John 6:29 when he said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Conclusion: You can lose your health, your job or your money, but never lose your dignity! Blindness of heart and the loss of one’s soul is more scary than the blindness of eyes and the loss of sight. Are you a darkened and empty soul or are you a seeing and believing soul? Jesus Christ has come to judge the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind. The blind man’s journey began with clarity of the mind, sight to his eyes and then faith in his heart. Are you willing to give, trust and live your life for the One who cared for your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? As the blind and deaf writer Helen Keller says, “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.”