Teachers come in all shapes and sizes. My latest teacher was a blind man who lived in Jerusalem a little over two thousand years ago. His story is told in the gospel of John 9:1-41. He might be a little old and a little far away, but he sure had something to say to me.
1. Outsiders Count
The story opens with the blind man sitting on the edge of the street. You can just imagine him with a small begging bowl in front of him as he calls out in a hoarse voice asking people for money. No one pays attention to him. They don’t see him, or they purposely look away.
Most of us do the same thing. We see what we want to see and ignore the rest. The newspaper recently ran an article on the homeless. It stated that there were hundreds of homeless people in the city. I shook my head. I’ve only seen one or two homeless people pushing their shopping cart of belongings. Where are the all the rest? The evening news stated a few weeks ago that one in every five children live in hunger. I live in a neighbor with lots of kids. I can’t see any children that look like they’re starving. I have to admit, though, I haven’t looked very hard.
Panhandlers have started to populate the medians and intersections around town. They saunter back and forth with their cardboard signs that give a list of reasons why people should give them money. Most people turn their heads or simply drive on by. If you don’t make eye contact with them they don’t exist.
The blind man was an outcast. No one saw him. That is no one saw him except Jesus. Jesus saw the man, made mud, put it on the man’s eyes and told him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. Jesus did more than notice the man. He touched the man and helped him. That’s a good lesson to learn. Outsiders count to Jesus.
If you’re like me there are times when you have been on the outside looking in. You’ve been an outcast. You might have sat on the bench for most of you high school athletic career. Perhaps you were labeled a “Nerd,” a “Geek,” or worse. You might have been the one who lost your job or got behind on your mortgage.
Most of the people didn’t see you. They ignored your needs. You might not have wanted them to see that you were on the outside looking in. Learn a lesson from the blind man. Though you may have felt you were on the outside, you were always on the inside of God’s love.
2. Party Poopers Exist
The blind man goes and washes the mud out of his eyes. When he does he realizes that he can see. You can imagine his excitement. His friends didn’t share his excitement, however. They argue back and forth if this was the blind man that they once knew. Some people don’t like it when someone else is blessed and they aren’t. Others want to think that they are a little bit better than everyone else, and they get upset if it looks like that might change.
The rulers and religious authorities weren’t any better than the blind man’s friends. They didn’t like it when the blind man told them that a man named Jesus healed him. The authorities had pegged Jesus has a sinner, a rabble rouser and a fraud. When the blind man said he thought Jesus was a prophet, the Priests, Pharisees and Scribes became angry. They kept arguing with the blind man. Finally, the blind man insinuated that they were a little slow on the uptake. The leaders became apoplectic and threw the blind man out of the synagogue—the community of faith.
Even the blind man’s parents turned on him. They were afraid of the religious leaders, and they didn’t want to be thrown out like their son. So, the blind man’s parents would not defend him or stand up with him. They bailed!
Important lesson number two that the blind man taught was that party poopers exist. Expect it. Don’t waste time on them. Look for the people who share your excitement and invite them to your party. And, don’t forget that God shares your joy and excitement, too.
3. Growth is the Rule and not the Exception
Have you ever met a know-it-all? There are usually quite a few who hang around the corridors of the church, some frequent the bars, and several attend school board and city council meetings. You know who they are. They’re the ones for whom the saying was penned, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up.”
They have all of the answers. The rest of us just have to ask the right questions.
There are people who put their minds in their backpacks once they graduate. They don’t need them anymore. Some people think they have plumbed the height, breadth and depth of all things holy by their six grade Sunday school class. They have bought into the myth that growth is the exception and not the rule. In reality it is exactly the opposite.
In the space of a few short verses the blind man exhibits phenomenal growth. Not only does he see physically, but he also sees spiritually and grows in faith. Early in the story, when people ask him who healed him he replies, “The man called Jesus.” Later when he’s being grilled by the religious authorities the now seeing man confesses that he thinks Jesus is a prophet. Near the end of the story, after he had been kicked out of the synagogue, the man encounters Jesus again. After a short dialogue, the man proclaims his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and worships Jesus.
The third important lesson that the blind man taught was that the status quo is not a viable option. Growth in life, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is expected. Growth is the rule and not the exception. That’s one reason why I’m on this journey toward a sane faith, and a reason why I hope you will join me.
4. Some Questions Remain Unanswered
Throughout the story there is an unspoken question: “Why do some people respond to Jesus the light of the world and others do not?” The blind man sees and believes. The religious authorities say they see, but the more they look to the light, the less they see. The light both illuminates and blinds.
The question is never answered in the story. Some questions simply can’t be answered. That’s the forth important lesson that the blind man taught. We’ll never know all of the “why’s”.
The good news in this is that Jesus never gives up on the religious officials. Sure he sometimes has some harsh words to say to them. Calling the religious officials whitewashed tombs like he does in the gospel of Mathew is not necessarily a compliment. But, Jesus never turns his back on them. Let’s give thanks for God’s patience and persistence. There are times when all of us are a little slow to believe and act on our faith.
A Fifth Lesson?
There may be a fifth lesson that the blind man taught. We learned several lessons from the blind man’s story. We are all like that blind man. Each of us is a story that can teach a lesson or two to others—even when we don’t know it’s happening.