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Read John 9.

Most people have never bothered to know my name. For most of my life I was know as the blind man, or the blind beggar. The most compassion I was ever shown was the sound of coins falling on the ground in front of me. People have always felt sorry for me, but few cared enough to know my name. I was just the blind man.

Of course to some I was less than that. To them, I was a sinner. “Blind since birth,” they would comment. “That is truly judgment from God!” Some assumed that my parents had committed some great sin, and I was the punishment for their sin. I confess that there were days I even believed that myself.

I had been the object lesson for many a Rabbi before. Teachers of the Scripture would wander by and point me out and I would hear them discuss the severity of sin and the justice of God. If I hadn’t been dependent on their compassion I would have screamed out at them for treating me like a case study instead of a human being.

It was fairly typical the day I heard a group coming my way and one of them asked his teacher “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” I wasn’t surprised by those sort of questions. I just waited to hear one of the standard replies and then the familiar clink of coins falling into my pan.

“Suffering is a sign of iniquity, my children – show mercy to this poor sinner for God’s sake! Plink, Plink!” Or ... “The consequences of sin are visited upon the children unto the fourth generation. Give thanks my children that you are not as this one! Plink, Plink.”

But on that day, I heard an answer I never heard before. To that same old question about who had sinned the man replied, “Neither!” I was always listening in my world of sound, but when that Rabbi said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” I really listened. Then the Rabbi said, “This man is blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

I was so amazed by that teaching. It was the first time I ever thought of my blindness as anything but a curse from God. I didn’t care anything about coins. All I cared about was seeing that light of the world. Living in darkness all my life, I couldn’t even imagine what light was. I stopped thinking about it because I knew I would never experience it. But now I felt differently.

I was really unprepared for what happened next. The Rabbi touched my eyes. At least I think it was the Rabbi, but his hands weren’t like the average Rabbi. This teacher’s hands were rough. His touch was cold, and then I realized that it was mud. He had put mud on my eyes. I remember when I was little, my parents used to take me to healers and they would put all sorts of stuff on my eyes – spit, mud, smelly ointments. I got used to it, and I also got used to the disappointment, but this time I felt differently, maybe it was what the Rabbi had said. When he pulled his hands away he said to me, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Then I heard them leave.

I sat there for a moment just stunned. My eyes were wet; the mud had started to cake. And then his words sunk in – “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” I knew I had to do what he said; after all he said that I was blind so that the work of God might be displayed in my life. No one had ever said such a thing about me.

I cried out for help to get to the pool of Siloam. When I was there I washed my face. I splashed water on my face and rubbed my eyes. And then suddenly – I saw light. I didn’t know what it was then, but now I know it was light. And I kept washing and then I saw water. For all my life water had meant wet. But now I saw ripples and drops and then my reflection. It took me a moment to figure out that my reflection wasn’t just the way water looked. It took me even longer to figure out that the reflection was my face. For the first time ever I could see my face.

I could see. I could see and it was because of what this Rabbi, this Jesus of Nazareth had said. Most of my life I felt like God frowned on me. But thanks to Jesus I finally knew what it was like to think that God might be smiling.

Of course I had to tell everyone about this. And I didn’t have to try hard. I mean as soon as my neighbors and people who knew me saw me walking around and matching their stares, they instantly knew something had happened. I couldn’t help staring. “So those are noses,” I thought. “What a variety!” It was so strange to see me staring and walking without a guide that some people said it wasn’t me, just someone who looked like me.

I remember how old Eli, our neighbor, came up to me and said, “You must be a demon.” “No, Eli!” I smiled, “It’s me.” “If it’s you,” he asked, “then how are you able to see?” By this time everyone in the neighborhood had gathered around. I spoke up, “A teacher, a healer, put mud on my eyes. He told me to wash in the pool of Siloam. I did and then the next thing I knew, I could see.” I heard everyone whispering; I had heard whispers before but now I could “see” people whisper. I noticed the way they glanced aside at me and covered their mouth as they muttered to their friends. Finally, Eli spoke up “Where is this man now?” I didn’t know. I wanted to know, but for different reasons than my neighbors. You see, even though some of our neighbors were kind, they too believed that I was blind because of sin. It didn’t make sense to them that I could suddenly see – how could the punishment of sins just be removed so quickly. They were amazed, but they wanted to know what this meant. If they could have found the Rabbi, I think they would have asked him. But since we didn’t know his whereabouts, they decided to ask the experts – the Pharisees.

The next day I told the Pharisees all that happened. I didn’t mind telling anyone what had happened. Not just because I could see, but because I felt, for the first time, that God was pleased with me. I noticed the whispering again. But this time it was different. As I told my story some of them scowled and shook their head. Before I finished one of them spoke up and said, “When did this take place?” “Uhm, yesterday.” “And wasn’t yesterday the Sabbath?” he asked. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it. You see, the Sabbath didn’t mean much to me. Not that I don’t respect it, I do. But on the Sabbath one isn’t supposed to work. Well, when your only career is begging, I suppose everyday is the Sabbath – I was blind, I couldn’t ever work!

At the mention of the Sabbath, the Pharisees sort of forgot about me and started arguing to one another. I remember one of them saying that kneading was a forbidden activity on the Sabbath and if this Rabbi made mud then he kneaded. Someone suggested that if this Rabbi really respected God’s Word then it would not have mattered if he had waited a day for me to be healed. I sort of resented that. I bet he had never been blind – and I was blind my whole life.

At first I didn’t get it, but then it dawned on me that they were accusing this Rabbi who had helped me of sinning. That seemed to make some of them nervous. I remember one of them, a short stocky one (I never noticed such features before), saying “But if this man is a sinner, then how did he heal, for healing only comes from God?” I thought for a moment this man was defending the Rabbi, but then his tall friend replied “Hmmm, an interesting dilemma. How can a sinner heal?” The debate went on and I was ready to leave when one of the men stood up and shouted at me, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened, yes?”

What did I think? No one had ever asked me that before. I always heard what people thought about me, but no one ever asked me what I thought. I had told everyone what he did. I knew he was a Rabbi, but what sort of Rabbi has the power to heal? All I could think of was the stories I had heard as a child. Stories about Moses and Elijah – great prophets. So, I answered the Pharisees, “He’s a prophet.” No one had suggested that. I thought it was a good answer. There was a silence. Then someone from the back said, “Why are we asking him?” Another one from the side said, “He was probably never even blind. This is all a lie.”

My mouth dropped open. A lie? Did they really think I pretended to be blind all those years? Did they really think I enjoyed receiving pity all those years? Did they really think I wanted to be labeled the punishment of parent’s sins my whole life? Something great had happened to me and these so-called experts were making a mockery of it. One of them suggested summoning my parents to give testimony. I never imagined it would go this far.

I’m not mad that my parents were scared that day. My father is old and I have no brothers. He and my mother have known for years that they would one day have to rely on the benevolence of the synagogue. After all, their only son was born blind and he couldn’t support them. It also took them a little longer to make sense of my restored sight. Like me, they lived with a feeling that God was angry. They too were getting their sight restored. They were just beginning to see that God could be pleased with them as well.

My parents weren’t there when Jesus restored my sight. They testified that I was their son and I had been born blind. “If your son was born blind then how is it that he is able to see?” asked an old gray-bearded Pharisee. “We don’t know,” said my father. My mother nodded. “If you want to know,” said my father, “ask him. He’s of legal age.” Of course I had already told them how it happened. But they were technically right. It was proper to ask me. After all I was the “eyewitness” to the event (no pun intended -- well okay maybe). I suppose I was disappointed that mother and father feared expulsion from the synagogue if they acknowledged what Jesus had done. But I was more disappointed that the rulers of God’s people were so, so – blind!

They called me back in and asked me to swear – to “give glory to God” and tell the truth. They wanted me to confess. But I had no idea what they wanted me to confess. Were they accusing me of being a liar? Were they trying to intimidate me too and get me to confess against the Rabbi? One of them said, “We know this man is a sinner.” So, they had made up their mind. It really didn’t matter what I said.

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it was obvious I was a little annoyed. “I don’t know if this man is a sinner or not. But here’s what I do know. I was blind. From the day I was born I was blind, and right now I can look into all of your faces. I can see!”

The short fat Pharisee interrupted, “What did he do to you? Exactly how did he open your eyes?”

I shot back, “I’ve already told you that! Weren’t you listening? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

Something I’m not used to when it comes to seeing is reading faces. When I said that I saw their faces get really twisted. And I never imagined a face could turn red, but of course colors were a new concept.

They shouted insults at me, but I was used to that. They said I had revealed myself as one of the Rabbi’s disciples. It wasn’t true, but if the Rabbi would have me I would be proud to be his disciple. “We know God spoke to Moses,” they said, “but as for this man, we don’t even know where he came from.”

Now that amazed me. I seem to remember a Scripture that spoke of God restoring sight to the blind in the age to come. God certainly wouldn’t listen to some sinful charlatan or pagan miracle man. It was right there before them but they refused to believe it. What experts! I told them this. I said, “If the Rabbi (or Prophet or whatever he is) was not from God, then I would not be able to see.”

The Pharisees started shouting at me and swearing to God. Some of them tore their clothes (but not very much). Then the old gray bearded Pharisee stood up and said, “You were steeped in sin at birth! How dare you lecture us! Get out!” That was odd ... First they tried to accuse me of lying about my blindness from birth. Now they were certain of it. Nothing they said made sense. I was glad to be away from their confusion, but then it dawned on me that I would never be welcome into the synagogue. I was an outcast when I was blind, but now I was an outcast because I could see.

A few days later I was looking for work. I couldn’t beg, but I didn’t have many skills. I was willing to learn, but some people were afraid to have anything to do with me after what happened. So I was surprised when a man approached me one day in the marketplace and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Did I believe in the Son of Man? The judge who would come and make everything right? Sure I did. As I thought about it, the Rabbi that I called a prophet just might be the Son of Man. Maybe he was the Messiah. I answered the man, “Who is the Son of Man, sir? Tell me, I want to believe in him.” That’s when I recognized the man’s voice. It was the Rabbi. This was the first time I saw him. He said “You see him right now, in fact he is the one speaking with you.”

And I thought – I do see him. I can see. I fell down at his feet. I said, “Lord, I believe.” I worshipped the Messiah, the Christ, and I was ready to become his disciple. Now I was certain that God could be pleased with me. It was as though I gained my sight all over again. For this time I saw not ordinary light, but I saw the light of the world, the Christ.

As I walked with him through the marketplace I asked him why some people didn’t realize who he was. He said it was about judgment. Not that he came to judge people, but their acceptance or denial of him and the truth was their own self-imposed judgment. Jesus was the light of the world. His light brought sight to the blind, but those who thought they could see without his light actually became blind.

When he said all this there was a crowd that had gathered. I looked into the crowd and there was the short Pharisee and the tall one, and the gray-bearded one. I looked over at Christ and he was looking right back at them. The gray-bearded man asked Christ, “So? Are we blind too?”

The Rabbi turned to the Pharisees and said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

That’s when it all came together for me. That’s when I understood that self-righteousness is sin and blindness. I thought about what Jesus said: He said that the work of a loving God would be revealed in me. If were to lose my sight again, I would still be able to see. Not with my eyes, but with my spirit. For in all my days of blindness I wasn’t as blind as those who cannot, who will not, see the Light of the world.

I thought physical blindness was a curse. Now I know that the real curse is refusing to believe in Jesus. You may have perfect vision, but still be blind. Or maybe you feel like you live with curse. Maybe you think, like I once did, that God could never smile on you. Wash your spirit in the pool of Siloam. When you “see” Jesus, and hear his words, then you’ll know that God can smile on you.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 March 2009

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