The hardest part of understanding scripture is figuring out how to get beyond the basics of Jesus loves us. While true, this overused and simplified version of Christianity doesn’t even begin to unpack our deeply rooted connection to God. The story of the blind man is a classic example of what the love of God looks like. Jesus healed the blind man and because his sight was restored he believed, not because Jesus healed him, but because the thing that was blocking his ability to believe was washed away. It is likely that many of us have had moments of unbelief purely because we didn’t know what faith looked like and the great irony is that all we needed was right in front of us. God was with the blind man for his entire life, but he didn’t know it and after God healed him he was able to move forward with God. The Pharisees have the opposite problem, they are fully aware of God, but are so wrapped up in making sure they follow all the rules that they have become blind to God’s true purpose, thus “those who do see, may become blind”.
On the surface, this is a simple “Jesus loves me” story, it shows us that God will and does give us what we need to live a life of faith. While this sounds and even feels true, I can’t help but think it’s too simple. When I teach my students to read primary documents we talk about the need to pay attention to more than just the words on the page. We need to understand context, word choice, the potential motivations of the author, who the intended audience was. The same is true for scripture, we need to be able to look beyond the face value of the words, it is normal for us to look for the Love of God in every piece of scripture, the issue is that we tend to stop there, believing we have found the truth. My students do this all the time. When they are reading a document they stop as soon as they think they have found the answer I am looking for, as if finding the answer was the point of the exercise. How many of us approach scripture in that way? How many of us look for love in scripture and then stop thinking about it once we find it?
If we only approach scripture with the intention of finding love, then that is the only thing we will find. Instead, we need to ask ourselves how we are being challenged? How is our thinking and our behavior being challenged? How is God calling us out?
I believe that in the story of the blind man God is challenging us to see the things we ignore. The healing of the blind man is the God loves me and I love God part of the story and our teenage instincts tell us that the answer is there, but it’s not, at least not entirely.
To find the fuller message in this passage we must turn our attention to the Pharisees, who tend to be the punching bag of scripture. In this story they once again challenge the validity of Jesus because he does not fit the mold of what they believe the answer is. They don’t understand that their attachment to Moses and the laws written by him is blinding them to the truth that is right in front of them.
I was particularly struck by the line “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” This struck me at first because of the latter half, “those who do see may become blind.”, because that is what I am talking about when I say that once we find the answer we stop looking. The Pharisees not only think they know the answer, but they also know that they know the answer; they know the law of Moses, thus they are blind. They are blind to the fullness of God, of all that is offered to them by God. Now if I stopped with that we could easily say we looked beyond the love in the story, but we would still be falling short because it was while I was typing the passage at the beginning of this paragraph, so that I could make a point about it, that I realized I was blind to the first half of the statement I had just typed. Let’s hear it again, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see”, judgment is a scary word and it isn’t a word that is typically associated with love. No one likes being judged and the idea that Jesus came into the world to do just that does not fit with the nice little love story we call Christianity. That is until we look more closely, Jesus does not say that he came into the world “to Judge”, he says that he came into the world “for judgment” meaning that he will be judged and through the judgment of him those of us who are blind will be able to see and those of us who can see will become blind.
You see the blind man was healed because he judged the words of Jesus as truth and the Pharisees became blind because they judged his words to be false, but the invitation to them to repent, to change their mind, still remains. They are not condemned for all eternity, their condemnation is of their own making and not because they didn’t follow some stupid rule but because they doggedly refuse to keep looking for the answer. So in the end this is a story about love, it is a moment when the love of God changes shape and takes a step towards the Passion of Christ. Jesus came into the world to be judged so that we do not have to be judged, which is the ultimate act of love. The invitation of God to us is to love as we are loved, but with today’s example we now know that this invitation goes so much deeper than the idea that we should be nice to people; what we call “loving our neighbor”. It means that we are called to challenge the sins of others, not from a place of judgment, but so that they can then judge themselves, just like we must judge ourselves, because it is only when we see that we are wrong that we can repent. One of the greatest acts of love is helping someone you care deeply about understand that they may have made a mistake, which is what Jesus did with the pharisees. He didn’t call them out, he simply pointed out that there might be another way and then left them alone to make their own decision. You see, God doesn’t just fix things because just doing things for someone is not love, it might feel like love, but it isn’t. Love is holding someone in their entirety, including their flaws, and supporting them as they make their own way in the world. That is what Jesus did for the blind man, that is what he did for the Pharisees and that is what God does with us now, but we are blind to it because we think we found the answer. Amen.