As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed 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.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’…
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
In Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, a vain, foolish king is seduced by the false praises and vows of unswerving love and loyalty made by two of his daughters. His other daughter, Cordelia, declares her love for her father but points out that she must love her husband at least as much, if not more, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a marriage. But Lear, blinded by pride, will have none of it and banishes Cordelia. The older daughters trick Lear out of his wealth and power, and condemn him to death, having first put out his eyes. In this depleted state he meets again with Cordelia and, for the first time, sees her truthfulness and integrity. In so doing he sees also his own stupidity and wrongdoing – and finds forgiveness.
I suspect Shakespeare may have had John chapter 9 in mind when he wrote King Lear, hinging as it does around the question, ‘who is blind …… and who can truly see?’ Certainly, hearing this story with King Lear in mind, helps us to understand that something more universal is being declared here than simply another story which puts the Jewish leaders in a poor light for not ‘getting’ who Jesus really was.
Often, if we are honest, we can read a story like that of the man born blind and feel a little smug – how cruelly naive people of those days were to attribute disability to a person’s former sinfulness: how typical of the Pharisees only to see what suited them. And yet I know how readily I link failure and folly in others, and see the best in people I like whilst spotting damning faults in people I don’t much care for.
Today, when we read this story, let’s not take up our customary position of patting Jesus on the back – ‘Well done, Lord’ – or metaphorically hoisting the mistreated blind man on our shoulder in order to show off our compassion credentials. Instead, let’s take time to stand with the Pharisees – as one of them – desperately in need of being taught to see the world, not through our own highly selective vision, but through God’s eyes.
Light of the world,
shine first in the dark corners of my life
that I may walk humbly and generously with others
who are in darkness.
The Rev’d Ian Fosten is a minister in the Norwich Area group of URCs.