Following are a few reflections on John 9 as I thought about it over a few weeks. Nothing profound here but maybe it will stimulate something in some of you?
One of the first thing I noticed was that this guy is known as “the blind beggar.” No name is given, he is just the blind guy who sits and begs. That was his identity, just as I might talk about the “crazy guy” in our neighborhood, the “guy who lives under the bridge”, the “person who always borrows money” or the “needy ones.” There is a lot of discussion about his identity. Even his neighbors and friends can’t imagine that the man who now sees is the same person. “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg? . . No he only looks like him.” (9:8-9) The people seem to be in denial. In verse 9, the man tries to convince them, “I am the same man.” Well, not really—he is not really the same man since he has been healed but . . . So what do I take away from this. Our history is important but we are not defined or limited by our history.
Second point: Everyone wants to know the answer to a logical question—“who healed you?” They want to know what happened. Well, the man can only say that it was the man “they call Jesus.” Why is there no mention of rejoicing by the friends and neighbors? Are they also self-righteous and so take him to the Pharisees (9:9) since this act was done on the Sabbath? When he responds to the logical, “What happened?” of the Pharisees, they can only say (I imagine with a sneer on their faces), “This man Jesus is not from God” (9:16); he is “a sinner” (9:24) and he is someone without a heritage (9:29). Again no mention about praising God for the miracle that has just happened.
I can imagine today people saying that someone must not be from God. Not because they worked on the Sabbath but because they drank alcohol, went to the movies, have lots of non-Christian friends, like to dance, is known to sin, don’t read their bible, don’t like to go to church, use bad language, have tattoos . . . etc.
More thoughts from this passage: Christians would never stop going to church, take anti-depressants, see a counselor, be a P type of personality, be democrats, swear, enjoy sex, be competitive, not feel spiritual, not want to attend a prayer meeting, spend too much money, have too much money, make too much money, disagree with church leadership, listen to rock music, read Bibles other than the KJV, wear shorts to church, smoke, chew or go with girls who do, have addictions.
How could “a sinner have done such a thing? Well, today, we might say, “How could someone do a miracle that
- Is not one from our church?
- Has no degree?
- Is not ordained?
- Has no qualifications?
- Is too young?
- Is inexperienced?
There was a deep division here. They were looking for any indicators that would prove that God was not in this. In 9:17, they question the man and ask him his opinion about Jesus? When he says, “a prophet?” they attack his credibility. Then, they refuse to believe him. They confuse the facts. This story does not fit our paradigm. There must be a logical explanation. There must be some reason other than God has done a miracle. They were AFRAID, they feared the implications of the event and were ashamed and embarrassed. They were threatened.
When the parents were grilled by the Pharisees, it seems that they feared the anger of the Pharisees and the corresponding threat of expulsion from the community of faith. And so, fear seems to have overcome love.
When they interview the man for the second time, the Pharisees say that they want God to get the glory since technically a miracle did happen. But, they are thinking that there is no way Jesus did this. Sounds like they are projecting onto Jesus their issues. They accuse Jesus of taking credit for what only God can do. They attack the person when they call Jesus a sinner.
Most hilarious statement in the passage is in 9:27 when the man asks them, “Do you also want to be his disciple?” But then the pride breaks out! “We are the disciples of Moses.” They try to destroy the credibility of the man of Jesus by calling him a sinner.
Well, the sad truth comes out in 9:41, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty but you remain guilty because you claim to see.” The roles have been reversed—the Pharisees turn out to be the blind ones and the blind one is the one who is able to see.
In this first week of advent, we were challenged yesterday to come to Jesus for healing as we looked at Mark 1:40-45 and the story of Jesus healing the leper. Pastor Steve Ruetschle of Union Church of Manila led us through the passage, pointing to four ways the leper teaches us to approach Jesus. As soon as they upload the file, you can listen to the sermon if you are interested.
First, bring our brokenness to Jesus. “He came to him.” Imagine all the rejection the leper had experienced in his life! Lepers were to be avoided and the religious establishment led the way in rejecting them. As Pastor Steve pointed out, often rejection leads us to have a hardened heart? Yet this leper came to Jesus! How did he know that Jesus would show compassion on him. So, the first thing I need to do is to come to Jesus with my brokenness!
Second, the leper provides us with a model for faith. “If you are willing.” Unlike so many of us, the leper does not demand Jesus to heal him. Instead, he recognizes Jesus as Lord when he asks him if he is willing; he recognizes that Jesus is God, not us. Maybe this is one reason why does Jesus not always heal?
Third, the leper knew who Jesus was. “You can.” He recognized the power and energy of Jesus; he knew that healing power available in Jesus and was not afraid to ask. As Pastor Steve said, “Do we really believe this? Do we believe that Jesus has power and authority to heal today?”
Fourth, the leper came as a worshipper of Jesus. “He begged him on his knees.” As Pastor Steve said, “We often come to worship because of what it does for us,” as opposed to remembering that it is really all about Jesus.
The second part of the sermon focused on the response of Jesus to the leper. As Pastor Steve said, the fundamental response of Jesus was one of compassion in verse 41. It is that wonderful greek word, splagchnizomai. It is used 12 times in the NT (all in the synoptic), 8 of them describing the emotions Jesus felt that moved him into a healing ministry. The word was also used to describe how the father of the prodigal son felt when he saw him coming home and to describe how the Samaritan felt toward the wounded traveler by the road. Two things Jesus did.
First, he touched the man. Apparently in the context of the time of Jesus, this was an inconceivable act. Perhaps the aversion that many have to touching an AIDS patient would be somewhat similar although it seems the lepers had it far worse than do AIDS patients today. Mark is very deliberate here, “Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him. Another interesting verb here, hapto. Hapto is used of Jesus about 30 of the 37 times it is found in the NT. Jesus touches those who are unclean right and left, touches lepers several times, touched a woman bleeding, touched eyes, touched a tongue, touched an ear, touched a blind man, touched babies and children, touched a dead man and many touched him since, “All who touched him were healed.” (Mtt 14:36)
As Pastor Steve pointed out, Jesus risked his own health, his own reputation, risked being rejected by all because he would also be considered unclean according to the law. Of course, he touched the man before he was made clean. The question for us here is, “Do you believe that Jesus fastens (the word Pastor Steve used to translate the touch of Jesus) himself to you before you are clean?”
Second, Jesus restores social community. By giving the man a stern warning to present himself to the priest, Jesus was seeking to allow the healing to impact the community. Suggested passage to read is Levit 14. As Pastor Steve said, “Our healing affects the lives of others in our community.”
Finally, there is a picture here of the gospel according to Pastor Steve. Instead of the man roaming around in lonely places, the story ends with Jesus staying outside the camp in lonely places. Jesus became unclean so the man could become clean. Jesus takes on his rejection, his lonely places so that the man could be free and in community. The challenge for all of yesterday, for me and perhaps for some of you reading this, “Will you throw yourself on the compassion of Jesus?” And then, to complete the sentence, “Jesus, if you are willing, you can . . .”
May this encourage us all as we begin Advent! Thanks Pastor Steve!
This week I received a long lost book back from a friend and was delighted. Free at Last by David Benner is one of the most helpful books I have read over the past few years, one of which I have made a number of copies and given to friends (as far as I can tell it is out of print and not available anywhere). He has helped me understand the pain of my own emotional woundedness and makes some valuable suggestions in the movement towards healing.
I just flipped open a page and saw these notes I made from his book. When we are emotionally wounded, there is often a sense of loss which bring feelings of vulnerability, sadness, aloneness, abandonment and isolation. Healing of these losses comes through grieving. We must grieve our losses in order to leave them behind. When we fail to face these wounds (losses), we may experience anger and depression, guilt and anxiety. I wrote down in the margin, “I do not grieve my losses well.” Worth a read.
I also received back another book I had loaned out, Wounds that Heal by Stephen Seamands. My friend asked me if I had written a review of the book since it was in conjunction with one of my classes at Asbury Seminary. So, I found it and ended up posting my reviews of all the books from my Theology of Minstry class. Perhaps they will give someone a hunger to read one of them or my journey through these books will encourage honesty in the journey of others.
FYI, I know there are some typos and editing that needs to be done on these reviews, my apologies to the English teachers out there.