A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
By Rev. Cindy M. Wu
Lectionary reading for 3/19/2023: 1 Samuel 16:1-13,Ephesians 5:8-14,John 9
Selected passage: John 9
Read John 9:1-41 (NIV)
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Stepping into the scene of John 9, I sense chaos. Jesus had just healed someone on the Sabbath in a most unconventional manner, and this raises a lot of doubts and questions. Neighbors, Jews, Pharisees, and even the blind man’s parents are all trying to make sense of what they just witnessed.
In ancient times, physical ailments were often attributed to spiritual causes, especially personal sin. The disciples’ opening question reveals their theological understanding: the man is blind, therefore someone must have sinned, either he or his parents. This understanding seems to have been shared broadly, as we see the crowd trying to uncover the layers of sin and its involvement in the blind man’s healing, questions like:
Who bears responsibility for the man’s blindness
Jesus’ breaking the Sabbath
The legitimacy of being a disciple of Jesus vs Moses
Whether sinners can heal others
The testimony of the parents
These issues detract from something great—miraculous healing from blindness! The crowd expends so much effort trying to dissect the sin problem they cannot rejoice at the miracle. Jesus says he came into the world for judgment, that “the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (v. 39). In modern times, we have amazing medical technology that corrects all sorts of vision problems, but there’s one type of blindness we still cannot correct on our own—spiritual blindness.
In this scenario, I like to imagine myself as the blind man, who readily accepted Jesus’ healing and believed in him. Indeed I once was blind, and after Jesus entered my life, I could see. But I constantly hold doubts and judgments that cloud my ability to truly see what Jesus is doing. At times I’m like the neighbors who question Jesus’ methods. At times I’m like the parents who are afraid of retribution. At times I’m like the disciples who are trying to pin the problem on someone. And too often I’m like the Pharisees, trying to argue my way around the main point.
Whom do you relate to in the story of John 9? Do you relate with the man healed? With those who doubt? With those who still cannot see? Many artists have been inspired by the miracle in John 9. I invite you to gaze upon this painting, “Christ Healing the Blind,” by El Greco, and engage in visio divina (holy seeing). Visio divina involves meditating on a visual image to see what the Spirit might stir in you. Allow your eyes to take in the entire painting. Where do you see yourself in this scene? What do you notice? What are you feeling? Pause. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through your meditation on the painting.
“Christ Healing the Blind,” El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), ca. 1570
Oh, that we would have eyes to see and faith to believe!
What is the Holy Spirit trying to reveal to me today? What am I seeing and what am I missing? Where are areas of spiritual blindness in my life?
El Roi, “the God who sees,” help me to see. Open my eyes to the areas of my life needing your healing touch. Help me trust in your good will to heal and reveal my physical and spiritual ailments. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Cindy M. Wu is a missions mobilizer and ordained minister. She is the co-founder of Mosaic Formation, a missional formation ministry serving leaders of underserved communities. Cindy holds an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is the author of books on global Christianity and refugees. You can get further acquainted at www.cindymwu.com.