Scripture: John 9:1-41
The story goes that two dads were watching a basketball game. One of the dad’s was mostly quiet and respectful. The other dad though was not. He was yelling a lot. As the game drew into the last quarter, the quiet dad finally said to the loud one, “Which one is your son?” The loud dad, was drawn out of his hyper-engagement at the game and somewhat surprised asked, “why?” The quiet dad calmly replied, “I want to tell him how rubbish he is.” This understandably set the loud dad off and he said, “You can’t do that, he is only a kid! How would you feel if I said that to your kid?” The quiet dad firmly pointed out, “You’ve been doing that all game.” Thoroughly confused the loud dad asked, “Well which one is your kid?” The quiet dad answered, “The referee.”
Youth sports has a growing problem, and that problem tends to be the parents. Incidents of parents acting badly at these event has been steadily on the rise. It is not just how these parents act towards the referees or the coaches. Sometimes the bad behavior is how parents speak to their own kids. From the sidelines, they yell at them, they criticize their every move, and constantly berate them for not doing better. This is not hyperbole, but this is personal experience. I am at the stage of life where I attend youth sporting events, and the way that I have seen some parents yell at their own children is heart breaking.
Now of course, these parents will claim they mean well. They will claim they are simply trying to motivate their children, they are trying to coax the best out of their children, and they are trying to push their children to reach their potential. However, publically yelling and shaming a child is not the way to do it. In what will come as a surprise to no one, study after study has shown that yelling at children and especially shaming children has the opposite effect. The number one response that it creates is stress and an increase in cortisol levels. This can decrease the ability to make split second decisions, and can actually lead to a decrease in performance and more mistakes in team sports. When shaming someone does work, it is never because the shame has motivated them to do better. It is because they respond in a way to make the yelling and shaming stop.
This morning’s scripture show that shame has always been a misused and abusive tactic. This morning’s scripture also shows how Jesus deals with those who seek to shame. He ignores them, and he heals. Where others offer criticism, Jesus offers hope. Jesus healed the man of his blindness but he also healed him of his shame. We often pray for the sick and trust in God’s healing, but this scripture reminds us that Jesus heals more than the just the physical conditions. Jesus heals our emotional wounds and cures our spiritual blindness.
Even more so than today, shame was a large part of the culture in Jesus day. Honor and shame were much more codified. In the Middle Eastern culture of the first century honor and shame were like an invisible currency. It was not seen, but everyone was aware of it. Everyone had an intrinsic understanding about how an individual should be held in honor or in shame. It was believed that those who should be the most ashamed, the shame manifest itself in physical ailments. This is why the scripture begins with the disciples asking if it was the man’s sin or his parents’ sin that caused him to be blind. The belief was that this man had done something so shameful, that God blinded him or his parents had so sinful that he was born as a living testimony to their shame. Jesus quickly contradicts this way of thinking, says it was neither, and heals him of his blindness. Jesus does more than heal him of blindness though. This man had spent his entire life being ashamed of who he was. He had been told by other that he should be ashamed of something he could not control, and now that mark of shame was gone. Jesus had done more than just restored his eyes. He had restored his heart and soul.
What happens next is absolutely fascinating. His neighbors do not recognize him. The man is no longer the blind, shame-ridden beggar they are used to. Not a single thing about his physical appearance changed. Yet, they do not recognize him, because they had only defined him by his shame. They could not see the man without seeing the shame they had prescribed to him and once that shame was gone they literally could not recognize him. From a literary stand point this is a brilliant piece of irony. Now that the blind man can see, he can no longer be seen. Some of his neighbors seem to be genuinely disturbed and upset by this so they take him to the authorities: to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
In general, we love underdog stories. We love it when in movies the unassuming character who has been pushed around or bullied is finally able to get the better of those who had tormented and put them down. We love it when the underdog is vindicated, has their day in the sun, and the high and mighty bullies are taken down a notch or two. This morning’s scripture has one of the best examples of this in the bible. The man who was blind is taken before the Pharisees. It would have been the Pharisees who taught this man that his blindness was because he was steeped in sin. It was the Pharisees who would have ascribed shame to this man and encouraged others to do this same. Now, this man humbles the Pharisees, and like the greatest underdog stories he does not do it maliciously. He ignores the hates and proclaims what he knows to be true. He was blind but now he can see. He was ashamed but now he has a new lease on life. The blind man recognizes Jesus as the one who healed him and recognizes that only one from God can do that. The Pharisees are confronted by their spiritual blindness. They claim to be the religious experts of their day, but they cannot see the work of God right in front of them. Again there is a deep irony present in that the blind can see what the expert cannot. The spiritual blindness of the Pharisees was put before them, and the Pharisees were confronted with a profound truth. They had the option of accepting this and changing their views or digging in their heels and lashing out. Predictably they chose the second. Jesus had healed the blind man and freed him of shame. Since the Pharisees could no longer shame him, they just lashed out insulted him, and ultimately threw him out.
Jesus healed a blind man on more than one occasion. Throughout the gospels Jesus heals a variety of individuals of many ailments. Jesus is a healer. Just like this morning’s scripture Jesus often heals more than a physical ailment, he often heals a person’s spiritual state as well. As we consider this morning’s scripture there are two ways that we should consider that we can experience Jesus as a healer.
Jesus healed the blind man not just of his blindness but of his shame. There are many of us who have experienced being shamed in our lives. It does not matter who you are, all of us have had people try to speak negativity into our lives. We have all experienced someone else measuring us up to their capricious, subjective, and impossible standard to be told we are found wanting. In some way all of us have been told we are not good enough, or smart enough, or thin enough, or talented enough. Unfortunately, all of us have had someone wield shame like a clumsy club in order to whack us where they think we should be.
There are many of us who have been told lies and we have internalized those lies. There is research to back this up. It is estimated that in any given day 80% of our self-talk is negative. We have allowed the shame that other people prescribed to us to define us and we repeat it to ourselves over and over again. I am telling you all of this, because if you are someone who has been shamed, those voices are not worth listening to. I am telling you this because those voices that have told you that you are ugly, that you are worthless, that you are terrible, that you are a failure, and that you are not wanted are lies. Terrible, awful lies. I am telling you this because shame is not the end of our stories. Shame tells us that we are not enough, but grace tells us that we are enough as we are. Shame constantly tells us we need to measure up or else. Grace tells us that we do not need to measure anything because we are loved without condition. Shame by its very nature is designed to throw shade on others, but Jesus heals us because he is the light of the world. Jesus is a healer. Jesus does not just heal physical ailments but he heals hearts and souls. He can heal us of our shame with the truth of his grace, love, and acceptance of us.
The second way that we need to consider how we can encounter Jesus as a healer has to do with spiritual blindness. Specifically, this scripture challenges us to consider how we might be spiritually blind. The religious leaders were so spiritually blinded that they could not see the work of God in front of them. They could not see the mark of grace upon the healed man. A man who had been healed by the literal power of God was before them. Yet, all they could see was a man who had been blind and was still worthy of being shamed by them.
Unfortunately, in the body of Christ, in churches, there is much spiritual blindness and this blindness has led to so many painful stories. There are stories of those dealing with mental illness such as depression being made to feel like they do not fit in because their life is not as blessed as others sitting in the pews. There are stories of those struggling with addiction, unable to share their struggle and get the support they need because they only find shame and judgement in churches. There are stories of people who do not fit in with what is generally lifted up as normative seeking God, but in church all they experience are people so busy hating the sin that they make no time to love the sinner. All of these are stories of how churches have failed to love the world. These are stories of when the people of God chose shame over grace. They are all stories of how our spiritual blindness has impacted us. Spiritual blindness is when we look upon others and instead of seeing the potential for God’s amazing grace, we instead only see reasons for shame. This morning’s scripture challenges us to look deep into our hearts and ask how we might be spiritually blind. How do we miss our opportunity to join in God’s work of bringing about reconciliation, healing and love in the world because our own bias and prejudice blinds us to where God is at work? If we can find a blind spot in our compassion for others, then let us pray that the Spirit will open our eyes that we might see. May our testimony be I was blind but now I see.
This morning’s scripture is one of the dozens of instances in the gospels where Jesus is the healer. Jesus is still the healer today. He does not just heal our bodies, but Jesus heals our souls as well. If we have been hurt or shamed by others in life, then may we come to Jesus. He is the remedy for what ails us. If we have spiritual blindness, then may we come to Jesus. He is the remedy for what ails us. May we with open hearts and open eyes, seek Jesus-the light of the world, that in doing so we be a living example that better enables the blind to see.