One of the most important things to remember about Biblical narratives is that there is not one ounce of superfluous information. Every word of every narrative is considered necessary. So with that in mind, let’s take a dive into this heavy piece of scripture from John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel was written primarily for a Jewish audience. Those hearing it were comprised of many followers of Christ who had been expelled from the Synagogues. It is understandable that they were carrying a bit of a grudge against the Jewish leadership. It was important for this Gospel to show that people were putting everything on the line for Jesus and were ending up better than could be expected.
I find something new every time I read the scriptures. This time I discovered that it is the disciples who ask the question about who sinned first, the blind man or his parents that he was born this way. If the Pharisees or other religious leaders had asked it, we would call it a trap question and wonder about their motivations. But with the disciples asking, it seems more inquisitive than anything else. This question regarding sin would not have been out of the ordinary. Many midrash stories existed in Jesus’ time about in-the-womb or pre-birth sin. These stories usually revolved around Esau & Jacob, the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah way back in Genesis.
Several scholars have pointed out some of the uniqueness of this particular passage. First, this is one of few stories in the Gospel without time or place. John’s Gospel is not chronological like the other three, but still most of the stories move from one event to another or are set near a particular festival. This one does not. Another unique feature is that this is the longest passages about Jesus’ ministry that does not have Jesus in the story. Nineteen verses in the middle of the story are missing Jesus’ direct presence. It is also one of the few stories in the Gospels that take up the entire chapter, and the entire chapter is devoted to this one story.
This story also reads like a Greek drama, and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic or funny way. It is literally written like a Greek drama, where no two characters or character groups are in the scene at the same time. This style of writing and presentation would have been familiar to those in hearing this Gospel.
At issue in this story isn’t really the Disciples’ initial question regarding sin, but rather, the interpretation of Sabbath laws. If you recall your Sunday School days where I’m sure all of you memorized the 10 Commandments, Exodus 20:10 gives us the directive to observe a Sabbath day. Just as God had rested after creating the Earth in 6 days, humanity is called to take one day of the week and rest. It is the longest of the 10 Commandments, as it goes on to say “you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male and female slaves, your livestock, or the alien resident in your town.” Jewish religious leaders took that commandment seriously back then, and indeed, many sects of Judaism take that just as serious today. When my friend Anne was in high school, she had a weekly job pushing the wheelchair of a neighbor to Synagogue. The lady’s family was physically capable of doing this task, but pushing the wheel chair would have constituted work and thus violated Sabbath codes.
When Jesus made mud with his own hands and healed the man born blind, he was doing two pieces of work. And this offence of the Sabbath codes was more than the synagogue leaders could handle. They couldn’t just rejoice that this man had been healed. Instead, they only looked to question & condemn because Sabbath laws weren’t followed.
If we compare this story to last week’s with the woman at the well, we see a continuing theme. Jesus isn’t afraid to break the rules if it means a better life for someone or that it will bring glory to God. Because in the end, whose rules are they? Exodus said “do no work on the Sabbath.” It did not say “do no healing on the Sabbath” or “do no good on the Sabbath.” And the rift between Jews & Samaritans was not dictated by God, any more than the rift between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus talks about the importance of worship God, no matter where we are. This week, it’s about overcoming spiritual blindness, about being able to see with God’s eyes and God’s heart, about having our eyes opened to what we could not see before. Spiritual blindness is about being more concerned about what WE think, doing things the way WE want to do them, and not paying homage God’s will or vision. It’s also about giving the proper respect to who we are as God’s creation.
Go with me for a moment back to our Old Testament story about the calling of David to be the king of Israel. Samuel, following God’s lead, goes to the house of Jesse. He looks at all of Jesse’s sons, figures out which one he thinks it is, and God says, nope, none of these. And God says to Samuel, “The Lord does not see as mortals see, for they look on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God rejects the more strapping sons in Jesse’s household and instead takes the one who is rougher around the edges and out shepherding the family flock.
Last week’s Gospel, this week’s Gospel, the story from First Samuel: They all call us to consider what it is exactly that God sees in each of us, and what is it that God sees in those around us. The value that God places on each person in this world is beyond what we can imagine. No matter what flaws we think we may have, or we think that people around us may have, it is what is in our hearts that matters most.
The man Jesus healed went toe-to-toe with the Pharisees because he knew, Sabbath or no Sabbath, that this man of God had seen his worth for what it was.
Who are the people in our daily lives we need to give more value to? Who are we not seeing for their true worth? Who are we not seeing as God sees? Is it a friend? A family member? A coworker? Is it that nameless person who is in our way when we are in traffic or at the grocery store?
Our challenge during these waning days of Lent is to see God’s creation through the same lens as God does, to give God’s people everywhere the same value God gives them.