Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Alabama. Before she was two years old she was stricken with an illness called by her doctor as “brain fever,” which some experts today speculate may have been either scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her blind and deaf. Her parents were distraught and desperate for answers what to do with their daughter. The parents learned of others in similar situations and traveled to Baltimore, MD to meet other patients and specialist Dr. J. Julian Chisholm. Dr. Chisholm recommended the Keller family see Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who was also working with deaf children at the time. Bell met with the family and then enlisted the help of a teacher Anne Sullivan, who over the course of 49 years helped her make tremendous progress in learning and life. Helen was able to go through various schools and on to Radcliffe College, graduating cum laude in 1904. She was a great reader, writer, and communicator, earning numerous honors and medals for all her work and accomplishments.
Here are some inspirational and insightful quotes from Helen Keller
◊ “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
◊ “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
◊ “A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
◊ “So much has been given to me I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
◊ “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
◊ “Four things to learn in life: To think clearly without hurry or confusion; To love everybody sincerely; To act in everything with the highest motives; To trust God unhesitatingly.”
◊ “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”
Today’s passage introduces us to people who have sight but no vision.
EXAMINE John 9 Healing Blindness
In effort to understand this passage, we need to ask at least two questions:
◊ What happened?
◊ Why does it matter?
What happened? Jesus gives sight to those who are blind
Jesus is traveling through Jerusalem and just over two years into His public ministry. Previously, Jesus had a dramatic debate with many of the Jews. They debated over Jesus’ identity as the light of the world (Jn 8:12) and as the eternal Son of God, saying “before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:49-58). The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming and they mocked Him as being born of sexual immorality (Jn 8:41), mocking His race and as being demon possessed (Jn 8:48), and eventually picked up stones to murder Jesus (Jn 8:59).
Jesus withdrew from the mob scene and passes by a man who was blind from birth. Jesus saw the blind man. Jesus has a habit of seeing people others ignore, especially the disheartened and disabled. However, the Disciples have a habit of seeing problems rather than people. The problem the Disciples began to banter was philosophical of why God allows suffering: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
The age-old problem of why evil and suffering exist has been bantered by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and the everyday individual. During OT times and in Jewish teaching, general assumption was held that God punished sinful people with suffering, sickness, disease, and disability and of course ultimately death. Such individuals would live as outcast, condemned to beg or depend on others for assistance.
Yet, Jesus responds to the blind man by approaching him and touching him. He puts spit and mud together and anoints the man’s eyes, then telling him to go and wash. Jesus heals the blind man! It is likely Jesus was recalling the act of creation where God created life from the dust of the earth and the eyes of man were opened the very first time.
In specific to this man, Jesus is compassionate. Jesus drew near this man to indicate even the disabled have dignity and worth in God’s eyes. With Jesus, every person matters and there are no insignificant people.
As for those today who have physical, learning, or mental disabilities, God has a design for every disability – whether genetic, circumstantial, or from infection. His purposes are higher and beyond our understanding because they are about His glory and not our personal comfort. Even more beyond our comprehension, God sometimes chooses not to bring healing this side of eternity but will do so in the new kingdom through the resurrection.
◊ “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
◊ “See now that I, even I, am he and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
◊ “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)
What we see in Jesus is that the disabled belong in the family of God.
◊ Every person is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)
◊ Every person is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Our life is not defined by statistics or inabilities, but by the fact that God has placed a portion of His intrinsic splendor and specialness inside of us – our face, body and limbs, and personality. And Jesus died for us even when we were at our lowest (Romans 5:8). The price God paid to free us from sin and death was not a low-ball number because of our weakness, but instead was the highest purchase price – the death of God’s perfect and only Son (John 3:16). We are who God says we are and not who others assume we are.
◊ Luke 14:12-14 “Jesus said, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers, or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
◊ While some might downplay or demean the uniqueness and value of disabled persons, Jesus does not. If it were not for the weak of this world, we would not be understand the wisdom and strength of God. 1Cor 12:23-26 “on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
◊ German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer expands this idea in his book Life Together (p.94), writing, “In a Christian community everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship… Once a man has experienced the mercy of God in his life he will henceforth aspire only to serve. The proud throne of the judge no longer lures him; he wants to be down below with the lowly and the needy, because that is where God found him.”
◊ So SPBC, when we see people – especially those who are suffering or disabled – let us be like Jesus and speak hello, shake a hand, extend an embrace. Let us see individuals as people and not as problems. Let us see with the eyes and heart of Jesus.
◊ Likewise, to those who are caretakers, you experience daily challenges as well. Your fears, hopes, and family life experience has equal stress as you wonder where your next ounce of energy and strength will come. In the tiredness of your soul, Jesus is calling you to trust. God’s rest and redemption are available to you each day (Matthew 11:28-29).
Jesus does not give an academic answer or theological treatise to the Disciples’ question. Instead, Jesus’ response is focused on mission: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed 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” (Jn 9:3-5).
Jesus knows that each person is blind from birth, with burdens in our body and sins on our soul; we all fall short of God’s glory. So, Jesus gives a response of mission that should inform the way we view the world and all its dilemmas and difficulties.
è Work while it is day, night is coming when no one can work. Jesus’ mission should carry a sense of urgency about our life (cf. John 4:35; 12:35-36; 16:16; 20:21).
o If your sin was going to take your life, would you coddle it or kill it?
o If your neighbor had 1 month or 1 year to live, how long would your apathy or patience continue before you shared the gospel?
o If you could do anything you wanted in ministry and mission for God’s kingdom – and no boundaries (financial, etc.) hindered you – what would you do? Why not get started?
o If you know the changes to be made in your life, relationships, church, then what hinders you from making change?
After Jesus put the mud in the blind man’s eyes, he went and washed and he received sight (Jn 9:11). His testimony was so simple and pure, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (Jn 9:25).
The Pharisees were not happy about the healing. The interrogated the former blind man, asking: who healed him, how it was done, where is the man, how can this man do such signs? The Jews did not want to believe Jesus’ power to heal that they even rejected this man was blind to begin. They called the man’s parents and asked if this was their blind son. The Jews were so intimidating that the parents abstained from discussing how their son was healed. “We know that his is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself” (Jn 9:20-21).
The Pharisees sought to divide Jesus as separate from God and the Law of Moses. They claimed to be disciples of Moses. The blind man essentially claimed to be a disciple of the one who opened his eyes to sight (Jn 9:30-33). The blind man had just received a miracle from God but the Pharisees cast him out of the temple.
When Jesus heard the man was cast out of the temple, Jesus found him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man was willing to believe but wasn’t sure who he was. Jesus told the man it was Him (Jn 9:35-37). The response from the blind man was to worship Jesus.
The concluding exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees was ironic. While the blind man now sees and believes, the Pharisees see but are blind. Their refusal to see and believe Jesus made them guilty of their sins.
Why does it matter?
◊ Jesus walks with us in our darkness to bring His light and love. Whether it’s blindness or any other burden, God sees us and wants to show His glory in our life. Undoubtedly the blind man had struggles and frustration. Uniquely, Jesus’ healing of this man wasn’t instantly but made the man go and wash. The man’s struggle became part of his testimony so he’d never forget and always tell the story (Jn 9:11, 15).
è Have you noticed the best evangelists are those with the greatest struggles?
è Sometimes God allows us to struggle so we can empathize with others in their struggle. “There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.” – Helen Keller
◊ Our refusal to believe in Jesus’ miracles or message doesn’t mean it’s not true. The Pharisees doubted Jesus because even if Jesus were to perform the miracle before their eyes, their hearts were too stubborn and defiant. They couldn’t place their trust in Jesus because they’d have to give up control. God’s work is all around us and available for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.