9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.
Ah, the Academy Awards. That one Big Night in show business when the stars come out to shine. Everyone’s favorite celebrities are there in their black tie finest and diamond-studded elegance. Everything is perfect, from the $10,000 hairstyles to the $20,000 dresses to the who’s-escorting-whom pairings on the red carpet.
Hollywood: LA and Beverly…Hills, that is…swimming pools and movie stars.
But, no homeless individuals. At least for that one special night.
In 2021, the 93rd Academy Awards was held in Los Angeles’ iconic Union Station. A week prior to the gathering of the glitterati, city officials began to round up and move the dozens of homeless and transient people who had been making their homes in and around the landmark.
Many of the homeless had substance abuse issues–drugs and alcohol fueled the problems of these unfortunates. There were also many who were disabled and some who were otherwise helpless taking shelter there. This does not a good Oscar night backdrop make.
And so, the Hollywood set–the American celebrity culture–who so often call upon the moral consciences of fans, corporations, and the consumer public to be socially-minded–abandoned people in need who sat on their very doorstep.
Those who sought to be the most visible people in the world rendered others invisible, lest they detract from the glory of those in places of power and prestige.
Here, in John 9, we encounter Jesus’s healing of the man born blind. In this passage, John highlights people who have been rendered invisible to others. This includes, of course, a man “blind from birth” to whom the rest of the world has been rendered “invisible” through his sightless eyes.
More importantly, John shows us how people can be rendered invisible in a non-physical way: those who are not seen due to the spiritual blindness of others.
9 Now as Jesus passed by…–John 9:1a
It is the fall of the year. In the weeks of late October or early November (the Hebrew month of Tishri), Jesus and his disciples are walking the streets of Jerusalem. John often marks time with a reference to the nearest feast. By this we can surmise that the feast days were important to him–and surely important to Jesus as He sought to observe the earthly ways of honoring His Father.
There is no reference to a specific feast here, but most commentators place this encounter between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. These feasts respectively celebrate the harvest and the remembrance of the rededication of the temple after its defilement under the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes, the “Abomination of Desolation” foretold by the prophet Daniel.
It is a season of joy, of harvest blessings and the approach of winter.
As they are walking and talking, Jesus is patiently teaching His disciples. The twelve have come a long way in two and a half years: they have witnessed astounding miracles, heard the spectacle of fiery religious debate, and seen people radically changed. They have walked with Jesus every dusty mile along the way in sandaled feet.
The disciples have been immersed in the life of Christ, literally following Him afoot and in the heart–but Jesus knows that their education is far from complete. Now, a living illustration of Christ’s power and mission stands at the roadside, begging coins from passersby:
…He saw a man…–John 9:1a
In the crowded, dusty lane, in the hustle and bustle of a post-harvest capital city, a man stands out to Jesus. The man is unremarkable except for the fact that he is a beggar and “blind since birth.”
In our modern age of mobility and medical marvels, if you go about your daily business and encounter a person who is blind, you may not even think twice about it. Technology, social acceptance, and even acts of government have not only made discrimination against disabled individuals illegal, but there is also a general repugnance for those who would suggest doing such a thing.
To be born blind in any age is to have a disadvantage; to be born blind in the ancient world often meant a death sentence, or at least one of extreme poverty–and the poor were all but invisible to those more fortunate.
Jesus sees the man, not because of anything he has done to capture the passing Savior’s attention. Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus for help and Zacchaeus, at least, had climbed a tree to gain a vantage point. This man sat on his street corner begging, little knowing that the man passing by was the giver of light, even to sightless eyes. Then, with spit and mud, a miracle is performed. Jesus touches the man’s eyes:
7 And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.–John 9:7
The man departs and does what he is told. His sight is restored–and we begin to discover the level of invisibility that his blindness had caused in the eyes of others.
The man born blind was invisible to his neighbors
The man’s neighbors are astonished. To them he does not even seem to be the same person! Yesterday he was blind, scrabbling along, gingerly avoiding obstacles and cautious to danger.
8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?”
9 Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.”
He said, “I am he.”–John 9:8-9
He was blind, but now he sees–and his world is filled with swirling light, color, and motion! Familiar voices now have faces, familiar smells–baking bread, a passing donkey–have substance, and the dark tunnels of his daily wanderings are now bright lanes under a blazing autumnal sun.
He is at once joyful and frightened. To his neighbors he has become one of them, where previously he was a blind, invisible other.
Think of your own neighbors for a moment. Do you have any friends or acquaintances that may be invisible to you? Think of each house on your street or people that you normally encounter in your daily life. How many of them are dealing with the struggles and pain of life?
I follow the Facebook group page for my neighborhood. The little dramas of life in the modern western world play out daily as those around me complain about each other and the challenges of living in close proximity. In between posts announcing yard sales and pool parties, there are often glimpses of despair and sadness as my neighbors hint of troubled marriages, rebellious children, and financial stress.
Ian Maclaren, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland during the late 19th century, penned a book entitled “Beside the Bonny Briar Bush.” In this cheerful volume is found the daily travails and triumphs of a simple Scottish village. The novel highlights characters both noble and impoverished as they interact in each others’ lives. Maclaren coined a phrase that captures good advice on how to live life amid the pain of others:
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”–Ian Maclaren
Jesus saw the man born blind and knew the battles he faced. He showed mercy and kindness in the form of a miracle–when He could have easily passed by the helpless man. Can you be as perceptive to those around you? How can you show Jesus to those who are invisible to others?
The man born blind was invisible to the religious leaders
We know that one purpose of Jesus’s interaction with the man born blind was to highlight the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders. However, on a practical level, the man was invisible to them as well:
18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. –John 9:18
The man was presented to the Pharisees by his astonished friends in an effort to gain some understanding of what had happened. They came with the walking proof of Christ’s power and were turned away!
The man’s parents are brought forward to testify and, aware of the punishment of being kicked out of the synagogue that awaited any Jew who spoke of Jesus as Messiah, deferred to their son to answer for himself.
By this point, tired of telling and re-telling his story, the blind man is losing patience with this foolishness. NO, he does not know what the man who did this looks like. YES, he was blind all his life but now can see. He becomes bold in his recollection and we can see a bit of humor:
27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”–John 9:27
This, of course, infuriates the Pharisees who waste no time passing judgement:
34 They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.–John 9:34
When you read this, you are filled with a sense of the injustice of it all. The very people who have been tasked with the duty of shepherding the children of God are presented with a beautiful picture of His work among the very least of them–and they coldly turn him away.
How often do our churches do this? How much suffering is going on in the hearts and lives of those in your own congregation that you are not aware of? How many fellow believers know of your own troubles and heartaches?
We make this hard on ourselves and each other as we choose most often to hide the truth about what is really going on in life or refuse to see or deal with it in the lives of others. When someone asks you how you are doing, do you really tell that person that you are struggling with your job, worrying about your marriage, or dealing with a crushing disappointment?
How often do you sincerely ask how other believers are faring? If they actually tell you, would it suddenly become awkward? Would you struggle to comfort them? You might.
Our church pews are filled with invisible people dealing with invisible problems. Western churches are often segregated by race, economics, or social status. How can we break these barriers? Our communities are filled with people stumbling in spiritual darkness. How can you bring them the light?
You are not invisible to Jesus
Like Hollywood, we desire our world to be a certain way: free of sin, free of pain, free of reminders of a fallen world. We automatically place others socially below us and continually try to build and rebuild a safe world around us, a world that we understand and want to see.
Jesus sees beyond all of this. He sees you in your silent invisibility and He seeks you out:
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”
36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
37 And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”
38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.–John 9:35-38
As you rejoice in your restoration to Him, seek those around you who are invisible as you once seemed. I am reminded of the old hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow:”
When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches over me
–Civilla Martin, 1905
Like the man born blind, you are not invisible to Christ. Seek to build relationships with other believers where you can speak truthfully of your needs and sufferings and be equipped to bear their burdens as Jesus does. Look for the sparrows in life, those who live in quiet invisibility–and show them the One who gives them light.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.