Experiencing the Reality of Christ in a Spiritually Blind World
Last night I was watching a program from the History Channel called “The Naked Archaeologist.” It’s hosted by an Israeli-born Canadian Simcha Jacobivichi, who is one of the professors of archaeology at the University of Toronto. Simcha is a bit of a comedian and his off beat approach to the sometimes dreary subject of archaeology is very entertaining. In fact, I think that he is so good at it that we’re going to be discussing a few of his programs at the Monday Night Bible Study group starting tomorrow night. So, if you’d like to come along and be educated and entertained by Biblical Archaeology, then you’re welcome to join us tomorrow in the parlor at 7.15pm.
Enough with the church commercials, the reason I started talking about Simcha is that in a recent episode he revealed the fact that the Pool of Siloam from today’s chapter in the Bible, has just recently been discovered. I can remember almost thirty years ago, one of my New Testament professors disputing whether or not this incident ever took place. “After all,” he concluded, “if there’s no evidence for the Pool of Siloam’s existence, why should we believe that Jesus actually healed a blind man at this spot?” I wish I could now see his face – I’d love to show him the program with Simcha standing on the very steps of the pool.
Seeing is believing is quite a common theme when it comes to having faith in Jesus. A lot of people want proof that Christ existed and that He still exists in the world today. Personally, with millions of churches and billions of believers across the world, I honestly don’t know what kind of world non-believers are looking at. And the fact that so many people still worship Jesus after two thousand years, should tell us all that His Spirit still remains in the world. I tell you, if a college basketball team or a national football team had two billion supporters through the world, they would make front page news and be in the TV headlines every single day. If anyone person had two billion supporters in the world, their eminence, influence, and dominance over the earth would be absolute. Christ has all of these things, and yet people are still foolish enough or consistently stubborn to disbelieve Him.
But what about this passage: what do the people in Christ’s time actually see happening when He is with them? What do they experience in their lives that we can apply ourselves?
Well, the disciples seem to think that people who are sick deserved it. Illness and disease were considered to be punishments from God. If you did something bad, God plagued you with a disease. If you committed a sin, you and your children were made ill. Whatever sickness you had, it was God’s way of revealing to the community that you were an evil person. And if you died of that illness, then God never forgave you.
Now this might seem very judgmental, highly superstitious, and completely intolerant to us. We know that illness and diseases, sickness and ailments are not punishments from God. Or do we? It’s not all that long ago when AIDS came into our world and the Church pronounced it was a punishment from God upon homosexuals. I can still remember those days when bitter Christians castigated the gay community for being promiscuous and left them to die horrible deaths. I can still hear pious preachers and bigoted Christians protesting hatefully against gays. It was a terrible and terrifying time.
I remember upsetting a few folk (so what’s new), when I preached about this in 1988. It was the last Sunday in January, which in British churches is meant to commemorate World Leprosy Day and raise money for the Leprosy Mission. Instead of talking about Hanson’s Disease, I preached about how we were creating a whole new generation of lepers and outcasts by condemning those people with AIDS and HIV suffers to a living hell because of the lack of Christian compassion, love, and understanding. It was highly controversial and some people didn’t get it. They didn’t get it because they didn’t want to understand it. And because they didn’t get it, they left the church, especially when some of them found out that my brother Alan was gay. They didn’t want to see nor believe that Jesus would compassionately help and heal anyone who was ill or diseased.
John 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
I love how Jesus answers His disciples. He doesn’t criticize them for being so judgmental, nor does He humiliate them for being so foolish. He just gets straight to the point – nobody sinned causing this blindness. It just happened. But now that we’re here, let God’s glory be displayed.
In other words, Jesus is going to use the opportunity to do some good in the world. The religious bigots and narrow minded zealots might say that this man was blinded because of his sinful parents, but as far as Christ is concerned, here’s a blind person, who is not an object lesson for a theological study session, but a man who needs help and healing, compassion and caring.
Jesus does this quite often. On Wednesdays, we’re looking at the Gospel of Mark in our Coffee Club groups. We’ve seen something like this before when Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath or in the synagogue. All the religious clerics hate Jesus for healing people in a holy place or on a holy day. In fact, they hate Him so much, that they want to kill Him. Instead of seeing the amount of good that Christ can do, instead of believing in a God who actually cares about people, all the religious bigots want is for Jesus to conform to their rules, their understanding, their ways of maintaining religion.
You know there is a group in Topeka, Kansas who claim to be Christians. They’re from the Westboro Baptist Church and they go to funerals of soldiers all over America with posters that say things like “God hates Fags” or “America is going to hell” or “God is judging You.” They call themselves Christians, but they’re really hateful bigots who have nothing to do with Christ. They just hate people who are different from themselves, and they spew Satanism from their pulpits and posters. They are self-righteous people who emotionally crucify soldier’s families and friends with their ungodly protests and un-Christ-like behavior.
I feel sorry for them because they are warping the message of love and grace that Jesus has given us through the Gospel. They set themselves up as judge and jury of society, forgetting that Christ went out to heal the sick and save the lost. They are unforgiving and completely intolerant. It makes me wonder how they say the Lord’s Prayer each day…how they say “Lord, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us?”
It was the same for the disciples – they were asking if the blind man sinned and so deserved his blindness; but the disciples were also sinners, so shouldn’t they also have been sick? Or were they saying to Jesus, Lord, we know that we are perfect, strong, and healthy and that’s why You chose us to be Your disciples; but what about this blind guy, why is he so imperfect, weak, and diseased? What is he guilty of?
They just don’t get it. Just like the people who didn’t want to show compassion to AIDS sufferers in the 80s & 90s. Just like the Westboro Baptist Bigots now. They just don’t understand that illness and sickness, weakness and imperfection happen, not because of sin, but because we are all human – frail in mind, body, heart, and spirit.
John 9:5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Just before Christ heals the blind guy, he reminds His disciples of Who He is. He is not an itinerant preacher, or quack medicine merchant, or con man, he is not a one man show, circus, or entertainer. He is not a carpenter turned into a prophet roaming around Galilee. He is the Son of God, the Lord of creation, the Light of the World.
It’s not just the blind man who is blind, but the whole of Christ’s society. The disciples are just like everyone else and the darkness of ignorance, intolerance, and insensitivity blinds the whole community. Christ is come into the world to reveal things that have not been seen since Time began. Christ is come to earth to reveal the Kingdom of God in ways that people will understand and accept. He’s not there to shore up religion – Christ is there to inspire and enhance faith. Religion is all about having a belief in God and trying to do the right thing. Faith is much more than that. Faith is trusting God totally, not just believing in Him, and doing what He wants done.
Let me give you an example of this: this week, in Mesa, Arizona a High School issued a proclamation that the kids in school cannot hug one another. It seems that so many kids have been kissing and cuddling in the school that the teachers want to put a stop to it. Now its being going on for years – My name is John Stuart and I was sent to the Principal’s office for kissing my girlfriend in the school library – but in order to stamp out this “vile” adolescent behavior, the hugging police have prohibited this kind of contact. The High Schoolers protested and the principal relented. The students can now hug one another for up to 2 seconds only. I can now picture teachers in the school hallways with stop watches for all of those hugging kids. That’s legalism gone wild and a complete waste of time. Thankfully, the students held a wonderful protest that cut through the absurdity….they had a 20 minute hug-athon and got detention for doing so. I just love free speech in this country.
Anyway, it’s that kind of narrow-minded legalism that bolsters religion. In Christ’s times, the clerics declared that illness and sickness were punishments from God, so the people believed it. But Jesus showed His world that this wasn’t how God operated – God was more interested in compassion, kindness, and care than rigid, legalistic religion. In fact, it wasn’t faith that killed Jesus on the Cross; it was hard-hearted, narrow-minded, belligerently bigoted religion that nailed Him to the tree. Faith had nothing to do with it.
So, what have we learned today? Religion is a sickness that we bring upon ourselves. Faith is a gift of God’s grace. Blindness is an illness of the spirit that is fed by ignorance, intolerance and injustice, whereas Christ is the light of the world, who seeks to show us the holy ways of God’s Kingdom through help and healing, compassion and caring.
Seeing is believing, especially when we look for Christ’s presence in our world. There are two billion Christians in the world today, so if we were all to show compassion and care to just two other people this week, then we would witness to the whole world. And if the world could see and experience Christians such as us, as truly loving people, then would also believe and put their faith in Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Life. Jesus Christ, our Savior forevermore. Amen.