Why didn’t someone tell me decades ago that spit and dirt make such a great healing tool? I could have been a millionaire before starting kindergarten!!!!
In the passage this week (John 9:1-41, you can read it here) we have a healing story, though to be honest it really appears that the healing is not the point of the pericope. The healing is a launching point for some theological (and possibly political) discussion leading to a statement of faith. Then we end with some shade being thrown at those who are unwilling to see (there are none so blind…).
I note that in the liturgical year this week is also Transfiguration Sunday. Obviously this is not the traditional Transfiguration story, however it seems to me that one of the themes of Transfiguration is seeing clearly who Jesus is, which would fit in with this passage.
The commentary at Working Preacher this week takes an interesting tack. Instead of talking much about the passage itself it does a fair bit of talking about why people may think that good is not good enough.
The Working Preacher podcast starts by talking a bit about the best way to share the passage itself. A straight reading of 41 verses might be a bit much for some folks (my reader this past Sunday had a couple comments about the 42 verses she was given to read about the woman at the well). How might you share the passage if you are not just reading it straight?
There are problematic bits in this passage. The first is in the whole “why is this man blind? discussion that starts the story. 21st century folk may agree that congenital blindness has little to do with sinfulness we still have, in almost every translation on my shelf, a suggestion that God made the man blind so that Jesus could cure him. I am not sure I want to believe that. I greatly appreciated the discussion in the podcast suggesting that this translation choice is in error and suggesting a different approach, one which in the end comes close to what the KJV says in verses 3 and 4.
Another problematic piece is the political overtones of the dialogue with the parents. The text claims that the parents choose not to answer because of fear of “the Jews”. [To me it makes perfect sense that parents would say of their adult child–go ask him, he can speak for himself.] Traditionally I have been taught that this, and other references in the Gospel, refers to a time when Christians were being turfed from the synagogues, which would still make it anachronistic within the narrative as it stands. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament they suggest that even this is something that is hard to find historical references for. As with any time John says “the Jews” I see a potential for anti-Semitic interpretation. It makes it possible to read the rest of the passage as saying “those silly sinful, willfully blind Jews. why will they not see?”
Finally, there is a whole issue of how do we talk about the need to be healed from blindness, or the question of being willfully blind, without verging into a form of ableism?
So a discussion of sinfulness? A discussion about what it means to see or what it means to be blind? A discussion of what leads one to become a witness? Which way will you take this passage?
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings. At the moment he is wondering where to put all the snow piled at the edge of his driveway…
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