Today is a National Day of Remembrance for People with Disabilities. Accordingly, I preached on “The Mystery of the Man Born Blind” (John 9:1-12):
I’m a seminary teacher. That’s my main job and profession. But I also have a calling to relief and development work in the world, particularly in developing countries like Africa. I’m a man on a mission to help save the lives of 1,000 AIDS orphans in Africa. More specifically, my organization, CitiHope Internatonal, is involved in food and medical aid in Malawi—one of the poorest countries in the world, population 12 million, with 15% AIDS infection rate, leaving over 900,000 orphans.
Last month I was in Malawi, Africa, where I visited a school for the blind run by the Presbyterian Churches of Livingstonia…. I was deeply touched and inspired by how those who were visually impaired learned to read and write, and gain vocational skills. The kids formed a choir and had the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. One young man in particular, whose name was GIFTED, certainly lived up to his name. He played a simple, hand-made, guitar (really needed a new and better one), and made it sound divine. His songs came from the deep place of this heart. When the entire community joined in, their voices were like angels. And the smiles on their faces when we gave them each a gift—just a new toothbrush and paste—lit up the classroom. and delighted our entire team.
It was obvious that the healing presence of Jesus had touched them in a profound way. His touch did not result in physical healing of their blindness, but a spiritual cure of their soul. They knew themselves to be children of God, and they were whole in body, soul and spirit. Truly, God’s glory was revealed in them, just as it was in the healing of the man who was blind since birth in Jesus time.
How did Jesus touch and heal?
In the Gospel account (John 9:1-12), the disciples ask Jesus a question about the connection between sin, sickness and suffering in the life of a young man who was blind since birth (John 9:1-12).
I’m sure each person here knows someone who has a disease or affliction, or suffering through no fault of their own. Still, we may wonder why? What is the cause? Who is to blame?
“This man is blind,” the disciples announced to Jesus. “Who is at fault? Is his blindness due to his sin or his parents’ sin?
The disciples were expressing the common conception that sin and suffering are linked by cause and effect. There were many theories (then and still today) about how sin causes sickness:
• Some Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time believed in the theology of ‘prenatal sin’—that somehow a man could be born in sin, through no fault of his own, as a carry over in this life from some pre-existent state. The idea was that the soul in its former state may have sinned. Thus the question: “was it this man’s sin … that he was born blind?”
• Others held a belief in ‘ancestral sin’—that we inherit the consequences of the sins of our parents and ancestors. For the Scripture declares: “I am a jealous God, visiting the inequity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 20:5). Thus the question: “was it this man’s sin … or his parent’s sin that he was born blind?”
• Many, in Jesus’ time, and still today in parts of Africa and Asia, are sure that sickness and suffering are the result of an evil spirit, or an evil curse from a Witch Doctor (Wa Fwiti), and that only a traditional healer (Singana, Shaman) can diagnose and remove the evil affliction.
• Most people simply assumed that if you suffered greatly or were sick, it was because you personally must have sinned. Job’s friends held this theology (see Book of Job). For example, in Malawi, Africa (where I was last month on a mission), many believe that AIDS is God’s judgment on immorality, as if God inflicts punishment on sinners in the form of the HIV virus! The theory of sin as the primary cause of sickness and suffering could also be applied to other leading causes of death: cancer, malaria and TB.
• Are there similar theories of cause and effect related to people with disaibilities. Do we think that the reason they suffer is because they sinned or made a mistake.
Few would deny that sinful behaviors sometimes result in adverse consequences (but not always). Few would deny that those who sin or who are sinned against often suffer. But many go further than this and attribute divine will to human suffering as if God inflicts punishment in the form of disease (like AIDS) on those who have sinned (particularly sins of the flesh).
If you add to these cause-and-effect theories more modern understandings of germ theory, bacterial infection, and virus transmission, suddenly the causes of sin and suffering become multi-factored.
Jesus is called the “Great Physician who heals both body and soul. When confronted with the issue of “who’s at fault?” Jesus refuses to answer the question of cause and effect. Instead, he focuses on the opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed in the young man’s healing: “Neither this man nor his parents’ sinned,” Jesus said, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (9:3)
And then Jesus healed the blind man by three means: 1) he used the medicine of his day, 2) he tapped into and channeled the power of God as one sent by God, and 3) he required the active faith and cooperation of the young man born blind, to open his eyes and cure him:
1. “Jesus spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it own the man’s eyes” (9:6). Saliva was considered medicinal in ancient times, especially for eye disease. Even today, if we burn or cut our finger, we immediately put it in our mouth to lick it, cleanse the wound, and help heal it.
2. Jesus also declared himself the “Light of the World” sent by God to teach and heal “as long as it was day” (9:4).
3. Jesus also required faith and cooperation from the one who needed to be healed. Immediately, he sent the man to the Pool of Siloam to wash in the healing water. ‘Siloam’ means sent, and this is mentioned because it’s significant. According to William Barkley, the Pool of Siloam was the freshest, cleanest, closest body of water to the city’s aqueduct, and the source waters were ‘sent’ directly into this pool. There was something healing about the fresh water in the Pool of Siloam. Clean fresh water has healing and restorative properties, just as dirty, stale water has bacteria and causes disease. Fresh water was (and still is) a source of healing power.
Thus, Siloam may refer to these three sendings: to Jesus, sent by God into the world to teach and heal; to the blind man, sent by Jesus to the pool to bathe; and to the source waters, sent forth by the leaders in the city into the Pool of Siloam.
The Church of Jesus Christ is called not only to preach Jesus as the Light of the World and Source of Living Water, but also to continue his ministry of teaching and healing the sick. Just as you are already doing at Elim House.
So, what happened to the young man born blind? After receiving the mud pack on his eyes and bathing in the Pool of Siloam, he went home seeing. The neighbors could not believe that this was the same man, who sat begging on the road, or that such a person could receive sight, but the young man insisted that truly, he was the same man (9: 9). He simply presented himself as a living testimony to the power of God, good medicine and healing faith: “One thing I know, I was blind but now I see.” (9:25).
This young man of faith inspired a hymn we still sing in church. Do you know the name of this hymn? That’s right. “Ämazing Grace.”
I know this church has a special ministry to people with disabilities, including with those who are visually impaired. And so do I. How can we each apply these insights to our own ministries of compassion and care for those who are poor, lame, maimed or blind? How can we learn to touch and heal as Jesus did, without judgment, without determining cause and effect, and requiring the faithful participation of those we seek to help?
Jesus taught us by example how to touch and heal the sick in the way he touched and healed the young man who was blind since birth. Let us follow his example by 1) using available medicine of the day, 2) tap into and channel God’s grace; and 3) engage the support and participation of those who would be healed—knowing they have resources to share.