I am continuously amazed at how a group of people can see, hear, or experience the exact same thing but walk away with vastly differing conclusions about what they saw, or heard, or experienced.
But here's why . . . we each see the world through a differing perspective; different life experiences, different understandings, different cultural norms. We each look at the world with different lenses. And the perspective or lens that filters the world becomes your reality.
But the problem is that sometimes our perspective, or then lens in which we see the world, blinds us from the truth. In other words, our struggle is that we see but we don't see.
What’s interesting is that sometimes we do this with Jesus. We hear the words of Jesus, the stories of Jesus, and message of Jesus and interpret them through our lens or perspective so that Jesus is presented in the way we think he should be.
But when we forget what Jesus is like, or we try to change him, or our recognition of him is so messed up, we run the risk of now knowing who Jesus really is anymore.
Over the past few weeks we've been looking at the I AM statements of Jesus in the gospel of John and this kind of thing happens over and over. People hear but they don’t understand. People see but they don't see. It’s almost as if they’re walking around in the dark and missing who Jesus really is.
And that is especially true with this week’s I AM statement. So, let's set aside our perspectives for just a moment and listen to our text. READ John 8.12-20
There was no one that could draw a crowd like Jesus. Everywhere he went, thousands of people followed him. Some are hurt, some are tired, and some have few have demons that need to be cast out. They want to ask him questions. They want him to pray for them. They want him to plant a church, teach a bible study, or meet their “urgent” needs in some way.
And there were some who were critics and just wanted to challenge his every move.
But the problem was that the crowds were so caught up in their perspective of Jesus that they could only see him through the filter of their expectations of him and were unable to see who he was.
As we come to this text, Jesus’ popularity was quickly declining after the feeding of the 5,000 and he refused to give into their desires for more free food and instead told them, “I AM the bread of life”.
But as soon as Jesus demands an ounce of allegiance from them, as soon as Jesus draws a line in the sand, the crowds, wave after wave, walk away saying, “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”
A few months have passed and there has been nothing but conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders and these are not silly little squabbles. They weren’t sending Twitter insults back and forth and posting offensive memes on their social media pages. These were heavy duty theological debates.
In this case, Jesus is giving a sound defense of himself, his ministry, his identity, and his mission as he says, “I AM the light of the world”
Immediately, one of the religious guys shouts out, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” In other words, he’s calling Jesus a liar because he’s got no proof of this deeply profound theological statement about himself.
The question is, why is this so offensive?
The best way to unpack what Jesus is saying is to think briefly about Genesis, chapter 1. In the beginning, the earth was formless and void, and then God speaks, “Let there be light” and from that one sentence, structure began to replace formlessness. Darkness was put on its heels, and what was void began to be filled with life. This process is the way God begins to interact with his creation.
God spoke and it came into being and it all began with the words, “let there be light”.
So much is the imagery of light pushing back darkness and filling with life that the prophet Isaiah, when talking about the coming of the Messiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
When Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world,” he is making some claims that are unacceptable for those moral elites, who have built their worth on the ability to check boxes, because the filter in which they see the world was based on a belief that what they did had a direct effect on how God responded.
This statement is a massive threat to their existence, because Jesus just said, “I am God.”
And when he responds to their accusation that his testimony is false, he tells them, “You don’t know me. You only see me through a human perspective, or lens. But I know who I AM and where I come from and my witness is God. I was there when God spoke life into creation. And I AM that word become flesh to shine a light to those who walk around in darkness.”
Now, in the Greek language there are two words for light that Jesus could have used here.
The first word is luchnos which was used to describe a torch or oil lamp. It’s the kind of light that must be maintained. It needed fuel to burn. If you don’t add oil, it will go out. In other words, it was dependent on what you did and if you didn’t pay attention, it would go out.
The other word is Phos (fos). It’s where we get the English word phosphorescence. It’s the light of the sun, a light that is always there. It’s the kind of light that enables us to see and there’s nothing you must do to maintain it. It doesn’t fade and it doesn’t have to be lit. It’s not dependent on us, it just is.
Here Jesus says, “I AM the phos of the world” and after making this startling claim, he illustrates this truth by healing a man born blind.
The next day, the disciples were out on a walk with Jesus having an intellectually stimulating discussion with their rabbi.
And as they are walking along, they happen to come upon a man who is blind—has been, from the day he was born and he is a beggar, because there is no help for the visually handicapped, and there's no government disability and so in order to survive he had to rely on the handouts of people.
So, they're walking along and when they see this blind beggar, they see an object lesson or proof text of their own theological perspective, or lens, and so they seize the moment to pose a question:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
You see, like the religious leaders that just challenged Jesus’ bold claim . . . they also believed that there was a direct correlation between what you did and how God responded.
So, if someone had an ailment, like blindness, it wasn't a question of why it happened but rather who was responsible for it happening . . . who was the sinner?
But Jesus looks at the man, and he sees something else altogether; He sees an opportunity to reveal the goodness of God. That God would send light into the darkness and that the light (Phos) is Jesus.
And then, casually, as if he does this sort of thing every day, spits on the ground, and makes mud with his spit, and he rubs the mud on the man’s eyes.
Now there are a lot of interpretations as to why Jesus would do this, but I am most comfortable with one that says this action once again brings to mind the story of creation.
When God created man, he scooped and molded the earth from the ground and his spirit breathed life into the nostrils of humankind.
So, the clay signifies man created by God. The spittle, as something that proceeds out of the Lord’s mouth signifies His words, which are Spirit and Life. The word become flesh, to bring us light and life.
Here, Jesus scoops the earth from the ground, mixed with his spittle he molds it to this man's eyes as if to say, "I am making you a new creation. You are no longer defined by your blindness. Through me, you are no longer defined by your sin."
And after he places the mud on the man’s eyes, he sends him to a pool called Siloam which means “Sent,” with instructions to wash.
And as the man washes the mud from his eyes, his world changes.
Just like that he can see the world as it is: fluffy clouds, blue skies, flowers pushing up through the dirt. Trees moving, just a bit, from the ocean breeze. He is a man whose blindness has been removed and can now see all of God's creation and all its beauty.
This should be cause for celebration. The worship band should come out and there should be dancing and celebrating in the streets . . . this guy was blind but now he sees. He was in the darkness but now he’s in the light.
But the struggle continues, of seeing but not seeing.
First, the neighbors. They are all abuzz, but they interpret this healing through the perspective of cultural norms and standings.
They see the man, but they are not convinced that it is him because the man they know is blind, the man they know is a beggar . . . I mean, even the text calls him the blind beggar. That's his place in community. But this man can see.
And so, they start arguing amongst each other. Some were saying it was him, others were saying this guy just looks like him but there's no way it's actually him.
And eventually the guy was like, "You know I'm standing here, right? There's never been anything wrong with my ears so I can hear you. If you'd just ask, I'll let you know that it’s me."
When they finally see that it is, really, truly, him, they want to know how it happened.
He tells him, “This guy named Jesus made mud with his spit and put it on me and sent me to the pool to wash and now I can see.”
And when they heard his story, they wanted to know where they could find Jesus . . . most likely because they wanted to verify that a healing had occurred because in that culture when someone was healed they had to present themselves before a Rabbi to confirm that indeed a healing had occurred but it could also be that they wanted to see if Jesus could do something really amazing for them as well . . . but the guy had no idea where Jesus was and so they took him to the religious leaders.
And when they hear this man's story, they see evidence against Jesus.
Because again, their perspective is in terms of who is keeping the law, and who is breaking it. And this Jesus guy has been on their radar for a little while.
And now . . . he's doing stuff on the Sabbath and you just can't do stuff on the Sabbath because that was a day of rest and there were very strict rules about the kind of things you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.
And, for the religious guys, keeping the Sabbath according to the rules was a sign of loyalty – to God, to Israel and to national hopes of liberation because as we said, they were convinced that what they did determined God’s movement.
And so, they were watchful for movements that ignored or trivialized the Sabbath because they posed a threat to their hopes for liberation and the coming kingdom of God.
So, when they heard that this man who had been born blind was given sight on the Sabbath the religious guys started arguing among one another trying to determine if Jesus was breaking the rules.
And again, this blind man ceases to be a person made in the image of God but rather he becomes a tool, a device they will use. He becomes an issue.
The disciples look at the blind man and they see a question of sin.
The neighbors look at the blind man and they see a question of community standings and cultural norms
The Pharisees look at the blind man and they see an opportunity to make trouble for Jesus.
But Jesus looks at the blind man and he sees an opportunity for God’s goodness to be revealed.
The man who was born blind is given sight, but he is also given faith, but it takes him a while to find it.
By the end of this story, after having navigated all these people who see him as a metaphor, as a symbol, as an issue, he knows one thing. He can literally see now, he's been restored into community and is no longer defined by blindness.
And so, he proclaims, strongly, “Lord, I believe.” and it is in this moment that the healing is complete . . . not only is he restored into the sighted community but now, through Jesus, he has been restored into relationship with God.
Through Jesus, he has indeed become a new creation.
The Gospel of John begins with these words . . .
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
That light is Jesus, who shines a new light in our lives.
And I'm wondering . . . are you able to see him for who he is?