Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)Surely we are not blind, are we? This is the question of the day. There's enough gas-lighting and counter-blaming in our daily lives, the nightly news, and the early morning Twitter feeds to leave us wondering if anyone can see clearly.
Doublespeak. Shaping facts selectively. Blocking through obfuscation things that do not fit our agenda. To defend the indefensible such willful evasion is required.
Jesus encounters the blind man and heals him. The entire narrative as John tells it is profoundly polysemous. It offers succinct answers to deep and abiding theological questions, like:
- Can we name direct causation between sin and punishment? Answer: No.
- Specifically, is sickness related to sin? Answer: No.
- Is some of our pain and marginalization the result of our parents' sin? Answer: Sometimes, although this is a result of the way the world works, not divine intervention by God. And furthermore, in those instances, the suffering that comes from sin can sometimes be the very context for God's liberating and healing work.
- Are we permanently bound in our sin or blindness? Answer: No. Except perhaps if we are convinced we aren't blind, then it's hard to be freed from it.
This should cause everyone pause. Everyone. Is our confidence in our sight a form of blindness?
That being said, the text is also incredibly clear-eyed. There are people who see, and people who don't, and just think they do, and the story teaches us how to distinguish them. The text names them: the blind man is freed from sin AND healed. The Pharisees on the other hand believe they see when in fact they are blind.
I can think of no better example of this than the perspective of white evangelicals on discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Like the Pharisees, they think they should stand apart from the world, but rather than standing apart in ways that heal and care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, they try to stand apart in self-righteous (willfully blind) ways.
In my own life, I think my willful blindness remains present, especially in view of the various levels of my own privilege. I fund a military state that destabilizes regions all over the world; I benefit from an economy that leaves billions impoverished; I have a station in life that is not earned but rather a privileged by-product of my gender and race.
Like the Pharisees, I still at times look at other individuals, other communities, and ask, "Who sinned, that they are in that situation?"
And in so doing, I fail to open my eyes and see that it is me.
This is how sin works.
Finally, it's worth noting that the most common interpretation of this text is blind man as sign of the early Christian community. That is, the early Christians are those who have been given sight through their faith in Christ. In the meantime, the world around them, their cousins in faith in particular, are perplexed by their new sight, and busy with questions.
This is a worthwhile symbolic reading of the text. In what ways is our faith in Christ healing us of our blindness? In what ways are we, like the blind man, asking others, "Do you also want to become his disciples?"