Lent 4: Telling the Truth
By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber
I am oddly comforted by today’s passage. It probably is not for the reasons you think. There are plenty of things in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel that point toward wholeness and goodness. We see Jesus heal a man who has been without physical sight; and even more than that, we see Jesus correct a bit of bad theology that assumes all bad situations are due to mistakes and sin in people’s lives. There are many great theological and exegetical resources which focus specifically on vision and sight that is restored through Christ.
However, for some reason, I am drawn to a different aspect of the story. This man who simply wants to celebrate his new ability to see and move on with life has to tell his story three separate times; first he told his neighbors, then twice to the religious leaders. I imagine that his first time telling the story, this man eagerly shared about the miraculous new sight he had been gifted with and the relatively gross way he had received sight. “I heard him spit, then felt a warm gritty mud get rubbed on my eyes. Then he told me to go and wash his spit off, and I could see!”
Then, rather than seeing smiles on his neighbor’s faces or hearing sounds of celebration, this man sees frowns, and hears people debating whether it is actually him or not. He is made to defend himself, simply because his story doesn’t fit into his neighbor’s worldview, even declaring “it is me!” after his neighbors engage in an awkward debate about whether or not this man is who he says he is—as he stands there in front of them!
You would think he would have been able to move on after proving who he was, and proving that he was given sight. But instead, he gets brought in front of the religious leaders who examine his story. They even bring in his parents to make sure he really was born blind. They hear his story, see the evidence of his new sight, confirm that he was born blind and now is able to see, and yet they still debate about the nature of the healing. They argue over the day on which Jesus healed him. They argue over Jesus’ ability to heal in general.
After debating about him, they go back to this man a third time, not to congratulate him, but instead to question and harass him. At this point the man born blind lets his frustration show through, claiming the obvious: “I was blind and now I see… this is incredible! You don’t know where he is from yet he healed my eyes!” (John 9:25, 30) He even offers a little theological truth, “We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.” (John 9:31-33)
At this point, the religious leaders outright reject this man’s healing as a miraculous work of God. In fact, they return to their comfortable understanding of the man born blind as a product of sin and nothing more. With factual evidence of a greater truth staring them directly in the eyes, debating with them, the religious leaders reject it for the sake of the comfortable worldview that they had been trained to hold.
You may be wondering how this is hopeful at all. I don’t know about your daily routine, but mine includes scrolling a few different news sources, and frankly I am tired of reading about facts being belittled and demeaned for the sake of maintaining a comfort level that keeps people on margins of society. I’m tired of reading about false or alternative facts being spread in a way that keeps neighbors from loving and trusting one another. It makes me feel nauseous. There are moments where I feel like the celebration of intentional ignorance really can’t get any worse than it is.
Then I read John’s gospel account of the healing of the man born blind and I remember that Jesus has experienced this level of dishonest marginalization. I remember that Jesus did not abandon the man born blind when his neighbors and his church rejected him. I remember that Jesus heard the blind man had been rejected. When Jesus heard, Jesus looked for him. When Jesus found him, he welcomed him as one of his own.
It would be so easy for me to rest into the privilege I have and stop paying attention to the injustice around me, yet Jesus challenges that. Jesus, a man born with the privilege that comes through the ancestral line of David, who held knowledge of scripture over his elders as a child, who had authority to teach in the temple, refused to let the cultural norms of his society keep him comfortable.
This story of the man born blind receiving sight teaches me that there has always been a group of powerful people who reject the truth and create their own versions of reality that maintain social norms and customs. It also teaches me that there have always been those who are willing to speak up and speak out against this unhealthy habit. And when one of those people who tries so hard to live in the truth is rejected by the powers that be, there is always One who will seek them out, and call them to a new life.
In my ministry, and yours, I hope that we are able to stand with Jesus, offering good news of transformation, grace, love, and acceptance. I hope that we find the endurance that Christ has to seek out those who have been rejected to offer new life. I hope we never get so overwhelmed by alternative and comfortable facts that we neglect the truth that exists around us. Even more, I hope that we never let those inaccuracies manipulate grace and truth into oppression and neglect.
I am comforted to know that we are never alone in our efforts to love God and neighbor. I am comforted to know that scripture is full of people who try and fail. I am comforted to know that Jesus had the same struggles that you and I now share. How do we proclaim truth in a society that rejects truth? We follow Jesus’ example. We love those pushed to the side. We come alongside those who are hurting. And we tell the truth.
The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber is the Associate Pastor of Congregational Care and Community Outreach at Decatur First United Methodist Church. He was recently commissioned as an Elder in the United Methodist Church after serving as a Local Pastor. Patrick is a graduate of Candler School of Theology with a focus in religious and non-profit leadership.