In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples assume some sin was the cause of his disability. Obviously, someone was to blame for what they saw as a curse. Jesus tells them his blindness was given by God for the purpose of his glory.
That’s it. That’s the only reason he is blind. It’s not a tragedy. It’s not a curse. It’s just how God planned to make him.
Then Jesus gives him sight.
Then Jesus disappears from the text and we follow the man through the aftermath of the miracle. The people he interacts with begin to ask, “Wasn’t he a blind beggar?” Some decide, “Nah, he just looks like him.” John tells us that the man “kept saying, ‘I am the man.’”
The people ask how he now sees so he tells them about Jesus’ miracle. They don’t believe him though. His word is not enough.
He is taken to the Pharisees. Their first observation is that this supposed miracle occurred on the Sabbath so it could not have been God’s doing. They argue with each other and the man about his claim, deciding this miracle business must be a lie.
They bring the man’s parents into the debate to see if he was actually born blind. His mom and dad acknowledge he was, but quickly wash their hands of his claims about Jesus. They were scared the Pharisees would cast them out of the synagogue. He’s on his own.
The man is brought back out and questioned again. He won’t change his story. They don’t believe it, because they don’t believe in Jesus. After some back and forth, the man expresses frustration at the whole debate and explains that it makes no sense for them not to believe in Jesus if he is able to give sight.
His point is logical, if not compelling.
“They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.”
He was rejected by the faith community, cast out of the synagogue, because he testified that Jesus had given him sight. They rejected Jesus, so they rejected him. Their response defies reason, but knowing their position on Jesus makes it unsurprising.
But there is more going on here. The man himself is worthless to them, not just because he is with Jesus. He’s worthless because he was born blind. He was “born in utter sin” by their estimation. He is not a man. He is something lesser.
News of his being cast out prompts Jesus to go look for him. I love that. He wasn’t the trash he’d always been told he was. Jesus saw him as worthy of his love, inviting the man to follow him. And the man does. The scene ends with the man worshiping Jesus, and Jesus speaking judgment on the Pharisees.
And then the Pharisees are compared to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in chapter 10. They are called thieves. They come only to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came to give abundant life.
This abundant life is offered to all people. And we see Jesus’ special concern for the marginalized. Especially those marginalized by the religious leaders who abuse their power. We see it clearly here as Jesus extends his love and care to this man born with a disability.
As we enter Down syndrome awareness month, I invite all people who follow Jesus to consider his heart for the marginalized.
My son and the rest of the disability community are often looked down upon, treated as disposable (“the virus only impacts the vulnerable”), and experience discrimination, and it often occurs at the hands of the church. It can be obvious or it can be subtle, but it happens. And it begins with an assumption deep down that the disabled aren’t quite as important as the rest of us.
Jesus had very harsh words for religious people who see and treat people created in his image as lesser.
Let’s examine our hearts to be sure we see people the way Jesus does.