It has been suggested that the origins of denominations occurred when the healed blind men met each other. At first they were all excited about the miracle of sight that Jesus had given them, but as they talked about how Jesus had healed them, they began to discover some significant differences. For some, the healing came with simply a touch from Jesus (Mt 9:29; 20:34). Another proudly boasted that he had enough faith so that Jesus didn't have to touch him to perform the miracle (Mk 10:52). Another meekly exclaimed that Jesus not only touched him twice, but also "spit on his eyes" in order for him to see clearly (Mk 8:23). The final one really felt embarrassed to admit that even though a touch wasn't part of his healing, Jesus' "spit" wasn't enough. Jesus had mixed his saliva with dirt and put the mud on his eyes and then told him to go and wash in some pool of water (Jn 9:6-7). Since each one thought his healing was normal and better than the others, they divided into spittites and non-spittites; muddites and non-muddites; touchites and non-touchites. Denominationalism was born.
We continue this week with the theme in John of Come and see. This time, the play on words is the multiple meaning of the word see.
The story begins with the disciples asking about a common belief in ancient times: that disability was caused by sin, either one’s own or one’s parents. Jesus quickly debunks this idea, and takes the opportunity to point to the glory of God by healing the man.
Certainly, some things we do can cause us harm; and some things parents do harm our children. But it appears it was a natural birth defect that caused the man’s blindness. The man himself does not seem to have been troubled by his blindness enough to ask Jesus for healing. But Jesus wants to heal him in order to point to God and God’s desire for healing for all people. After the healing, Jesus moves on, and is not part of the story until he returns later.
The majority of the story focuses on the way the healed man must repeatedly tell his story and the effect it has on the man and on those who hear his story. We’ve all had experiences which were so exciting, or sad, or scary that we needed to tell our story to as many people as would listen.
In the case of the blind man healed by Jesus, there is a variety of people asking about his story, and a variety of reactions to his healing.
The neighbors don’t believe it i the same man. The healed man has to tell and retell the facts, and insists over and over that he is the same person who used to be blind.
The Pharisees complain that the healing had happened on the Sabbath, and so Jesus the healer must be a sinner and therefore definitely not from God. As the healed man is asked his opinion, he says Jesus is a prophet.
Although the man’s parents must have been delighted, they are afraid to say anything to the Pharisees, so they send the Pharisees back to their son. “Yes, he is our son, and yes, he was born blind. We don’t know what happened. He is old enough to speak for himself. Ask him what happened.”
When the Pharisees return asking the same questions, the man becomes terse. “Why didn’t you listen to what I said before? Why won’t you believe me?” And again, “I don’t know how he did this healing, but I know that I can see now. … Maybe you’re asking all these questions because you would like to be his disciples, too.” But of course, the Pharisees are not interested in following Jesus, except to keep a careful eye on him. In the end, the man is kicked out of town for causing such a stir.
With each set of questions, the man grows in faith and understanding of what had happened and who Jesus was. Finally, at the end of the story, Jesus reappears and hears the man has been harassed about the healing. It seems Jesus has actually gone looking for the man, to care for him, to see how he is doing. By now, the man is ready for the next step in his faith. Jesus confesses that he himself is the Son of Man – the only time he does so in John. And the man worships Jesus.
The gospel story turns on the play of words and thoughts: the formerly blind man is physically able to see, and spiritually able to see that Jesus is the Son of Man, that Jesus is worthy of worship. The Pharisees, who have always been physically able to see, are spiritually unable to see who Jesus really is, and therefore are blind. I’m sure we all know people like this, who think they can see the truth, but are – in our opinion, at least – really blind.
Instead of putting a lot of attention on this aspect, I want us to think about story telling. The healed blind man told his story repeatedly in a short time, to his neighbors, to the Pharisees, and I’m sure to his parents. He must have told it repeatedly for the rest of his life, as he brought more people to believe in Jesus. He probably started out something like this: “I was blind, Jesus came, and now I see. I see you and the world around me, and I see that God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God. Let me help you to see, too.”
We all have faith stories. Most of our faith stories are much less dramatic than the healing of this man who was born blind, but we all have stories. We can start at the beginning, with baptism. Most of us were infants when we were baptized, but our parents and family told us the stories. At least we may know who our God-parents are – or were. What does it mean to you that you were baptized? I know that Auntie Vi and Uncle Bob were my God-parents. Auntie Vi died while I was in college, but Uncle Bob came to my ordination. That connection is very meaningful to me. Over the years, I have come to understand my baptism as the beginning of my life of following Jesus, and my calling to use my gifts to serve God.
Most of us went to Sunday school. What stories can you tell about going to Sunday school? Who were your favorite teachers, and why? What was your most surprising learning? What pranks did you play, and what did you learn from playing pranks? I remember that I wasn’t taken to Sunday school, and in later years, I regretted that I never had that opportunity.
Many of us went to Confirmation Class, where we learned the basics of the Bible Luther’s Small Catechism. Who were your teachers? Who was in your class? Do you still remember what you memorized? Did you take sermon notes? I remember sitting in the front pew with others in my class, but feeling like an outsider because I hadn’t grown up in the church. My Dad took me to church once in a while after I was confirmed.
In your lives, where has God been present? How has God been present in the good times, and in the bad times? For what do you give thanks to God? When were you angry at God?
I can tell stories about how God was with me in good times and bad; when I met and married Jim; when my sons were born and while they were growing up; when my brother died; when I was learning leadership in Women of the ELCA; when I chose to file for divorce; when I couldn’t find a better-paying job; when I headed off to seminary. When Mike and I met, we felt God had put us together. In each of my calls, in each congregation, I knew – and know – God put me at each place for a reason that was not clear at the outset, and can only be discerned in looking back.
You all have stories, too, some similar to mine, some very different. We can use our stories to help others get through similar times in their lives. For example, it often happens that women – and men – who have more experience in being widows or widowers help those who have recently lost a spouse. It’s been touching and a blessing for me to see the care you all give to help others carry on.
I know that most of the time, the people we all hang out with are members of churches, this church and other churches. But we know other people who may not go to church, people we see regularly: our lawn care people, our bug people, our car care people, our grocery cashiers, our hair dressers, our doctor’s office nurses, and so forth. The longer we get to know them, the more we share little stories, stories with similar content. As we share stories we who believe in Jesus can include stories about how Jesus helped us through the tough times, or how we imagine Jesus in the fishing boat with us – telling fish tales, and so forth.
These can become opportunities to share a joint faith, or to help someone who has little faith find a deeper faith. We need not worry about what to say, we can simply trust in the Holy Spirit to put words in our mouths, and to help the listener hear what needs to be heard despite our words.
Some denominations encourage the telling of stories, calling them testimonies. When done with sensitivity, testimonies can help people grow in faith. And that is a good reason to tell bits of our faith stories.
But when we tell our own stories, we grow in faith as well, as we grow to see how God has worked in and through us. We see new aspects to the events in our stories as we look backward. Sometimes, even in those moments when we thought God was absent, we discover in the telling of our stories that God was present after all.
The blind man who was healed by Jesus came to understand more about his healing and about the Jesus who healed him by repeatedly telling the story. His faith deepened and matured as he shaped the story for the different listeners. He even became bold enough to challenge the Pharisees – something his parents were afraid to do. The better he understood his healing, the stronger his faith in Jesus became.
This week, look back for your own faith stories. Take a walk down memory lane and remember your baptism; see if you can remember the catechism; consider if God might have put you and your spouse together; look for those ways in which God helped you get through challenges; give thanks to God for the good times and for those times when you learned an important lesson.
Watch this week for those moments when you can share a bit of your faith story with one other person. I know full well it takes courage to share something so personal with others, so start with your family and close friends. If you are younger, you might tell your parents what you remember, and ask what they remember about the same events. If you are older, you might put these memories in a book or on a recording for your grandchildren.
With friends, you might start by saying you were making a memory book for your family, and tell one of the stories you would include. I think most of the people around us are hungry to hear our stories and to have the opportunity to share their own.
With this practice, the telling of our faith stories becomes more natural. Others may come to faith because of our story-telling; more likely, our own faith is strengthened and clarified because we have looked with eyes of faith at our life and walk with Jesus.
Please pray with me: God of mercy, you gave sight to the blind man, and challenged the Pharisees to see what they were missing. Help us to see your presence in our lives, and to tell the story to others, especially to those who are longing to hear the story. Amen