March 26, 2017 | John 9:1-41 | Lent 4
Make it a Blockbuster Night!
Back in 2000, a tech entrepreneur named Reed Hastings flew out to Dallas to meet with John Antioco, CEO of Blockbuster. Hastings proposed that Blockbuster purchase his fledgling DVD rental-by-mail service. His price tag? $50 million. Antioco, whose company was valued at nearly $3 billion and had almost no competition in the video rental industry, passed.
By 2010, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy and gone the way of the dinosaur. And Hastings’ company? It’s a name you might be familiar with: Netflix.
Blockbuster’s failure to adapt to the changing landscape of technology, social media and consumer trends is a lesson taught in many an MBA classroom today. And Antioco, who was widely respected by fellow executives, ended up blinded by his own successes and failed to see that, in Netflix, the future had arrived.
But this story is a cautionary tale about being blind in business matters and making poor decisions that ultimately derailed a video rental company – a sad event indeed but not exactly cataclysmic in the eternal scheme of things.
Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness
Jesus speaks of another kind of blindness in this week’s lectionary reading. Actually, two. The story opens with Jesus and his disciples coming across a man blind from birth begging along the edge of the road. His is a physical blindness, an inability to see with his own eyes. As the story goes, Jesus heals this man and chaos and commotion ensue. And this leads to Jesus eventually calling out a second,more insidious, disease – spiritual blindness, the inability to see that one is spiritually sick and in need of help. Spiritual blindness was an apt description of the Pharisees and religious experts who came onto the scene.
What are the indications that the Pharisees were blind?
The Pharisees refused to believe the healed man’s testimony.
Clearly, something dramatic had happened to this man – let’s call him Hank – and others took notice:
8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”
The Pharisees asked Hank what happened. He gave them an honest account (v.15) They again questioned him, only this time they asked him, “What is your opinion of this man who healed you?” The guy must be a prophet, Hank honestly surmised.
But the leaders still doubted. So, they called in Hank’s parents and read them the riot act:
“Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”
I’m surprised that the Pharisees didn’t ask them if Jesus ordered the Code Red. Eventually, they summon Hank for another round of questioning and that sparks this testy exchange (it reads better if you imagine that Hank is one snarky Hebrew):
26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”
27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
The Pharisees see the same thing yet do not come to the same conclusion. They refuse to believe.
The Pharisees refused to see the evidence that Jesus was someone special; instead, they considered him a sinner.
Jesus made mud pies and healed Hank on the Sabbath and this proves problematic for the religious authorities. I see two distinct problems with their reaction. First, they already don’t believe that this was a legitimate healing. They are so skeptical that they even interview Hank’s parents to verify his identity. If they don’t believe a healing took place, why are they worked up about a non-healing that took place on the Sabbath? No healing = no work, right? Or did the Pharisees consider the mud-making as work? Either way, in failing to acknowledge the miracle, they also fail to see a transformed life. All they see is a violation of their strict Sabbath law.
Second, isn’t it ironic that they accused Jesus of “working” on the Sabbath….and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day in full investigation mode? Isn’t that considered work? On the Sabbath, people come to synagogue to worship and pray; on this day, they were given a sneak peek into the pilot episode of CSI: Jerusalem.
The Pharisees react with anger and rage when other people are celebrating and in awe and wonder.
Exhibit A of Pharisaic Rage:
28 Then they cursed him….
This was the Pharisees’ reaction to Hank giving them attitude from the verses mentioned above.
Imagine a scene at CUMC one Sunday where Chris Chui and Barbara Nagatoshi pray for Ellen Shirai’s knees. God answers their prayer. Then, Pastor Sam walks in demanding to know why there’s such a loud party going on inside Naeri Chapel. Ellen testifies. And then Psam drops some F-bombs on everyone because they aren’t ready for the Call to Worship. If this scene sounds surreal, then maybe you’re not blind.
34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw Hank[not his real name] out of the synagogue.
Somebody get these guys a Snickers. Jesus casts out blindness while the Pharisees cast out the blind who are healed. Something is wrong when anger blinds you to the reality that people have come to synagogue for spiritual nourishment and guidance.
In closing, these are a few of my takeaways from the story:
- Jesus clearly showed compassion and love to Hank and the point was taken further by Jesus when he said that this was his mission on earth – to give sight to the blind. The healing of physical infirmities was a sign, then, pointing to a deeper reality that Jesus came to alleviate spiritual illness. Hank became a living, breathing sermon illustration that the Son of Man came to do some serious work.
- But like the Pharisees, there are people even today who claim that they have no need of a Savior, of a Healer. There are also critics who openly doubt the transforming, healing touch of Jesus. It’s not on us to judge or criticize these people. However, I choose to believe that Jesus would want us to side with the Hanks of the world, even if that means ruffling the feathers of modern-day Pharisees.
- Let us be the church that regularly testifies and celebrates when the blind receive sight and encounter Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God.