Summary: This is one of many healings recorded in the gospels but it is different in many ways to the otheres.
This is week three of Old School Sunday School. And we sometimes think of Sunday School as a fairly recent phenomena, something that became a part of our churches in the fifties, when the parents of the boomers were filling churches with their growing families.
But the first Sunday schools were set up in the 1780s to provide education to working children on their one day off from the factory.
The concept of a “Sunday” school was proposed by Robert Raikes, who raised the possibility in the Gloucester Journal. His idea was supported by many clergy of the day, it aimed to teach the youngsters reading, writing and cyphering and a knowledge of the Bible.
It was another 90 years before children would be able to attend school during the week. Within five years of the birth of Sunday School we are told there were over a quarter of a million English Children attending classes, that’s pretty impressive.
But most of us are more familiar with the Sunday School of our childhood with opening sessions, games, contests, learning memory verses, singing choruses and learning our bible stories via the ever present Flannel Graph”
This morning’s story is one of those Jesus stories that kids learned back in the day. (Tell the flannelgraph story about the blind man)
This is another one of those stories that make you go hmmmm. Not because Jesus healed a blind man, he healed all kinds of blind people in the gospels and he healed them by themselves, and in pairs and in groups. But this story was different, different in the way it was initiated, different in the way that Jesus approached the blind man and different in the way he healed the blind man.
John 9:1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.
The Meeting was Different If you are familiar with most of the healings that Jesus is credited with in the New Testament you know that they were initiated by either the person who needed to be healed or by someone close to them, a relative or a friend. Either someone came to Jesus themselves asking to be healed or approached him as he passed by or they were brought to Jesus. But in most of these cases it was a conscious effort by someone. The man with the demon possessed son, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment when he was in the crowd, or blind Bartimaeus who began crying out to Jesus when he heard he was near. But this isn’t what happened in this story.
We are told that Jesus and his disciples were walking along the street in Jerusalem when they saw a blind man who we are told had been blind from birth. Now I don’t know what the blind man was doing, but I would suspect that he was begging, because the reality of the situation is that was all he would have been expected to do two thousand years ago. And before I began teaching in West Africa I really didn’t grasp the enormity of what it is like to have a major handicap in the developing world. We live in a society that is protected by a huge safety net and where people are encouraged to move beyond whatever physical challenges might limit them. And so while there are certainly some job opportunities that might be off limits for someone with no vision, there are opportunities out there. Not so in Jesus day, if you could not see and if there was no one to support you, then your only recourse would be to rely on the kindness of strangers.
And so Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see this blind man and it’s here the conversation gets a little awkward. Let’s pick up the story in John 9:1-2 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
A few years back when we were a polling station for the federal election we had some volunteers from the high school helping out. One young lady was assisting voters when they arrived, one elderly gentleman came in a wheelchair pushed by his wife. The gentleman was very frail and hunched over in his chair and so the young lady leaned over and very slowly and carefully asked if she could assist the gentleman. To which he snidely replied “I’m a cripple, I’m not stupid.” The girl was crushed.
And I wonder if this blind man wanted to say, “Hey guys, the sign says blind not deaf, I’m right here.”
I don’t know what prompted the question from the disciples, perhaps they were picking up on a previous conversation, maybe it was just a question one of them had and it seemed like the opportune time to ask it. And it’s still a question that is asked today, “What did I do to deserve this?” “Is my child sick because of something I did?” “What have I done wrong?” In the Old Testament book of Job, Job’s friends implied that all those nasty things that happened to Job had to be his fault, obviously there were hidden sin in his life.