A Foregone Conclusion
Discipleship: Belief with Strings Attached
If you attend church, listen to Christian radio, or read Christian blogs, you probably have heard someone mention discipleship. As in, “There are Christians, and then there are disciples. Guess what we want you to be?”
Actually, that distinction is an artificial one. The word disciple is the Bible’s term for a follower of Jesus. In short, discipleship is what Christianity is all about. If I am a true Christian, I am a disciple.
This series on discipleship will look at an episode from Jesus’ life from the Gospel of John. John Chapter 9 tells the story of a man who meets Jesus under unusual circumstances and becomes a disciple.
Miracles in John’s Gospel
John writes about Jesus with a magnifying glass in hand. He is not content just to tell us about Jesus’ miracles. He chooses to stick around to watch how people react after the miracle.
This is the case in John 9-10. When Jesus gives sight to a blind man, the whole religious establishment attacks the man.
John marks the irony of the occasion. Over the course of his story, a blind man sees, while those with perfectly good eyesight become spiritually blind.
The Usual Way of Thinking
Just prior to John 9, Jesus walks away from a heated argument with the religious leaders in the temple at Jerusalem (John 8:59).
John 9 opens with these words. “As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth (John 9:1). John’s wording, “As he passed by,” suggests a chance meeting with the man. The man begs on the temple steps, using the location to garner sympathy from those who encounter him.
The statement that he is “blind from birth” suggests that the man has no eyes at all, a condition now known as anophthalmia.
When the twelve see him, they ask, “Rabbi [the Jewish word for Teacher], who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9: 2)
The twelve live in a morally simple universe. They know nothing about genetic or developmental defects. In their world, blindness and other maladies are results of someone’s sin.
Their belief assumes that God rewards the righteous and punishes the evil with perfect efficiency. Therefore, some sin necessarily stands behind this man’s blindness. In their minds, no other possibility exists.
A Much Brighter Alternative
Jesus presents a different alternative. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
The beginning of discipleship stands in hope. In contrast to the disciples, Jesus offers possibilities.
John allows the story to unfold on its own. “Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:6-7).
What Just Happened?
Really, spitting on the ground and then smearing it on a blind man’s eye sockets? Isn’t that a little exploitative?
Obviously, Jesus doesn’t think so. And apparently, neither does the man. He just follows Jesus’ order. When he does, he sees for the first time in his life.
I like to dig beneath the obvious in the biblical accounts, so let me pose some questions. First, why did the man obey Jesus (no pun intended) sight unseen?
I suspect part of the reason lay in Jesus’ words, which may be the first positive words the man has heard in his life. When he hears graceful speech, the grace is irresistible.
The second question is more involved. Why does Jesus send the man away?
I think the answer lies in what he has created. His command to go and wash calls the man to act in faith. And now the man’s faith has made a whole human being. Later in the account, John will stress that before the man receives sight, he “sees” Jesus.
The Unfolding Drama
The drama will continue to mount when the Pharisees discover the man. The religious leaders become split in their opinions about Jesus. Some sense the power of the miracle, while others see only a broken Sabbath. In the midst of the controversy, the man will find himself caught in a religious inquisition.
Meanwhile, Jesus remains out of sight and lets the man endure religious brutality. But he knows his own, and he knows the works of God will grow in him.
The story is far from over.