Miracle and metaphor – John chapter 9

Christians are sometimes ridiculed for our staunch belief in the miraculous; We claim a faith that links us to the power that created all that is; We are moved by the unseen Spirit of God to acts of unprovoked kindness, and we find kinship with those whose acts of grace and mercy are inspired by Jesus, whose resurrection we celebrate in spite of our extensive experience with the frailty of human life and the finality of death.

We fall victim to those who demand proof of the existence of this loving God we praise.  We are beset by those who are blinded by rationality; whose eyes are closed to wonder.  “Show us; convince us”, they say – and we are tired of having these arguments –  There are no winners in these endless debates about who may be right.

That argument is present in our Gospel lesson from John chapter 9 this morning, And not just in the text – many sermons on the miracles of Jesus force us to take a stand; Miracle or metaphor – which is it?  I will claim that it is both.

The real danger here is that we don’t give Jesus the credit he deserves.  He turns a hypothetical question into a lesson about the brilliant realities of faith, and we speak of miracles of healing – but one man receiving his sight is not the main talking point here; the real miracle is in attitudes challenged and changed.  John’s gospel uses miracles and metaphors to lead us to the truth about Jesus, and we often have trouble seeing past the physical miracles to the real miracle.

A blind man sees, thanks to a mask of mud, and even the experts of the day fail to notice.   The questions that swirl around this man’s encounter with Jesus (the questions raised by the supporting cast, at least) have to do with process and procedure; was this act of healing done illegally?   (Yes, it was the Sabbath).   Is this newly sighted man who he claims to be?  (yes, several witnesses eventually convince the questioners that there is no trickery here).  Can this remarkable event be explained by our understanding of the grace of God or the rules of nature? (which of course were very closely related) …well, no.

None of this makes any sense to those who should know; and then, a miracle.

The man born blind – marginalized all his life by the religion that claims him – is suddenly brought before the powers that be, and he is asked to explain his new state of being; “one thing I know, I was blind, but now I see.”

He is not concerned with the where, the when, or even the who and how; what matters is that his life has been changed by the attentions (and intentions) of Jesus.

A prophet, he calls him – one who knows things about God that are hidden to others, and who lives according to that knowledge.  His brief and very consequential meeting with Jesus has made him think profound thoughts, perhaps for the very first time.

He ascribes no ‘super powers’ to Jesus – (‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’) – the act of regaining sight seems very ordinary as he describes it.  But he does suggest that God is with Jesus in a way that is very real and quite outside his (or anyone else’s) experience.

It is worth mentioning here that our present sense of things miraculous is not altogether Biblical.  When we speak of miracles, we usually mean something has happened that seemed otherwise (to us) impossible – we mean that there is no rational explanation for the sudden return of good health or good luck;  “It’s a miracle!” they cry, and we can only rejoice.

Yet we hunger for the miraculous, and our desire to see miracles or experience a miracle can create a divide in the Christian community between those who stake their faith on the miraculous, demanding wonders of God by appeals to Jesus, and those who become sceptical; who reason that the time for such obvious miracles is past, and that the natural beauty of creation, or the complexities of the human body are miracle enough.

The miracle is not the obvious thing – the blind made to see or the lame made to walk – blindness can be metaphorical too (this is Johns gospel, remember) – the miracle is in the encounter with Jesus; whose confidence in the nearness of God and the goodness of God, brings God to life in the midst of an otherwise ordinary (and predictable) social situations.

The living God is revealed in the midst of stale religious arguments.  A man who had never questioned his faith, but accepted the judgements of the faithful (who sinned…that he was born blind?) is suddenly and successfully arguing theology with the experts…and winning – not because he’s an expert himself, but because he met Jesus.

His blindness was not a trick to bring belief, nor was it only a metaphor for our own short-sightedness.  When Jesus addresses his blindness, his physical condition, he puts himself (all all God’s glory) firmly in the present tense – in the midst of human suffering and need – That is the miracle.

And the time for miracles is not behind us.  Jesus, in his risen power, declares for all time “God is here!”  The works of God are in our midst – and we are co-workers in this miracle of grace.  Those who once were blind to that reality have their eyes opened; Those whose faith was flattened by circumstance have their sight restored, Every day we are given the chance to see our lives  touched by the presence and purpose of God.  That is miraculous; not impossible – no need for scepticism –always within reach.  All because someone met Jesus.

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One Response to “Miracle and metaphor – John chapter 9”

  1. Iona Says:

    God’s glory in the midst of human suffering and need, the chance to see our lives touched by the presence and purpose of God. Yes.
    Thanks.

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