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Word of Washing

Well, here we are again with a very full service planned as we hear and sing contemporary songs during our service. It will take on much of the form that we did last week so you won’t hear much from me during the service.

That being said, this Sunday is transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before we head into Lent. This is the day when we recall that event up on the mountain top when Jesus was transfigured, his clothes glowed white, and he was joined by Moses and Elijah. Here the disciples who were with him saw a different side the Jesus, their eyes were opened, and Christ was revealed to them.

What is interesting is that we don’t get this telling in our reading today, instead we get the telling of the man born blind. When we looked at the 2 healing stories a few weeks ago, I did foreshadow that we would be looking at this one now, this is the third and final healing that we get in this gospel.

This interaction with the man born blind has the disciples asking questions that many had perhaps thought about but were not too sure that they should be asking, was it his sin or the sins of his parents that caused this man to be born blind?

Even though not everyone in the ancient world agreed that disabilities were the result of sin or divine curses, we can see in the disciples’ question here a blunt assumption that someone must be to blame for the man’s condition. The answer is clear: his blindness was not because of his sin or his parents’ sin. Here this story can be a helpful corrective to what some may believe about disabilities today—that a disability is a punishment for sin. This is not true!

However, biblical healing stories can sometimes reinforce another problematic theology of disability—where people with disabilities serve as opportunities for the power of God to be demonstrated through healing. Not only does this objectify the person, it assumes that “healing” is always wanted and needed (which is not the case for all persons with disabilities), and it disregards the fact that “healing” in the form of “curing” simply will not happen for many people with disabilities. When viewed in context of the full Johannine story, this is a part of a pattern, where Jesus’ followers are often called to imitate him in fulfilment of his mission. We can imagine John’s readers (both back then and us today) doing the same. If Jesus’ work was to make God known, how do we carry on that work?

God’s works are revealed in the man born blind, but I see it a bit differently than I might have at first glance. Rather than a simple healing narrative, this man gets a surprising amount of stage time where he confesses belief in Jesus. He ultimately stands in stark contrast to the religious leaders who ironically do have sin and cannot see spiritually, even though they are not physically blind. The story helps us to remember our own assumptions about the relationships between sin, disability, and healing. It reminds us that many of these assumptions have affected even the processes of translation, and every time we read we can approach the text with care and creativity, humility and hope.

Inspired by Lindsey S Jodrey’s commentary on the passage

Jay Robinson

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