John 9: 1-12
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9 Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10 But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11 He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12 They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
Today’s gospel reading tells of the healing of a blind man at the pool of Siloam. It is one of a great many healings Jesus did. It seems that almost wherever he went, people came forward and he healed them. We read of him on one occasion working, exhausted, long into the evening, to attend to all those waiting patiently outside the house where he was staying.
If the gospels were redacted to remove all references to his healing miracles, they would have more blacked out sections than any reluctantly released government report – on either side of the Atlantic.
So it’s hard to enter into the gospel portrayal of Jesus without engaging with his work of healing.
And yet he seemed to go to great lengths not to be defined as a healer, either swearing the healed to secrecy, or as in today’s reading, disappearing from the scene. Healing was not his life’s purpose.
Had it been so, posterity would have easily forgotten him, for as a healer he failed to have any lasting impact. There were many, many more sick people in Palestine, let alone the world, who he did not heal. If we imagine contemporary statistics on death rates from disease, they would not have changed noticeably in the three years of his active ministry.
And his healings were only temporary. All those who he healed went on, at some point, to contract new diseases and to die. Even Lazarus eventually succumbed a second time, with no reprieve.
So in understanding the lasting significance of his healing acts, I suggest we look to what they show about his love, for the whole person, his compassion, the fullness of his humanity.
Reflecting on my own experience of sickness, two things come to mind. Firstly that sickness brings fear. I recall Mark Folland (who was a member of this congregation): After he had been diagnosed with cancer, he told me he had not realised how much fear was a physical condition. This fear, which is also experienced I think by those close to us, is not something we can control or banish, however hard we pray.
And secondly, we find our world shrinking, we withdraw into ourselves, physically but also mentally. I found myself, even when out meeting with others, returning frequently in my thoughts to my illness, to how I was coping. One of the most satisfying things about work was being able to regain, temporarily, that old sense of authority and focus on something other than cancer.
These are themes for this current time – fear and isolation. And I imagine that this is what Jesus saw in the faces and hearts of those who came to him for healing, and which moved him powerfully to compassion, and so to reach out with love.
And so today we invite him to be with us in spirit, in our shared and now virtual communion, to extend to us his compassion as we struggle with a new fear, a new isolation. And we set no limit on the mysterious workings of this love, its quiet power to bring us together, to make us whole, to sustain our hope and to heal us.