Scripture: John 9:1-41
Did you watch the super bowl this year? The world’s biggest football game in 2017 will be remembered for two things. First, it will be remembered because seriously, how do you blow that kind of lead? Second, it will be remembered because of the halftime show. It was easily the best halftime show in years, and it will be the standard that at least the next five years of half time shows will be judged by. Nearly everyone was in agreement that the halftime show by Lady Gaga was thoroughly entertaining. It was a shining example of stagecraft and showmanship. I have to say nearly everyone because there was a small but vocal minority that took to social media to fat-shame her. For instance one of the mean tweets read “Lady Gaga fat, she looked like a sumo wrestler last night.” To the credit of Lady Gaga, she responded to these comments with grace and class stating: “I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I'm proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do.”
The bigger question is why on earth is fat shaming still a thing? Why do people feel entitled to make rude comments on a person’s weight? The terrible thing, is that the people who often make these judgmental criticisms do so with a sense of moral superiority. They believe they are actually helping the target of their scorn. On a recently published study on the phenomenon of fat shaming, professor Rebecca Pearl from the University of Pennsylvania said, “there is common misconception that [shame] might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health.” In a result that should be a shock to pretty much no one, this kind of fat shaming does not work. The study showed that those who were made to feel ashamed about their weight were actually less likely to exercise and more likely to have unhealthy eating habits. The study goes further to show that many people who have experienced fat shaming have internalized that shame, and assign any number of negative descriptions to themselves. This means when these people are asked to describe themselves they use words such as lazy, incompetent, and ugly because of their weight. Shame is a tool that is used to control and belittle people, it is a tactic that bullies are well versed in. Shame is a strategy that is used to tear other people down. The twisted logic goes that if you knock someone down then you are ahead of them. The act of public shaming has become a bit of a hot topic in recent years, and the episode with Lady Gaga shows that we are becoming more aware that it is an unacceptable behavior.
This morning’s scripture show that shame has always been a tactic that those on a high horse use to kick others down. This morning’s scripture also shows how Jesus deals with those who seek to shame. He ignores them, and he heals. Jesus healed the man of his blindness but he also healed him of his shame. We often pray for the sick and trust in God’s healing, but this scripture reminds us that Jesus heals more than the just the physical conditions. Jesus heals our emotional wounds and cures our spiritual blindness.
Even more so than today, shame was a large part of the culture in Jesus day. Honor and shame were much more codified. Everyone had an intrinsic understanding about how an individual should be held in honor or in shame. It was believed that those who should be the most ashamed, the shame manifest itself in physical ailments. This is why the scripture begins with the disciples asking if it was the man’s sin or his parents’ sin that caused him to be blind. The belief was that this man had done something so shameful, that God blinded him or his parents had so sinful that he was born as a living testimony to their shame. Jesus quickly contradicts this way of thinking, says it was neither, and heals him of his blindness. Jesus does more than heal him of blindness though. This man had spent his entire life being ashamed of who he was. He had been told by other that he should be ashamed of something he could not control, and now that mark of shame was gone. Jesus had done more than just restored his eyes. He had restored his heart and soul.
What happens next is absolutely fascinating. His neighbors do not recognize him. The man is no longer the blind, shame-ridden beggar they are used to. Not a single thing about his physical appearance changed. Yet, they do not recognize him, because they had only defined him by his shame. They could not see the man without seeing the shame they had prescribed to him and once that shame was gone they literally could not recognize him. From a literary stand point this is a brilliant piece of irony. Now that the blind man can see, he can no longer be seen. Some of his neighbors seem to be genuinely disturbed and upset by this so they take him to the authorities: to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
In general, we love underdog stories. We love it when in movies the unassuming character who has been pushed around or bullied is finally able to get the better of those who had tormented and put them down. We love it when the underdog is vindicated, has their day in the sun, and the high and mighty bullies are taken down a notch or two. This morning’s scripture has one of the best examples of this in the bible. The man who was blind is taken before the Pharisees. It would have been the Pharisees who taught this man that his blindness was because he was steeped in sin. It was the Pharisees who would have ascribed shame to this man and encouraged others to do this same. Now, this man humbles the Pharisees, and like the greatest underdog stories he does not do it maliciously. He ignores the hates and proclaims what he knows to be true. He was blind but now he can see. He was ashamed but now he has a new lease on life. The blind man recognizes Jesus as the one who healed him and recognizes that only one from God can do that. The Pharisees are confronted by their spiritual blindness. They claim to be the religious experts of their day, but they cannot see the work of God right in front of them. Again there is a deep irony present in that the blind can see what the expert cannot. The spiritual blindness of the Pharisees was put before them, and the Pharisees were confronted with a profound truth. They had the option of accepting this and changing their views or digging in their heels and lashing out. Predictably they chose the second. Jesus had healed the blind man and freed him of shame. Since the Pharisees could no longer shame him, they just lashed out insulted him, and ultimately threw him out.
Jesus healed a blind man on more than one occasion. Throughout the gospels Jesus heals a variety of individuals of many ailments. Jesus is a healer. Just like this morning’s scripture Jesus often heals more than a physical ailment, he often heals a person’s spiritual state as well. As we consider this morning’s scripture there are two ways that we should consider that we can experience Jesus as a healer.
Jesus healed the blind man not just of his blindness but of his shame. There are many of us who have experienced being shamed in our lives. There are many of us who have been told lies and we have internalized those lies. We have allowed the shame that other people prescribed to us to define us. I have mentioned it before, but I endured a lot of bullying in middle school. I was never stuffed in lockers, had my lunch money stolen, or any of the stereotypical behavior that media assigns to bullies. Instead, I was shamed terribly. By the words and actions of others I was made to fill self-conscious and terrible about everything I did and everything I was. I was made to feel like there was nothing likeable about me, and I began to believe that. I would be lying if I said that those emotional scars have fully vanished. For the most part I am over that time in my life and it is behind me. However, just like someone can have their bones ache when the weather changes, at emotionally vulnerable times I can begin to believe those lies again.
I am telling you all of this, because if you are someone who has been shamed, if you have been made to feel terrible about some aspect of yourself for so long that you internalize and believe it, then I get you. I know where you are coming from, and I have been there. On my weakest days, I am still there. I am telling you this because those voices that have told you that you are ugly, that you are worthless, that you are terrible, that you are a failure, and that you are not wanted are lies. Terrible, awful lies. I am telling you this because shame is not the end of my story. I am telling you this because what freed me from the lies that I believe is grace. I know that I am not worthless, because I fearfully and wonderfully made by the creator of everything. I know that I am loved and unique creation hand-crafted by God, and God does not make junk. I know that I am likeable, because God loved me enough that Jesus died for me-Not because he had to, but because he liked me enough to make that sacrifice. I know that the shame that others put on me does not define me, what defines me is my relationship with Jesus the Christ. Shame by its very nature is designed to throw shade on others, but Jesus heals us because he is the light of the world. Jesus is a healer, and he can heal us of our shame with the truth of his grace, love, and acceptance of us. That is the story I am currently living.
The second way that we need to consider how we can encounter Jesus as a healer has to do with spiritual blindness. Specifically, this scripture challenges us to consider how we might be spiritually blind. The religious leaders were so spiritually blinded that they could not see the work of God in front of them. They could not see the mark of grace upon the healed man. A man who had been healed by the literal power of God was before them. Yet, all they could see was a man who had been blind and was still worthy of being shamed by them. Unfortunately, in the body of Christ, in churches, there is much spiritual blindness and this blindness has led to so many painful stories. There are stories of those dealing with mental illness such as depression being made to feel like they do not fit in because their life is not as blessed as others sitting in the pews. There are stories of those struggling with addiction, unable to share their struggle and get the support they need because they only find shame and judgement in churches. There are stories of women, who after undergoing an abortion, sought reconciliation and forgiveness in a church only to be met with scorn and being shamed. There are stories of people who have a homosexual orientation in search of God, but in church all they experience are people so busy hating the sin that they make no time to love the sinner. All of these are stories of how churches have failed to love the world. They are all stories of how our spiritual blindness has impacted us. This morning’s scripture challenges us to look deep into our hearts and ask how we might be spiritually blind. How do we miss our opportunity to join in God’s work of bringing about reconciliation, healing and love in the world because our own bias and prejudice blinds us to where God is at work? If we can find a blind spot in our compassion for others, then let us pray that Jesus will open our eyes so that we might see.
This morning’s scripture is one of the dozens of instances in the gospels where Jesus is the healer. Jesus is still the healer today. He does not just heal our bodies, but Jesus heals our souls as well. If we have been hurt or shamed by others in life, then may we come to Jesus. He is the remedy for what ails us. If we have spiritual blindness, then may we come to Jesus. He is the remedy for what ails us. May we with open hearts and open eyes, seek Jesus-the light of the world, that in doing so we be a living example that better enables the blind to see.