Every now and then we should take some real time to check the soundness of our most basic assumptions. To put it differently, if we lose the capacity for saying “I could be wrong,” we just might be in trouble. I think that’s what happened to the council reviewing the strange report of a man healed from a blindness which had been his lot since birth. Today’s text (full text in John 9:18-41):
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
It’s difficult to conceive that any members of the membership committee, here designated simply as “the Jews,” ever set out to thwart the work of God. Quite the opposite was likely true: they began as diligent, conscientious people whose special task was the protection of the teaching of God and His ways. It was important, as it has always been and as it will always be, to distinguish between true and false ways of understanding God. Part of this endeavor, however, creates a tendency to think that our descriptions are final and that no others can speak to how we understand what God does where and when He chooses.
The boundaries of true and false, or even better and worse conceptions of God can draw tighter with time, making the chances of something breaking into that understanding more and more remote. For the council examining the healed man, it was inconceivable that God could work outside their control, and certainly that He would do so through one who had challenged their thinking and authority at every turn. Not because they were especially bad men; but because their zeal for God had slowly but fatally morphed into zeal for control of God’s work. So even when a man born blind now sees and stands before them, they cannot change their paradigm. One of us–this Jesus, the upstart, or we who have been here for generations–must be wrong and the other must go. Not even the evidence provided by an undeniable miracle could change how they would settle that question.
The evidence we have today of the risen Christ working in people’s’ lives, changing them dramatically continues to be provided, though not always as clearly as in the incident in the text. Those of us who have been called to be teachers are indeed charged with knowing what the Scriptures truly say about God and the world and how to distinguish between ideas that more nearly approximate the truth as it is in Jesus and those that stray from it. But we must never draw the boundaries so tightly that God Himself couldn’t show up and work outside of them. That happens when we fail to know the God in the Scriptures as well as we know the Scriptures and the history of their interpretation. We must be willing to be corrected on the latter; otherwise, we will tend to dismiss the ones born blind who now see because of Jesus.