Blind Disciple of Jesus
John Hull argues with Jesus: “I always live in the dark. But for you, people who live in the dark are the evil incarnate. Me too, I want to feel as a child of light, if this light means God’s love! You need not heal me, but would you accept me as your disciple even if I remain being blind?”
This service was inspired by the following article written by Professor John M. Hull:
Open Letter from a Blind Disciple to a Sighted Saviour
(Presbyter Mrs. Jung:) Good morning, dear congregation!
At present, there is shrovetide in the town; in our evangelic church on this sunday we are keyed to the beginning of Passiontide though.
Let uns hear from the Gospel according to Luke 18:31:
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man.
On this way to Jerusalem, so we will be told from the Bible later, a great miracle happens: Jesus heals a blind man. In the sermon we will hear, what this story can tell us.
Now we sing from the song, Evangelic hymnal 303, stanzas 1, 5, and 6:
1. Praise the Lord, o my soul! I will praise him until my death; while I count hours on earth, I will sing the praises of my God. He who gave body and soul shall be praised from dawn to dusk. Halleluja, Halleluja.
5. Whoever suffers injustice, God gives them their right; whoever is hungry, God gives them living power; whoever is living in chains, God releases them; and his blessings are manyfold. Halleluja, Halleluja.
6. God recovers blind people’s sight, he raises them who are weighed down; where he can find some pious men, he lets them see his love. God’s supervision is protection and defense for strangers, widows, and orphans. Halleluja, Halleluja.
We pray in turns Psalm 146 (Evangelic hymnal 757:)
2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, in my life I will praise the Lord: I will sing to my God as long as I shall be. Put not your trust in princes:
3 In the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.
5 Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God:
6 Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.
7 Who keepeth truth for ever: who executeth judgment for them that suffer wrong: who giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth them that are fettered:
8 The Lord enlighteneth the blind. The Lord lifteth up them that are cast down: the Lord loveth the just.
9 The Lord keepeth the strangers, he will support the fatherless and the widow: and the ways of sinners he will destroy.
10 The Lord shall reign for ever: thy God, O Sion, unto generation and generation.
What does the Bible mean by saying that the Lord opens the eyes of the blind? He does not heal all of them. Is it a symbolic meaning? Is it a matter of in-sight, of per-spective?
God, you are the Light, donate us the light of your truth, regardless of how good or bad our eyes are able to see. Help us not to be blind for your Love.
Let us pray with Psalm 27:1:
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?
Let us praise the Lord! „Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Many times we say: “He talks about colours like a blind man.” But we sighted people often are talking about blindness without asking blind people how it feels beeing blind.
We beg you, God, that we do not hurt people by our way of speaking. Help us to be a congregation in which nobody must feel excludes. We pray to you, God, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Amen.”
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.
8 For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.
9 For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth.
Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Halleluja. “Halleluja, Halleluja, Halleluja!”
We sing the song 302 in the Evangelical hymnal, stanzas 1, 5, 6, and 8:
1. Sing, my soul, sing a beautiful song for Him who is served by all creatures. I shall praise the Lord most High being down on the earth; for my whole lifetim I shall cordially praise Him.
5. He knows many thousand ways of saving from death, he gives food in times of famine, makes red cheeks even with a poor meal; and who is kept imprisoned, he puts out of their agony.
6. He is the light of the blind, enlightens their face, and sets upright who is weak. He loves all the righteous people, and who confide and come to Him, they find their best friend in Him.
8. Oh I am too little to praise His glory; the Lord alone is King, I’m only a limp flower. Yet because I belong to Zion in His tent, it is only fair to sing His praise in front of all the world.
We listen to the text for the sermon in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 18, verses 31 to 43:
31 Then Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man.
32 For he shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon:
33 And after they have scourged him, they will put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again.
34 And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.
35 Now it came to pass, when he drew nigh to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the way side, begging.
36 And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant.
37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
38 And he cried out, saying: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.
39 And they that went before, rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me.
40 And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto him. And when he was come near, he asked him,
41 Saying: What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: Lord, that I may see.
42 And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight: thy faith hath made thee whole.
43 And immediately he saw, and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Dear congregation, is that a fine story or is it annoying? And if it is fine or annoying, which part is more fine or more annoying?
Firstly, Jesus announces what will be done with him: mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, let him die a miserable death on the cross. That he will rise in the end, can easily be failed to hear. Later in St. Luke’s Gospel, two disciples can’t remember just this on their way to Emmaus. What Jesus is foreseeing, is a dreadful catastrophe for them and no fine story. Full three times Luke emphasizes that the disciples just don’t figure anything: They understand nothing. The saying is hidden from them. They don’t grasp what he wants to say.
Immediately after that Luke relates, how Jesus, on the way to his own personal distress, meets a man who lives in need right now. He is blind, so at that time he cannot look after himself, he has to go begging, he is said to be punished by God, he is pushed around and they try to silence him, when he pushes himself to the fore. With this man Jesus performs a miracle; Jesus heals him, recovers his sight. The people then regard this second part of the story as fine. Praising songs are stricken, terrific that Jesus is able to do a thing like that. So he proves that he is really the son of David and will be the King of Peace in whose kingdom nobody will live in need or ill or disabled.
But a blind man or woman today, how would they react to the second part of our story? In my three months sabbatical one and a half years ago, I got to know the British Professor of Religious Education, John M. Hull, who lost his eyesight 33 years ago at the age of 45. I was very impressed with his “Open Letter to Jesus”. Being himself irrevocably blind, he felt offended because Jesus “did restore sight to the blind, although I am very happy for the individuals who were thus restored”. Jesus heals blind people, but not every one of them. Or would he do so, if each and every blind man or woman had more faith, more persistence in prayer? Should he attend a healing service? John Hull has “never felt free to attend such services, because I think that my attendance would be read in an ambiguous way. Some people might think that I was coming in expectation of the restoration of my sight.” It seemed to him that Jesus only was interested in blind people in order to heal them. But why there was not a single blind man among the disciples of Jesus?
34 years ago, before I took up my first post as a parish minister, I did a special placement in a blind school. At that time in Friedberg we talked about praying in class. A blind schoolgirl said: “When I have a difficult thing to deal with, praying mostly helps me to get calmer, I try harder, and maybe I come off better, or maybe not.” She would not ask for impossibilities. Formerly, she often had wept and prayed: “Why am I not able to see?” But nowadays whe would pray: “Help me to be able to cope with my blindness, give me people I can rely on.”
Another blind pupil didn’t like the story of Jesus healing a blind man with spittle and clay. That would be impossible. He himself would not really wish to be sighted again. Even so he would pray to get hope für his life. One of the 12 year old schoolgirls had a crucifix, and when being very sad, she embraced it during her prayer and felt the man on the cross and was comforted.
The blind pupils believed in Jesus, felt accepted by him. But they could make just as little use of the stories of Jesus healing blind people as the blind Professor John M. Hull.
What are we going to do now with the story that is told us by Luke?
At least, he not only tells of the healing. Quite empathetically, he depicts the blind man as very active, not as a mere passive victim of his disability. When hearing the crowd, he inquires what is going on. He makes use of his ability to raise his voice and loudly shouts: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even when he is rebuked, he keeps on and on crying. Both Luke and Jesus are sympathetic about this rebelliousness. I find it interesting that the blind man is the only one in the Gospel according to Luke who calls Jesus the Son of David. Maybe no one else is able to put into words the hopes of all the people in need in Israel better than him. He insists on not being excluded when the Messiah Jesus builds his kingdom of peace.
And what about Jesus? He lets himself being held up. He is standing still. Why doesn’t he himself walk over to the blind man? Maybe he wants to let him his way of being active. The blind man must be guided, and so he comes up to Jesus, self-initiatedly. Jesus allows him to come near him, but does not of his own accord cross a line which the blind man possibly doesn’t want to be crossed. Then Jesus puts the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Again, Jesus leaves him the responsibility for his life, takes him seriously as an autonomous person.
The concrete blind man in our concrete Bible story wants to be sighted again. Let me presume that his special blindness could be cured, because it was brought about by psychic and no mere physical causes. If someone lost his sight because he oder she experienced sexual abuse in his or her childhood and literally didn’t want to see the dreadful images never more – he or she may possibly get back his or her eyesight again by means of a psychotherapy. By saying to him: “Recover your sight!”, he encourages him to use his eyesight again at last and to perceive the world in a new way. The world is not only dreadful, not only blood red, there is also the colour of hope and of love. That is why Jesus says to him: “Your faith, your confidence, has made you well.”
But let us imagine, the blind man then had not been impaired in his basic trust, but lost his sight because of a mere physical reason. I want to go so far as to envision a conversation between Jesus and the blind Professor mentioned above. After all, John Hull himself wrote an Open Letter to Jesus; what could have been his answer to Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
I think, Professor Hull might have answered: “I know that my loss of sight is physically caused. Even you cannot give me back my eyesight. But I thank you for asking me what you can do for me.
I won’t ask you for books in braille or for a MP3 player or for a good training course where I can search the internet with voice synthesisers, for all these things aren’t invented yet. Nevertheless, I am grateful to God that he made it possible to have these inventions by now, for they are a great blessing for me being able to read and correspond with each other and to do academic work further on.
However, there is something I want to beg of you. I beg your empathy with my situation as a blind person. Once, when you were annoyed with the Pharisees, you insulted them (Matthew 15:14):
Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.
I know you meant that in a symbolic sense, but such a sentence is offending to me as well. For you should actually know that a blind man who has acquainted himself with a route can guide another blind person very well. Better than some sighted people. When I was led by a sighted friend, walking through a department store, the floor suddenly slided away from me and I almost lost my balance. ‘Sorry’, my friend said. ‘I forgot to tell you that we are going down on the escalator’. I know, for you that’s all still a long way off…”
John Hull could have continued arguing with Jesus: “I don’t like that you use darkness and blindness as symbols of sin and disbelief. I always live in the dark, it makes no difference to me whether I work by day or by night. But for you, people who live in the dark are the evil incarnate. Do you understand me? Me too, I want to feel as a child of light, if this light means God’s love! You need not heal me, that’s not what I’m expecting from you, but would you accept me as your disciple even if I remain being blind?”
Who knows, maybe Jesus would have answered: “You understood better than my sighted disciples what I just said to them. We are going up to Jerusalem, and I said to them what the prophets already foresaw, not with their physical eyes but with their heart, with the eyes of faith. They will deliver me to the Roman authorities, to the Gentiles who don’t believe in the One God who gives us freedom. I will be mocked and shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed. But my disciples don’t grasp anything of this all, and less than ever they realise that it will be not the end, nevertheless. My enemies cannot kill God’s love. All wickedness of mankind cannot hinder God raising me from the dead to achieve a new eternal life. My disciples understood none of these things.”
Here John Hull might interrupt Jesus: “Tell me, do I get you right that you really took our infirmities and bore our diseases, as Isaiah said about the Servant of God? (Isaiah 53:4) If that is right you help me more than by taking away blindness off a single blind person, but all others are remaining in blindness without help.”
“Yes”, Jesus might say. “You, my blind disciple with your blind eyes are looking deeper than my sighted disciples who don’t know their Holy Scripture and than the people that wants to see spectacular miracles. It may be more wonderful to bear a disability and live with it than to get rid of it by a snap. Your words are encouraging for me after all, for as for myself I know what to expect, and it will not be an easy matter. Thank you for helping me that I go my own way and drink this cup that I rather wished being passed away from me.”
That far the fictional conversation between Jesus and his blind disciple, Professor John M. Hull.
Later on, Luke tells us in his Gospel how the the servants of the High Priest mock Jesus and beat him; they also blindfold him and keep asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” (Luke 22:63-64) They humiliate him by mocking him as a blind man; at first hand Jesus suffers what some blind people have to endure by some sighted people. In his Open Letter to Jesus, John Hull wrote about this scene: “You have become a partner in my world, one who shares my condition, my blind brother.”
Later in the same day, when Jesus is dying on the cross, Luke 23:44-45 relates that
there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened…
So Jesus must die while the world is completely dark; for the last minutes of his life he becomes virtually blind; he has to bear the mockery of them who have crucified him, saying (Luke 23:35):
He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the elect of God.
Jesus cannot save himself from the cross. He cannot see the light of the world again. Yet still he does not die in complete despair. Instead he entrusts himself to the same God who has forsaken him, and cries to God with a loud voice (Luke 23:46):
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
That is the real great miracle: he keeps confidence even in total darkness and misery, condemned and mocked by enemies, let down even by friends.
Like Professor John M. Hull, I don’t need a Jesus who performs supernatural miracles. But I find it wonderful to trust in this Jesus who bears our infirmities and trespasses – so we can turn around and change the things we can, accept the things we cannot change, and get the wisdom to know the difference.
We sing the song 236 in the Evangelical hymnal:
1. You gave me ears, I cannot hear: You heal the deaf, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
2. You gave me eyes, I cannot see: You heal the blind, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
3. You gave me hands, I cannot create: You heal the lame, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
4. You gave me lips, I cannot praise: You heal the dumb, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
5. You gave me life, I cannot trust: You call the dead, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
6. You gave me people, I cannot love: You do miracles, Lord, have mercy on me, have mercy.
Let us pray and mutually bring our intercessions to God with the words: God our hope, “We beg you, answer our prayer!”
Gracious God, we ask you to help them who are afflicted with disabilities or suffer from people who obstruct their liveabilities. Help us to accept one another as we are, with our strengths and weaknesses, so that we together form the Body of Christ, your congregation, and help each other to even out our weaknesses by our strengths. God our hope, “We beg you, answer our prayer!”
Gracious God, we ask you to be aware of the real miracles that you work even today in our world and with us, too: that we gain hope in misfortune, that we dare confidence in the midst of anxiousness, and that we rely on love and practice love in a world that is not really fair and solidary. God our hope, “We beg you, answer our prayer!”
In peace and quiet we bring to you, God, what we personally have on our mind:
Together we pray with Jesus’ words that the kingdom of God may come to us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
We sing the song 629 in the Evangelical hymnal:
1. Love is not only a word, love, that is words and deeds. As a sign of love, Jesus was born, as a sign of love for this world.
2. Freedom is not only a word, freedom, that is words and deeds. As a sign of freedom, Jesus died, as a sign of freedom for this world.
3. Hope is not only a word, hope, that is words and deeds. As a sign of hope, Jesus is alive, as a sign of hope for this world.
Go with God’s blessing:
The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! “Amen, Amen, Amen.”