Throughout Lent, campus ministry leaders will provide devotions based on the Gospel lectionary scriptures. Nancy Janisch from United Campus Christian Fellowship in Grand Rapids invites us to listen carefully to the man born blind and how he honestly tells his story.
Director, United Campus Christian Fellowship
“Therefore, [the religious leaders] called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God’” (John 9:24, CEB).
This story is often called “the man born blind.” We should be careful about our language when discussing it.
I have had the opportunity to work with some college students with significant vision impairment. They are clear that their disability is not a problem to be solved. It is not a defect or condition that needs to be healed. And their disability should not be used as an object lesson, as this story often is used. Instead, they understand their disability as part of who they are and how God has created them. I want to respect and honor what they have told me.
As you read this story, notice how people don’t believe what the man born blind is telling them. People do not believe him when he speaks about his experience. Even though he is an adult, his parents are called in to validate his story. As this story points out, our ability to perceive correctly is not dependent upon our vision.
“Give glory to God,” the Pharisees tell him. This phrase means to tell the truth. And the man tells everyone who asks what his experience with Jesus was like. As the story progresses, the man gains clarity about who Jesus is. At the start of the story, he knows Jesus as a person—“The man they call Jesus” (v. 11). By the end of the story, the man recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah, proclaims, “Lord, I believe,” and then worships him (v. 38).
Most people in the story have trouble recognizing what Jesus has done. What Jesus does is so unexpected and unprecedented that they are unsure what to think. People doubt the man’s experience when he tells them. Even people who know the man don’t believe him. Jesus does the unexpected, and people don’t know how to react. So they are quick to label Jesus and the man as sinners.
Those of us who have been in the church for a long time may want to consider this story carefully. What new things is God doing that we are resisting? Are we too quick to label what we don’t understand as sin?
In our campus ministry, some of the students we work with are very worried about making a mistake; they worry about doing something wrong or believing something incorrect. Some students we work with have been hurt or shamed by the church. Some of our students have been told that who they are is disordered, broken, and sinful.
The reality is that each of these students loves Jesus. But they are afraid of sinning, fearful of more shaming and pain from the church, or they have been told that being their authentic selves is sinful. The church, which should be their safest place, has been a place of hurt, sorrow, and even rejection. Like our story from John 9, people often haven’t believed the students’ experiences. And like the man in the story, they have been excluded, even driven out.
When Jesus heard that the Jewish leaders had driven him out, Jesus went and found the man (v. 35). Jesus also finds our students. Of course, the truth is that Jesus never left them.
In our campus ministry, we give glory to God by accepting students for who they are and where they are in life’s journey. We help students give glory to God by taking their experiences seriously and believing them. We provide space and support for students to reflect on their experiences with Jesus. As they recognize the truth about who Jesus has been and continues to be for them, they develop the language to talk about their faith and Jesus. Then they can give glory to God.
We give glory to God when we tell the truth about how Jesus has been present in our lives. We give glory to God when we listen carefully to others as they tell their stories and give glory to God.
Holy God, we want to give you glory. Help us to recognize the many ways you are at work in our lives and in the lives of others. Grant us the wisdom and the courage to give you glory by telling and showing the truth of your great love for all you have created. Amen.