3 Ablest Traps To Avoid in Preaching on John 9

The gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent provides some challenges and potential traps for interpretation, especially when considering the perspectives of the disability community. It is the story of the blind man who was given sight in John 9.

The perspective preacher or teacher of the passage should be on guard for biases and aspects of ableism that they may bring into the interpretive work. Ableism, the belief that those with disabilities cannot function in society like others in ways that can dehumanize a person, can often come out in the interpretation of John 9 in subtle ways.

One potential trap to avoid is the belief that the person born blind requires help. This trap is a classic form of ableism where those without an apparent disability believe they need to help solve or fix the situation that the person may experience. The ablest person will convince themselves of their ability to help solve the person’s apparent problem and, sometimes, without asking the person if they can assist or if there is a need for them. When challenged, the ablest person will forcefully defend themselves as though they were only trying to help make the disabled person’s world better.

There is nothing within John 9 that would clue the reader into believing that he needed healing. That the healing was done as an act to represent the awakening to spiritual blindness does not counter that reality. It is when we presume that the man needs saving from his blindness that we permit the ablest mindsets to affect our interpretation of the passage.

Another potential trap is that we often presume the blind man cannot contribute to society. We see this in how the Pharisees and others speak over the person about what took place and often focus on that he would beg for money. As a result, we look at the lack of resources that the person has and contemplate how if the individual had a life that resembled the perspectives of others that they would not need to beg for money. This belief contributes to the ablest mindset that enhances the marginalization of those with disabilities and their families, as it presumes that a person with a disability cannot function like others.

When thinking through this trap, it might be helpful to reflect upon ways the church has directly or indirectly marginalized people with disabilities. The interpretation could look at how, for instance, the continued practice of eugenics has contributed to the idea that only those perceived as “normal” can survive in the world, and those with differences (especially with disabilities) must be kept at a distance. It could be worth a congregation’s time in worship to reflect on aspects of distancing and keeping at the margins those with disabilities and their families, repent, and seek forgiveness from God and the community.

One last potential trap is that we often believe the blind man could only speak once Jesus healed him from his blindness. We might see this in how he only talked to defend his healing. The ablest interpretation presumes that a person with a disability is unable to fully use their voice (or communication tools) to give witness to their faith and advocate on behalf of others. As a result, we quiet the voices of those with disabilities, their families, and caregivers. We are often only willing to hear from them if they meet our preconditioned ideas about the disabled community.

What the church might need to hear from the passage is how God uses multiple voices from various experiences to share the gospel’s hope. The church should never limit the witness of the church to only those from a specific perspective or experience, as it hinders the ability of the church to see how God is at work in all walks of life. We are better able to experience Christ’s love we hear from those with various disabilities, their families, and others, about their love of God and how God is using them, through their challenges, to share the story of faith with others.

These are just a few potential interpretive traps. There are others. As always, the interpreter should engage the text with caution, check for any biases, and celebrate the love of Christ that is with all, especially those with various disabilities and their families.


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