Part 4 of the series “Lent and Easter with Game of Thrones
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
March 30, 2014
John 9:1-41

Illustration by Rachel Ternes

John 9:1–41 • As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”   Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.” But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!” So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?” He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the Pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.” They asked, “Where is this man?” He replied, “I don’t know.” Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”  He replied, “He’s a prophet.” The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?” His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.” The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.” They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?” He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”  The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”  They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him. Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?” He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”


Brandon Stark, a nine-year old boy, usually called “Bran” by his family and friends, enjoys climbing.  He frequently climbs the walls of his family’s castle of Winterfell, balancing precariously along parapets and scaling sheer walls.  One day, while climbing to the top of an old tower, he sees something he wasn’t supposed to see, and in order to silence him he is thrown from the window.

While he survives the fall, he has no memory of what happened and he is seriously injured: he cannot walk.  He relies on a large stable boy called Hodor to carry him around.  It is not the life the second son of a lord would want.  While he is not his father’s oldest heir, he is still destined for a life of influence and he seeks to be a knight and a warrior.  But now, he is broken.  He cannot walk under his own power and he is viewed with pity and some even posit that it would have been a mercy if the fall had killed him rather than allow him to live in a broken body.

The universe of Game of Thrones is a fantasy but it reflects some typical medieval attitudes toward those who are seen as afflicted in some way. And very often, the affliction is not the fault of the person afflicted.

A custom in the Seven Kingdoms is to name bastard children with an identifying surname to point toward their dishonorable birth.  In the north, bastards are surnamed Snow, in the desert south they are surnamed “Sand”. “Rivers” in the Riverlands, “Flowers” in the reach.  This is done because bastard children are seen as the result of dishonesty and infidelity and are viewed with suspicion, as if their parents’ ill judgment were somehow inherited by the child. Naming them with a special surname is to help others know when they are dealing with such a person and in this world, the epithet “Bastard!” is a strong rebuke, full of meaning.  One of Bran’s own brothers is the bastard-born Jon Snow, treated with suspicion by many and with outright derision by his father’s wife Catelyn Stark.

Likewise, those born with some birth defect or with another congenital issue are often marginalized. People born with dwarfism or other genetic differences are generally viewed with suspicion, assuming such conditions to be the result of a curse by the gods.  The second born son of House Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, is a dwarf and referred to throughout the saga as “the Imp” or “the Half-Man” or other terms of derision.  His own father told him that but for being born of a house of noble birth, he would have been tossed into the sea after being born.  People hurl the epithet “dwarf” at him as they do the term “bastard” at Jon Snow.

And so it is interesting that three of the main characters of the show are a crippled boy, a bastard son, and a “broken thing”.  Three people considered broken and rejected by society are at the heart of the action.


Of course, attitudes toward those on the margins are nothing new.  George R.R. Martin need not have invented these prejudices: they have a long history in our culture.  We may no longer consider children born out of wedlock to be untrustworthy, but we still harbor prejudices against people with disabilities or people born outside the “normal” parameters of development.

Such an attitude is certainly on display in tonight’s Gospel lesson.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking along, they come across a man blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”   Stop to think about that question for a moment.  The disciples are asking whose fault the man’s blindness is.  Who is responsible? Surely, congenital blindness must be somebody’s fault.  It is a sign of a curse; surely it must be deserved.  The Pharisees assert the same attitude: “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?”

This is, of course, the same logic that would blame a bastard for being born a bastard, a little person for being born a little person, and would reject a crippled boy as lacking in utility.  It was a long-standing prejudice. And has yet to be fully rooted out of our own culture, where our inclination would be to blame the parents’ diet, or vaccines, or environmental factors, or some other culprit to explain how such a condition might be deserved.

But Jesus rejects the entire notion that the man’s condition is somehow a punishment; instead it is an opportunity: “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.”

Now, John’s gospel is full of ironic reversals.  Two weeks ago, David reminded us how it is the “unknowing” who actually seem to know on a deeper level.  Nicodemus, the one who failed to understand initially, seems to understand more fully than the disciples. And here, the blindness of the man born blind is contrasted with the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are divided over the question as to whether Jesus is a sinner or not.  Some claim that he is because he is a Sabbath breaker; others claim that he cannot be if he is able to perform miracles like this.

But much of the objection that Jesus’ critics make is that it is not possible for a person like Jesus to be a miracle maker. And it is just as impossible for a man born blind to be a vehicle through whom God performs signs and wonders.

As Jesus himself says:

Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Quite simply, there are people who are accursed by God for some reason and cannot possibly be ones through whom God can work. And that Jesus should claim otherwise creates offense for the learned and the pious.


Some time after Bran has his fall from the towers of Winterfell, Tyrion Lannister returns to Winterfell on his travels.  There he learns that Bran has woken from his coma and gives to Bran designs for a saddle.  The saddle will allow Bran to ride a horse again, using only the reins and his voice. When Tyrion is asked why he would do this for Bran (given the hostility between the Starks and the Lannisters and the suspicion that the Lannisters had something to do with Bran’s injury), he replies: “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things.”

Now, we can certainly understand why: as one of the “broken things” of his society, Tyrion has a natural sympathy for others who are viewed as accursed or afflicted or otherwise marginalized. But there is more at work. Tyrion, “the Imp”, the Halfman, loathed by his own father and his elder sister, nevertheless finds it in his heart to extend kindness to one so afflicted.  It makes sense in the context of George R.R. Martin’s story.

But it makes sense in the context of our story, too.  In the ancient world, those who were healthy, and wealthy, and wise were seen as blessed by God (or the gods, depending) and those with disabilities, or who lived in poverty or low birth, were seen as accursed by God.

But what Jesus shows us is that far from being removed from God’s love and grace, those on the margins can very often be the ones in whom we see God’s grace lived out most clearly.  It seems that God, too, has a tender spot for “cripples and bastards and broken things.”


And that is an exceptionally important lesson for us.  See, all too often we imagine that church is a place to come to get fixed.  Whatever is going on in your life, whether physical ailment, or emotional, or psychological, or spiritual, just come on down to church and we’ll fix you right up.

This, in turn, leads to the sense that if you feel broken in church, that you’re doing something wrong.  See, we may no longer as a society believe that people born with congenital disabilities or who suffer disaster are accursed by God, but boy can we unconsciously reinforce that medieval idea in the church.  Because we talk so much about God’s healing power and we talk about how God is capable of working all kinds of change within us that when we feel broken—and continue to feel broken despite repeated attendance at church—we feel that we have deserved it.

People can easily feel that everyone else has it all together and that they alone are broken.  They’re doing something wrong, else why would God have left them in this brokenness? Does God not love me?

And that’s why the church needs to be very clear: we are not a club for people who have it all worked out.  We are not a club for those who do not struggle.  We are a community of “cripples and bastards and broken things”.  We, like the bread we partake of and the Christ we proclaim, are broken.

But that brokenness does not remove us from God’s love—it reveals it.


God is not a God known only in glory and might.  As Christians we should know this.  And at Christmastime we are fond of talking about Christ coming in the vulnerable, in the weak. But rarely do we talk enough about God being known in the broken.

The Christ upon the cross is a broken Christ and in the midst of that brokenness we find healing through the solidarity of the One who is with us in the midst of our brokenness.

It is not in our brokenness that we are separated from God.  It is in that brokenness that we can encounter God in profound ways.

And so while the world may look at the afflicted as one having earned or deserved their fate, God sees the broken as those through whom God’s glory might be revealed. The world might view the mighty, the powerful, and the pious as blessed by God, but Christ reveals to us the tender spot in God’s heart for “cripples and bastards and broken things.”

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