Contributor: Amanuel Elias
Amanuel Elias is a youth pastor at Trinity Chapel, part of Paqad International Ministry, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He holds two master's degrees from the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, specialising in leadership and biblical and theological studies with a focus on the New Testament. He is dedicated to integrating biblical teachings into various fields such as conflict resolution, justice, social development, and economic empowerment. Amanuel is an active member of Tearfund’s Young Theologians programme.
The Jewish society in the time of Jesus was a typical replication of ancient Jewish traditions and literature; some misinterpreted the Old Testament Bible, and exhibited an undignified attitude towards disability. Particularly, the ancient Jewish community regarded blindness as the lowest degradation that could be inflicted on a person. For instance, blind people were exempt from all religious duties and, with certain exceptions, a blind person was prohibited from acting as a judge. The public reading of the Pentateuch (the Law of Moses) by a blind man was also forbidden. Blind people in the time of Jesus were vulnerable to all sorts of powerlessness, social injustice, marginalisation, and poverty. Nothing less applies to the blind person in John 9. He experienced refutation due to his identity as well as others’ perceptions of it. He was unlikely to be able to support himself by any means other than begging (9:8). This means of survival was also viewed in any case as a wretched life because Jews considered it better to die than to be forced to the disgrace of begging.
This man, who has faced such a hard life since his birth, becomes the centre of an argument about whether sin was the cause of his blindness. No one was paying attention to his suffering apart from throwing out their views about the source of his condition (9:2, 9:34). How terrible has his life become? How distressing to be the mark of such a painful arrow! No wonder he remained in agony. This is how it was until Jesus, the restorer, passed by his village (9:1).
As the story tells us, they brought the discussion to Jesus, hoping he would join them in finding the source of the man’s affliction. However, Jesus (the restorer) chooses to intervene rather than make a mere dialogue. He chooses to reflect his own light instead of further interpreting the "darkness" of the blind man. Jesus stressed manifesting the “glory of God” (9:3) and restoring the man not only back to sight, but back to life.
The idea of "back to life" here comprises two different aspects of restoration in the testimony of the blind person. The first one is a spiritual restoration as the man is introduced to the "light of the world" (9:5) who gave him his vision. More than being introduced, he gradually came to the fullest knowledge of who Christ is. His earlier reference to Christ was "the man called Jesus" (9:11), then he stepped forward to refer to him as a "prophet" (9:17) and later as "man from God" (9:33). Eventually, he ended up declaring that Jesus is the "son of God" and worshipping him (9:38). His spiritual restoration manifested in a progressive revelation about the identity of Christ.
There is also a second sort of intervention, which is a social restoration, that took place in the passage. After having an encounter with the restorer, the blind man was no longer at the spot where people had formerly seen him begging. He went back to the community. People later came not to give him alms, but to hear him witness the work of Christ (9:8, 15, 24). He is now just like a regular person in the community who is no longer dependent on others and free of social injustice and public rejection.
What does it mean to be a restorer like Jesus? Is being a restorer throwing out random opinions about the current difficulties in our world? Is it being a passive agent in the very obvious problems of our environment? The story shows us that restoration is not about being inert. Not only does Christ show the solution, Christ is the solution. The task of the restorer is to intervene to bring about both spiritual and social reformation in such a way that people have a restored relationship with God and with their environment. It is a call of restoring people from sin as well as from social injustice, accepted before God and the community. It is to produce "saved" and "safe" individuals in the eyes of God and in their environment, respectively. It is to join Christ in his work of revealing the "Glory of God" through restoring people "back to life."
Nirmala knows what it feels like to experience powerlessness, social injustice, marginalisation and poverty. But she also knows how it feels to have her sense of dignity and self-worth, her wellbeing, and her rightful place in her community restored.
As a visually impaired person, Nirmala used to sit at the very fringes of society in her village in Nepal. Community members didn’t involve her in any social events, and she used to feel ashamed to face people.
“No one would speak to or care for her. She felt isolated,” said staff from Tearfund’s partner organisation, the Welfare Association for Children Tikapur (WACT). “When she applied for a disability card, the disability card issuing committee and ward office refused her application, saying that she pretended to be a visually impaired person to get social security benefits. She said she felt very embarrassed and dominated by the behaviour of the community and government officers.”
Nirmala had started a small grocery shop, but it was almost empty as she could not arrange enough cash for the stock. To support the family, her husband collected waste plastics, iron and other materials by exchanging them for vegetables. However, the income was not sufficient to meet the daily needs of the family and their two children's education.
Into this challenging situation, WACT has helped to inject new hope and transformative practical support. Like many of Tearfund’s partners, WACT facilitates Self-Help Groups as a key way of empowering people in the communities it works in. These groups help some of the most marginalised members of a community to come together, support each other to learn more about their rights and health, save money and begin small businesses. It took some time to encourage Nirmala to join a group – initially, she told WACT staff that as a disabled person she lacked the confidence to join other community members in a group – but in time, she became a regular participant.
After being a member of a Self-Help Group, I received my right, which gave me lifetime support for survival.
As WACT staff got to know Nirmala, she shared that she suffered from severe headaches. The staff told group members about Nirmala’s situation, and they decided to allow her to stay in group meetings and leave the meeting when she needed to. With this encouragement, she started to attend meetings and participate in discussions. When she was too unwell to attend, her husband or daughter attended in her place.
“She said she felt delighted when group members took care of her and encouraged her in discussions,” WACT staff told us. “The group members picked up and dropped her off for meetings and visited her house when she was not able to attend the meeting.”
During the group meetings, Nirmala shared about her struggle with the ID card. The group facilitator explained to her that she needed an eye test document to prove that she was visually impaired. She visited an eye hospital, obtained her report and proceeded to get a disability ID card. With this, she was able to receive disability social security benefits.
After they started receiving the social security benefit, Nirmala and her family found new happiness. Her children became members of a children’s club through one of WACT's child wellbeing projects. Nirmala also received some financial support through this project, enabling her to stock her shop with groceries. The money she earns gives her a decent income that helps to meet the family’s needs, including her children’s education and their school uniforms.
“Nirmala also mentioned that now, her neighbours and community members talk with her, ask about her health, and behave well with her and her family.” said WACT staff.
“After being a member of a Self-Help Group, I received my right, which gave me lifetime support for survival,” says Nirmala.
Use these questions to guide your personal reflection or your discussion as a group.
Bring wholeness to those who need your healing today. Where hearts, minds and bodies are broken, we ask for your peace, your light and your power. Thank you that your vision for restoration goes beyond what we know to be our immediate need – you are working to restore life in all its fullness. Holy Spirit, show us where you have brought healing in our lives that we might bear witness and glorify your name. And make us people of restoration, binding wounds, bridging gaps, following Jesus’ example as we point others to him.
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