“Surely We Are Not Blind, Are We?”
John Chapter Nine
The debate in this chapter focuses on the man who was born blind, Jesus restoring his sight, and the Jews and Pharisees’ questioning of this miracle. The setting continues at the Feast of Booths. Jesus is walking along and noticed the man who had been blind from birth. The Disciples asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, as the cause of his blindness. The question suggests that his or his parents’ sins are the reason he was born blind. Jesus shared with the Disciples that neither the man nor his parents were born blind. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. It is interesting that “he was born blind” is not in the original Greek text.
According to Boring and Craddock, “the sense is that the presence of the blind man provides an occasion to do something about it. The Bible begins with the reality of sin, without providing an explanation.”[i] In addition, “the assumption that misfortune is the result of sin is widespread, even among those not overtly religious – what did I do to deserve this?”[ii] Human nature needs to have a reason why things happen. “This innate human desire sometimes finds expression in a particular theology that explains physical evil as the result of sin.”[iii] In other words, there are times in life, when we cannot explain, with any rationale sense, why things happen. So many of us, seeing the human condition, blame sin as a consequence of our disabilities, inabilities, sickness, and poverty.
Jesus made a concoction of mud from his spit and dirt, placed it on the man’s eyes, and instructed him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Siloam is interpreted as “sent.” The phrase can represent Jesus Christ himself being sent into the world. “The man longed to be able to see but does not ask to be healed. Jesus takes the initiative and gives him a command.”[iv] The blind man does what he is instructed and is cured of his blindness. His neighbors and others began to question how he is able to see. They knew him from his childhood; he was always blind, so why is he able to see now – at this present time?
The man shared with the Pharisees what Jesus did to him. They brought him to the Jews. Of course, it was the Sabbath when Jesus healed the man, which is the basis for the leaders’ allegations. They asked the man how he received his sight. The Jews did not believe he had been blind. After questioning him several times, the man told them to go and ask Jesus – all he knew was that he was blind, “but now I can see.” They accused Jesus of being a sinner, therefore how could a sinner heal someone. It is important to note that the man speaks from his own experience. “It is only later that he becomes clear about the identity of the one who had given him sight. This is the reflection of Christian experience; Christ does not wait on us to have the right Christological understanding before calling us to discipleship.”[v] The Jews asked the man’s parents about their son’s blindness and sight. The parents were afraid that they would be expelled from the synagogue if they confessed their faith. So, they told the Jews, “He is of age, ask him.”
After the back and forth debate the second time, the man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.” They answered him, “we know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to the one who worships him and obeys his will.” They drove the young man out of the synagogue because he questioned their belief. The Jews argued that they served the God of Moses, which is, the God of Jesus. “The Johannine Church, in choosing to follow Jesus, did not understand themselves to have rejected Moses and the Jewish Scriptures. In following Moses, they followed the claims made by Jesus as God’s son.”[vi] Do the Jews believe the God who spoke through Moses or the God who spoke through Jesus. Some followed, and some did not. In other words, the tension is between Judaism and Christianity, which eventually separated from each other, and how choosing one over the other, would impact their standing as Jews. For us as readers and believers, they are one and the same.
Jesus heard they had driven the man out of the synagogue. Jesus said in Mark 2:10 that “those who come to him, he would in no wise cast out.” So, the irony is that they cast the man out of the synagogue for following the one who would not cast us out. When he found the man, he asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man? He answered, “And who is he?” Jesus revealed to him that he was in fact the son of man – “you have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” The man replied, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped him. Was this the work that God wanted to reveal in the man? And to us as readers?
Some of the Pharisees heard Jesus’ conversation with the man. They said to Jesus, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus responds, “if you were not blind, you would not have sin. But now you say, “we see,” your sin remains. Jesus came into the world, not to blind it, but so that we could see. This story is a “representation of the meaning of the Christ event as a whole. Jesus never literally blinded anyone, but the effect of his advent and the Christian message was to show that those who claim to see by their own standards have become blind, and those who acknowledge their blindness are given sight by the one who is himself the Light of the world.”[vii] I share the words of John Newton to end this post as he penned the words in 1779 as an affirmation of what blindness meant to him. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind but now I see.”
[i] Boring and Craddock, the People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 318.
[v] Ibid., 319.
[vii] Ibid, 320.