Easter Gift: The Ability To SEE What God Is Really Like

Read John 9: 1-41

 The theme for my last post was Jesus’ claim to be the “light of the world” (8:12).  As the events of chapter 9 unfold, we see that Jesus performs a miracle to illustrate this theme.  The story of the healing of the blind man shows how the “light of the world” brings spiritual sight to those who believe.  We looked at this story a few weeks ago in the lectionary.  Let’s take one more look

 At the conclusion of chapter 8, we see that as the Jewish leaders took up stones to kill Jesus, He hid Himself and slipped away from the temple (8:59).  As chapter 9 begins, the narrative suggests as Jesus and His disciples were traveling through the city, they came upon a man who had been born blind (9:1).

 Since Jesus and His disciples are now walking openly, it is unlikely that this meeting and the events that followed occurred immediately after the attempt of the Jews to stone him.

 It is plausible to assume, therefore, that some amount of time had passed between the events of these two chapters. 

 As Jesus and His disciples traveled through the city, probably en route to the temple, they came upon a blind beggar.  When faced with such suffering, the disciples asked Jesus why the man was blind.

Was it his fault, or did the sins of his parents cause this tragedy (9:27)?  Their question reflected the typical rabbinic view that the sins of parents could be visited upon their children (Duet. 5:9), and that a child could actually sin while still in the mother’s womb, and face punishment for that sin after birth.

 Jesus does not respond to their question with a theological discussion about the problems of suffering in the world.  Instead, He healed the man in order to reveal the power of God (9:3).

 For Jesus, the presence of suffering is not a cause for contemplation but rather a call to action.

 The allusions to day and night probably refer to Jesus’ presence and departure from the world.  It is daytime as long as or His disciples are still in the world.

 As long as He is in the world, He and His disciples must fulfill their God-given mission by acting as the “light of the world” (9:4-5).

Most of the people in the ancient world thought that saliva had some healing virtues.  Many scholars have pointed out, however, that the use of saliva and dust in this healing event has even greater significance.

 The use of the clay mixture in the act of creating sight for the blind man is reminiscent of the original act of God in creating human beings as recorded in Genesis 2:7 (see, for example, Bill Hull’s remarks in Broadman Commentary Vol. 9, p. 298).  The use of clay to create sight for a person who has been blind since birth echoes God’s work in creation and Jesus’ place in that work as the “logos” (1:1-2).

 The remainder of this chapter consists of six different vignettes.  In the first four, the formerly blind man and his parents are interrogated by both their neighbors and the Pharisees.  In the fifth scene, the blind man encounters Jesus and gains the gift of spiritual sight through his confession of faith.  The final act of this drama, once again, pits Jesus against the Pharisees.

 In this scene, Jesus teaches that those who claim not to need the gift of spiritual sight, which he offers, are doomed to remain the darkness of their unbelief.

 Questioning by neighbors

 Those who had seen the blind beggar found it hard to believe that the man now standing before them was actually the same person (9:8-9).

 Beasley-Murray points out that the questioning of the man as to how the miracle took place, and his testimony that it was the result of the actions of a “man called Jesus,” remains a consistent theme throughout the narrative (Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 36, p. 156).

 As the movement of the story progresses, this man continually gains new insights concerning Jesus, until at last, he gains the gift of spiritual sight through his confession of faith in Jesus (9:38).

 Just the opposite is true for the Pharisees.  Throughout the story, they confess to possessing spiritual sight but we discover that they are the ones who are really blind due to their lack of faith.

 Questioned by authorities

 The neighbors are perplexed as to how the blind man could have gained his sight.  Believing that there might be some type of religious importance to what happened, they bring the man to the Pharisees in order to have the veracity of the miracle confirmed and its significance interpreted.

 The comment that the healing event took place on the Sabbath (9:14) shows us just how difficult the situation was for the Pharisees.  The people expected some type of explanation for the miracle but this was not possible because there was a division among the Pharisees which kept them from arriving at a consensus (9:16).

 On the one hand, there were the strict legalists who believed that Jesus couldn’t be connected with God since He had worked on the Sabbath.  Furthermore, there were those who wondered how a “sinner” could possibly have the power to create sight in a man born blind.

 Since they were unable to come to any decision, the Pharisees turn to the healed man to get his opinion of Jesus (9:17).

 The answers of the healed man to the questions of the Pharisees reveal that he had not only received physical sight but that he was developing spiritual sight

 Earlier in the narrative, he had referred to his healer simply as a “man called Jesus” (9:11).  Now, after further contemplation, he calls Jesus a “prophet” 9:17).

 Perhaps he was thinking about the miracles of Moses or one of the other prophets.  He certainly had not yet recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah who would perform miracles like those of Moses – but he was well on his way (Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 8, p. 616).

 Parents questioned

 The Pharisees decide to call the parents of the man before them to testify.  This was to be expected.  With so many charlatans running around trying to take advantage of the masses, it would be wise to investigate any claims of healing.

 If they could disprove the miracle, then they could bring a justifiable condemnation against Jesus and His followers.

 In their testimony, the parents confirmed that the man was indeed their son.  They also confirmed that he was born blind, yet now could see.  As to how this miracle took place, they offered no testimony.  Instead, they told the Pharisees to ask their son since he was old enough to speak for himself (9:21-22).

 In verse 23, the evangelist or perhaps a later editor, interrupts the narrative in order to offer an explanation as to why the parents neglected to respond any further to questions about their son’s healing. “His parents said this because they feared the Jews” (9:22).  The editor goes on to say that the Jews had vowed to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Christ.

Second interrogation

Once again, the Pharisees summoned the healed man.  This time, however, the text indicates that the Pharisees are far more concerned with destroying the man’s testimony than with discovering the truth.

The phrase “give glory to God” (9:24) was a technical term used in appealing for truth (Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 8, p. 617).

But the Pharisees indicate that they’ve already made up their minds as to what the truth is. “We know that this man is a sinner” (9:24).

The resolve of the healed man in the face of the seemingly overwhelming opposition of the religious leadership of the nation is amazing.  He claims to know nothing of the supposed sinfulness of Jesus.

All he can be certain of is that once he was blind but now he can see (9:25).  Since Jesus is the one who is responsible for his receiving sight, this certainly calls into question the assertion that Jesus was a sinful man.

Not knowing how to respond to the existential experience of the healed man, the Pharisees decide to start over again from square one.  Once again, they ask the man how he was healed.

It may have been that the Pharisees were trying to see if he would contradict any of his earlier testimony, as he told his story again.

Obviously, the healed man was getting somewhat frustrated with the attitude of the Jews.  Rather than answer their questions, the healed man uses a bit of sarcasm to criticize his opponents by asking, “Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you, too, want to become His disciples?” (9:27).

Stung by this cutting jab, the accusers go on the offensive.  They deride the healed man for being a disciple of Jesus.  As for them, they are “disciples of Moses” (9:28).

What about the healed man?  His boldness in the face of his accusers indicates that his spiritual sight is ever improving.  Once again, he chastises them for their unbelief.  His logic is wonderfully clear.

Jesus gave the man his sight.  Only a person of God could do something like that.  Jesus must, therefore, be from God.  Since this group of Jews won’t recognize this fact, they must know nothing about God (9:30-33).

Of course, such a challenge from an ignorant beggar only served to provoke the Pharisees even further, who responded by slandering the man and excommunicating him from the synagogue (9:34).

Gift of sight

Having heard that the man whom He healed had been excommunicated from the synagogue, Jesus sought him out to discover if he might also accept the gift of spiritual sight, which He had come to offer humanity.

Jesus had already met one of his needs through the gift of sight. Now he wanted to meet an even greater need by giving the man the gift of spiritual sight.

The response of the man was to ask who the messiah was so he could believe in him.

Jesus said to the man, “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.”  With that, the man believed and worshipped Jesus (9:35-38).

By this confession and act of devotion, the man who had been given physical sight also received the gift of spiritual sight.  In our world, we often say “seeing is believing.”  In the Kingdom of God, however, “believing is seeing.”

Spiritual blindness

Since the Pharisees had been unable to interpret the significance of the healing (see comments for 9:13-17), the story concludes with an interpretation of the events by Jesus (Broadman Commentary Vol. 9, p. 301).

The problems which develop for the man as a result of Jesus’ act of mercy reflect the nature of the judgment, which is present in Jesus’ mission.

As Jesus acts as the “light of the world,” there are some, like the blind man, who are enabled to see because of their willingness to have faith.  There are others, however, who in their self-righteous prejudice claim they can see, and yet they are shown to be blind because of their refusal to have faith.

In this story we read another of Jesus’ “I am” statements.  In John’s Gospel these statements point back to the revelation of God in the story of the Exodus.  When God met Moses at the burning bush, He identified himself as “I am.”

As the Son of God, Jesus reveals WHO God is.  In this story, God is “light.”  To the hungry, God is “bread.”  To the woman at the well, God is “living water.”  This revelation of God is a far cry from the omni-being of Greek dominated philosophy.  This God is intimate, caring, connected, and loving.

In this same Gospel, Jesus also speaks of being the revelation of God, whom he called “Abba” (or daddy).  What is Abba (God) like?  An “omni-being.”  It would be terrible to limit God this way.  What is Abba like?  Abba is like Jesus.  Jesus is like Abba.  If you see what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.

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