Are You Blind, or What?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Gospel of John 9:1-41

Later, as Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Master, whose sin caused this man’s blindness,” asked the disciples, “his own or his parents’?” Phillips

From the time of Abraham, the Jews learned that sin was at the root of human suffering. It was a simple step to assume that someone sinned if a child was born blind. Most believed that the sin belonged to the parents, but some thought it possible for the fetus to sin long before birth. Some of his Twelve seem to have believed it was possible.

It would be interesting to know what a Pharisee would think if his child was born blind. Would he think he had sinned? He would more likely blame his wife.

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. NET

Those of us who have lived with modern medicine accept that birth problems and defects occur, and we usually do not lay blame on anyone. It would be easy for us to read Jesus’ words as supporting that position. But, he only comments on this one case.

Many would read verse 3 and argue that God caused the baby to be born blind. But, again, Jesus says God will use this man to be a witness to the power of God, seen in the actions and words of His Son. There were many blind people to choose from; God did not need to cause any more blindness.

Saying that neither parents nor child sinned is not the same as saying there was no sin anywhere near the family. It is proper to say that the baby was born blind because of sin, but not because of specific sins by the family. It is our collective sins that are the cause. We live in a universe filled with enough sin to murder the only perfect human on earth.

There are cases where a birth defect can be linked to a specific sin: fetal-alcohol syndrome, drug babies, reckless driving leading to a crash, etc. But, before we blame the individual, remember we are still part of the collective sin club.

The word revealed reminds us that John is all about witnessing, and this man is to become an important witness of the God who loves us enough to do what we cannot do on our own. By His Grace, He had His Son born of Mary as a human to erase sin forever.

We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work.As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” NET

Why daytime? We are back to chapter 1 where the Word is the light of the world. John keeps reminding us of the power of the light of God. In Genesis 1:3, God created light, but not yet the light of the sun, nor was it the light of the Son of God. That first light is the very presence of God. It is a combination of truth, love, grace, joy, laughter, goodness, concern for others, etc. When we look at what Jesus says about being the light, we see God.

Yet, Jesus is spreading light into darkness, even if darkness seems to be winning at times. But his promise that he remains as the light is our cue to pick up the torch and continue his work. The battle continues. As before, the darkness seems to win all too often.

We need to note here that John—I think deliberately—has the disciples disappear until chapter 11. They are still with him, but John does not want to clutter the story with them. Remember that he only names some of them and generally leaves them standing in the background. He refuses to name himself, except possibly as the one Jesus loved. John is calling us as disciples. I believe John wants us to insert ourselves into these stories and pick up the light to continue to spread it to the ends of the earth

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After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. NIV

It is easy to miss the detail that Jesus said nothing to the man before setting to work. He did not ask him any questions or even tell the blind man who he was and what he was doing. We will learn in verse 14 that Jesus ‘worked’ on the Sabbath by making the mud.

In the late second century, Irenaeus wrote regarding the use of mud. He did it this way in order to show it was the same hand of God here that had also formed man at the beginning… Notice here too how the Lord spit on the earth, and made clay and smeared it on his eyes, showing how the ancient creation was made. He was making clear to those who can understand, that this was the [same] hand of God through which man was formed from clay. For what the creating Word had neglected to form in the womb, this he supplied openlyACCS

While John began the struggle with Gnosticism, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, stood knee-deep in the battle. All Christians should know him as a warrior for Truth.

Jesus’ first words to the blind man, who is still blind, is, ‘Go, wash.’ As we see in verse 7, Jesus sends the man to sent. We thus see Jesus, who was sent by God, sending a blind man to regain his sight. Jesus, who is the light of the world, removes the darkness from a blind man.

John wants all of us to feel the call. With Isaiah, he wants us to say, Here am I. Send meNIV

Jesus cleared away the darkness. The man who was blind could now see. But the story only begins here.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” ESV

Notice the people who know him call him a beggar. The blind then had no way to make a living, so if their family was not wealthy or there were not enough boys to bring in enough money, begging was the only option.

It must have shocked the people who had seen him all his life to see him sighted so suddenly. I suspect I would have been with those who said, ‘it looks like him, but. . . .’

10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” ESV

John will have this man repeat his story several times, each one leaving out more detail. In this case, he is trying to satisfy friends and neighbors. We should read the emotions into the story, excitement for the man and bewilderment for the neighbors.

Naturally, the man does not know who placed the mud on his eyes since he could not see. But also remember that Jesus never said anything to him to indicate who he was.

13-15 So they brought the man who had once been blind before the Pharisees. (It should be noted that Jesus made the clay and restored his sight on a Sabbath day.) The Pharisees asked the question all over again as to how he had become able to see. “He put clay on my eyes; I washed it off; now I can see—that’s all,” he replied. Phillips

For reasons not mentioned, the man’s ‘friends’ decided to let the Pharisees sort it out. Perhaps they hoped the Pharisees could figure out what happened. Equally possible, some of them may have decided the man had violated the Law of Moses and made a citizen’s arrest. Now the legal battle begins.

Only now does John mention the Sabbath. He is sure his intended readers are familiar with the general idea of never working on the Sabbath, so he does not explain here, but it will be important later. Jesus, seemingly deliberately, violated the rules in three ways. Making mud was work. Healing could only be done on the seventh day if the person was in danger of dying. The third rule broken involved the spit Jesus used. It was not legal to place spit on the eyelids.

Jesus did not need to use spit to make mud, nor did he need to do the ‘work’ of packing it on the eyelids. I had often wondered why he chose to do it that way. William Barclay’s Study Bible listed the three Sabbath rules, which cleared up the question for me.

Karen Jobes’ recent commentary includes this powerful point. But what the Pharisees failed to understand is that, as a sign of the covenant, Sabbath pointed to the day of the fullness of God’s covenant promises, which Jesus had come to inaugurate. Given that John links this Sabbath-day miracle to Isaiah’s prophecy, the Messiah has been sent, according to Isaiah 61:1, “to proclaim . . . release from darkness for the prisoners,” which in the Septuagint was interpreted as the “recovery of sight to the blind.” John Through Old Testament Eyes

Notice that the man left out any mention of Jesus mixing mud with his spit. He may have decided to leave out the more obvious ‘work’ to avoid upsetting the Pharisees too much. The Phillips translation adds, ‘that’s all,’ suggesting he is getting a little tired of repeating the tale. The Greek sentence reads: Clay he put on the eyes of me, and I washed, and I see, said. That last word is lego, meaning to lay forth, boast, or tell. Most English translations simply drop the word, but I think Phillips gives us a glimpse into the man’s emotions at that point.

A practical question; how did John know what went on in these two ‘hearings?’ A possible answer will come later.

16 Then some of the Pharisees began to say, “This man is not from God, because he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” Thus there was a division among them. NET

Envision the scene. A group brought the man to the Pharisees, then stood back. The Pharisees were grouped—possibly seated—on the other side of the man who stands alone between the groups. Now the Pharisees huddle and hiss to each other their opinions before they call their next play. By their rules, whoever put the mud on the man’s eyes did some work, so he should be punished. Yet, the man born blind can now see. Is the man doing the healing a devil or of God?

It should bring to mind Jesus’ warning to us that there will be false Messiahs, people who claim to know the mind of God. We are often in the place of the Pharisees as we decide which mega church preacher or televangelists is really from God. But the problem is just as real in small congregations.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” NIV

Here I think we see the Pharisees making a good move, though only because they could not decide what was right. How often do we fail to listen to a person instead of jumping to our own conclusions? If the Pharisees had agreed among themselves, they would never have asked the opinion of a mere beggar. When the beggar pronounced his healer to be a prophet, the Pharisees were disturbed and decided to ignore the ‘ignorant’ response.

18 Now the Jewish religious leaders refused to believe that he had really been blind and had gained his sight until at last they summoned the parents of the man who had become able to see. 19 They asked the parents, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” 20 So his parents replied, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how he is now able to see, nor do we know who caused him to see. Ask him, he is a mature adult. He will speak for himself.” NET

Because these leaders had run into Jesus before and wanted to convict him of whatever they could, they likely thought he was the mysterious healer. But they could not get anyone to tell them who did what they wanted to hear, so they ignored the man and sent for his parents. Someone in the crowd likely went to fetch them.

So far, the Pharisees ‘know’ what is going on while the blind beggar, they ‘know,’ knows nothing. They ignore what he tells them, or they believe he is lying. So, they bring in the parents who are just as unhelpful.

They know two things; he is their son, and he was born blind.

22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” NIV

We must assume by now that the crowd had also guessed that this uproar was about Jesus and that someone told the parents the Pharisees wanted to attack Jesus. They hid it well if they knew more than they told the leaders.

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” NIV

The phrase, ‘give glory to God,’ could mean they want the man to claim that God healed him, and Jesus had nothing to do with it. Or, give glory by saying that Jesus is a devil, the more likely. The leaders show that by calling him a sinner. Notice that no one has yet named Jesus. We have a background reference in verse 22, but it is not on anyone’s lips.

The leaders are getting more desperate. They cannot get anyone to say what they ‘know’ to be true. They cannot even get them to mention Jesus’ name.

Picture the scene again. The man born blind has answered the question of what happened three times, and the leaders again harass him to ‘say it right this time.’

Instead of being cowed, the beggar stands straighter, puffs out his chest, and makes the best statement yet. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” The simple, straightforward, unvarnished truth. So plain that even the Pharisees could understand.

‘I was blind but now I see!’ The man told his story so many times that he simply repeated the seven words that matter, likely forcefully. Now the leadership is frothing. ‘Forget about being able to see. Tell us what he did (that we may prosecute him).

‘Are you asking me because you want to become his disciples?’ This man may have been blind and a beggar, but he is not a dummy. Perhaps because of his years of blindness, he has developed an inner strength that few of us possess. Not only is he sticking to the truth, but he also is not afraid to return a hot shot.

28-29 At this, they turned on him furiously. “You’re the one who is his disciple! We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don’t even know where he came from.” 30-33 “Now here’s the extraordinary thing,” he retorted, “you don’t know where he came from and yet he gave me the gift of sight. Everybody knows that God does not listen to sinners. It is the man who has a proper respect for God and does what God wants him to do—he’s the one God listens to. Why, since the world began, nobody’s ever heard of a man who was born blind being given his sight. If this man did not come from God, he couldn’t do such a thing!” 34 “You misbegotten wretch!” they flung back at him. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out. Phillips

‘They threw him out’ means he is excommunicated. He can neither attend any synagogue nor the Temple. That might not seem like too big a deal to the average American today unless we state it as ‘you can no longer enter any places of commerce or entertainment.’ Ouch!

If you have not yet developed a respect for the blind beggar, this exchange should do it. I would love to meet him in heaven and find out how his discipleship went.

Every Jew knew that no evil person could do something as powerful as giving sight to someone blind. But, those who ‘know’ clearly do not know. The beggar had to remind the Pharisees of that basic fact.

35 Jesus heard that they had expelled him and when he had found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “And who is he, sir?” the man replied. “Tell me, so that I can believe in him.” 37 “You have seen him,” replied Jesus. “It is the one who is talking to you now.” 38 “Lord, I do believe,” he said, and worshipped him. 39 Then Jesus said, “My coming into this world is itself a judgment—those who cannot see have their eyes opened and those who think they can see become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him overheard this and said, “So we’re blind, too, are we?” 41 “If you were blind,” returned Jesus, “nobody could blame you, but, as you insist ‘We can see’, your guilt remains.” Phillips

These last verses are the happy wrap-up to the story. Jesus has no doubt heard all about the battle and the outcome. He could have assigned John or another disciple to stay with the man and report what happened. Or, God may have told him. There is so much detail in this account that I like the idea that John was a witness. But just as possible is the newly sighted man, and now a disciple, telling John the details as they followed their master.

Jesus’ last comment here to the Pharisees is one we need to pay attention to. We are always in danger of saying, ‘I know,’ when we are as blind as the Pharisees. We Christians are involved in thousands of social issues. Do we come down on the right side of each? Gay rights? Black lives? Immigration? Support of a particular war? The list is endless, and we need to know what Jesus would say before we get involved.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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