Thought for the day
How we respond to pressure can vary very much from person to person. In John’s Gospel, there are two related stories of people being healed, one in chapter 5 and the other in chapter 9, today’s reading. The man at the pool eventually betrays Jesus. The man born blind resists pressure and even grows on the strength of it. Part of his energy comes from his experience—no matter what others may say about Jesus, he himself once was blind and now he sees! His courageous attachment to what he knows from his personal encounter with Jesus leads eventually to a full act of faith.
Faithful God, you call us to be faithful even in times of trial. Teach us to embrace the challenge of faith today, that we may have the courage to grow and give courage to others by our witness.
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
John 9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am he.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
John 9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
John 9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
John 9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
This story is found only in the Fourth Gospel, although the other Gospels do tell of blind men (never women!) recovering their sight. Our story, very much longer than in the other Gospels, is the sixth of the seven signs: the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jacob’s well, the royal official’s son, the Loaves, the walking on the water, the Blind Man and Lazarus.
Kind of writing
(i) We have here a short drama, unfolding in a sequence full of suspense:
Dramatically, Jesus is present only in Scenes 1 and 6, but is really present in all the other scenes as well, because his identity is the subject of the investigation. The final scene brings all the chief protagonists together for the first (and last) time. Scene 2 is the confirmation of the cure.
(ii) The “enquiry” in Scenes 3-5 (structured CB*C*) feels both official and threatening, concluding, as it does, with an expulsion. Both these features reflect two issues at the time of writing (about 95 ad). The first issue is the obvious one: relations between Jews and “Christians” had broken down and eventually (perhaps at the “synod” of Jamnia, c. ad 80) the followers of the Nazarene were expelled from the synagogue (this Gospel alone has the expression “thrown out of the synagogue” [John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2]). It may well be that family members were under pressure (at the time of writing) when one of them became a Christian. The second issue is that the community of the Beloved Disciple, under a kind of persecution, was obliged to account for its faith ever more clearly and deeply. In hard dialogue with fellow Jews, a profound understanding of the identity of Jesus emerged. We see this in the journey of faith made by the Blind Man: the man, “I do not know”, a prophet, from God, the Son of Man, worshipped him.
Old Testament background
(i) [a] In the Old Testament, sickness is a result of sin, sometimes parents’ sins (e.g. Exodus 20:5); [b] the blind, as handicapped people, may not enter the sanctuary (e.g. Leviticus 21:18); [c] It was forbidden to perform “works” of any kind on the Sabbath. [d] there is a mild absurdity in the text: when could the blind man have sinned so that he would have been born blind?!?
(ii) The Book of Tobit tells a tale of sight restored and there also it is symbolic.
(iii) Restoration of sight is part of the promise of the Messiah. Compare a text widely alluded to across the New Testament: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind [Greek Old Testament addition], to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
New Testament foreground
(i) Recovery of sight is widely used in the New Testament to speak of coming to faith: e.g. Bartimaeus (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and, most strikingly, Paul himself.
(ii) There are strong links between this story and that of Woman at the Well (water, pool, the staged journey of faith).
(iii) In this Gospel, Jesus as light frames chapters 1-12 (1:4-5, 7-9; 12:35, 46). He has just proclaimed himself Light of the World in 8:12 and repeats it here in 9:5.
(iv) “Seeing”, in this Gospel as often in the New Testament, has two meanings: to see physically and to see (believe) spiritually. The final example in the Gospel is ironic: Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.
(v) The man’s journey of faith is facilitated by his lack of certainty:
9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he (= Jesus) is a sinner.” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”
This enabling uncertainty is in contrast to the dead certainties of the man’s opponents.
(vi) Jesus finds the man twice, once in : As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth (John 9:1) and then later in Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (9:35)
It is Jesus’ recognition of the man’s need that leads to a recovery of sight both physical and spiritual. Both are important in the story, because it is the man’s first experience of healing, an experience he cannot deny, which opens him to the second healing of faith. He stands by his experience, no matter what the pressure.
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. (Romans 13:11–12)
Verses 1-7a This is the symbolic world of light and darkness familiar from John 1:1-18. There is an echo of Genesis 2, where God uses mud to create human beings. Unusually, the man does not seek a cure – Jesus identifies the blindness and offers a cure.
Verses 7b-12 This seeming repetition of the miracle is very important: it establishes that people other than the blind man were aware of the cure. It also establishes the man’s personal conviction that something wonderful has happened and no matter what the doctrine it may challenge or contradict, the experience cannot be denied. “I do not know” is very powerful. Knowing is both positive and negative: the negative knowledge of doctrine, the positive knowledge of experience.
Verses 13-17 The first interview raises a real objection: God cannot both command the Sabbath and be the author of its breaking!? This was a real issue between Jews and the first followers of Jesus.
Verses 18-23 Here a doubt about the authenticity of the cure is raised—hence the parents are interviewed. This may reflect the experience of the community at the time of writing.
Verses 24-34 The grounds of the argument shift to a weaker basis: argument from authority and status. The conflict has had, paradoxically, the opposite effect of making the Blind Man more convinced of his experience and inclined to detach himself from “the Jews”.
Verses 35-41 All the protagonists are present and a hard judgement given against those whose certainties are dead.
Pointers for prayer
1. The blind man makes a journey of faith, rooted in an experience of healing from the hand of Jesus. This experience has potential to grow and deepen. What has been my experience of the healing presence of Jesus in my life? Prayer of thanksgiving.
2. Under pressure, the blind man and the community he stands for are obliged to reflect again and again on what they really believe. What has happened to my faith in times of pressure against believing? Prayer of faith.
3. Amazing Grace has the words: I once was lost, and now I’m found. Jesus goes out of his way to find the blind man and bring him through the next stage of faith. What has my experience of finding my “self” been? When have I been touched by Jesus? Is he reaching out to me now? Prayer of conversion.
4. The blind man witnesses to his experience, in spite of conventional, even orthodox opposition. Perhaps this has been part of my experience too? Prayer of witnessing
When taking a gospel story for prayer, it is often helpful to break the story up into its individual sections. Each section represents a movement, an interaction between the characters. This is particularly true of a long story such as the one we have today. There are six different scenes in this story. Any one of them could be the focal point for your prayer. Try to identify the movement in the section you take for prayer. The objective is to discover the Good News in the story. The Good News is that the story of grace is deeper than the story of sin, both in the gospels and in our lives. One should also note the different characters in the story, for each of them could be a character with whom you can identify. In this story we have Jesus, the blind beggar, the disciples, the neighbours, the blind man’s parents and the Pharisees.
God our Creator, show forth your mighty works in the midst of your people. Enlighten your church, that we may know your Son as the true light of the World and through our worship confess him as Christ and Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, holy and mighty God for ever and ever. Amen.