Jeremiah 5:21 would be a good text to introduce this story: 'Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear.' Jesus can cure the blind. Getting us to see past our own self-interest - to see the glory of God in the lowest and the least - now THAT would be a real miracle.
March 19, 2023
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 9:1-41, The Message or John 9:1-41, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."
When we last saw Jesus in John 4:5-42, he was heading north, away from Judea, back to his home in Galilee. But he has been back to Jerusalem (Chapter 5); travelled about the Sea of Galilee (Chapter 6); having been home in Galilee, he returns to Jerusalem and goes up to the Temple to teach (Chapters 7 and 8). We catch up to him after he has left the Temple - "They picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple." (John 8:59)
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh provide helpful background on the difference between Disease and Illness (Pages 113-115, see footnote below.) Physical symptoms - the disease - were of little concern. The main concern was with the social dislocation - the illness - associated with the physical symptoms. Physical symptoms were primarily seen as a sign of some disruption / disordering / dislocation of proper relationships - that is, of sin, since that is precisely what "sin" is - a breach of social relationships: with God, with family; with neighbours; etc.
We in the modern world tend to focus on - and get distracted by - the physical changes - we think THAT is the "miracle." But for Jesus and everyone else the real miracle is the change in relationships.
Needless to say, in this story it is crucial not to be blind to what is really going on - pay attention to the relationships, and don't get distracted by the easy stuff - the physical changes.
Verse 2. The disciples' question, "Who sinned," reflects an attitude that exists today in spite of Jesus' response, "No one." This is because, "Punishment for sin," is an easy answer to the tough question, "If God is both good and just, why do bad things happen to good - or innocent - people?" A new-born baby couldn't have sinned, so it must have been born blind because of some wrong committed by its parents.
But Jesus rejects this understanding. And I much prefer Eugene Peterson's, The Message's:
There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.
instead of the NRSV which gives a new cause for the blindness:
he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.
Verse 5. At the time of Jesus, light was understood to be a substance. Darkness was also a substance - not simply the absence of light. Light resided in the heart of a person, and a person saw by having light come out of their eyes. What was in a person's heart affected the quality of light that came out of their eyes; affected their seeing. An evil heart resulted in an evil eye. A loving heart resulted in a loving eye. A heart filled with darkness resulted in a blind eye. Light is associated with fire and with life.
So when Jesus says, "I am the light of the world," he does not mean he is like a big sun shining on everyone. Instead ...
he is saying both that he enables Israel to see things the way they really are and that he is likewise the source of Israel's life.
Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 170, see foot note below.
Verse 6. The use of spit for healing, and to ward off evil, was common practice at the time of Jesus.
Verses 8 to 10. The questions about the man's identity are the beginnings of his relationships being restored. Kinship and neighbourhoods were closed circles. One could only be admitted by birth or marriage. So the neighbours are wary of welcoming this unfamiliar "new" person.
Verses 13 to 17. See my post, John 5:1-9, the healing of the lame man, for comments on why healing on the Sabbath is such a challenge to the Pharisees.
"He is a prophet" seems to be a preliminary stage of SEEing and believing into Jesus. See the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:19), the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:14), and Jesus teaching in the Temple (John 7:40).
Verses 18 to 23. Having failed to get anywhere with the man himself, the Pharisees now interrogate the parents. Presumably they will be able to determine this whole thing is a hoax - this man is not their son, or at least he was not born blind. The narrator adds the information about their fear of the Judean authorities. Which of course is exactly what is being heightened in Jesus' continuing confrontations and challenges with the authorities.
Verses 24 to 34. This passage contains astonishing talking back from a beggar to his superiors. His response in Verse 27 is insulting indeed.
Notice that in Verse 29, the ultimate concern of the Pharisees is: "We do not know where he comes from."
"Bingo!" say the readers of this Gospel - the insiders who are members of John's community of followers of Jesus. "You have just confessed your own blindness. You actually do not know where Jesus comes from - EVEN THOUGH HE HAS TOLD YOU RIGHT TO YOUR FACE. You are blind. You are deaf."
And so notice that the man born blind rightly states, "If this man were not FROM God, he could do nothing." And we the readers all know that Jesus is from God. John told us that way back in the first Verses of the first Chapter: “He was in the beginning with God.”
This of course terminates his relationship with the Pharisees - which is not an altogether bad thing, given their blindness.
Verses 35 to 41. Notice that Jesus too is part of the gossip networks and so hears the news about what has happened, and then goes searching for the man born blind. The conversation here is very much like Jesus' self-revelation to the Samaritan woman at the well.
The translation, "I believe," is not strong enough; is not relational enough. The man doesn't just "believe" Jesus. He trusts, he bonds with, he commits to, he joins his life to, he is loyal to Jesus.
The last two verses repeat the theme of the blindness of the Pharisees. Their question, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" is full of irony that they in fact do not see. Those who lack understanding often cannot understand what it is they are failing to understand.
And perhaps this is the most fitting way to end a sermon as we reflect on our life:
Surely we are not blind, are we?
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 169-178; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
John 9:1-41 (NRSV)
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 the man." 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."
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." But 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."
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."
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, and 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.
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 near 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.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 9:1-41 (The Message)
1 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?"
3 Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. 4 We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. 5 For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light."
6 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, 7 and said, "Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam" (Siloam means "Sent"). The man went and washed—and saw.
8 Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, "Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?"
9 Others said, "It's him all right!" But others objected, "It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him." He said, "It's me, the very one."
10 They said, "How did your eyes get opened?"
11 "A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' I did what he said. When I washed, I saw."
12 "So where is he?"
"I don't know."
13 They marched the man to the Pharisees. 14 This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, "He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see."
16 Some of the Pharisees said, "Obviously, this man can't be from God. He doesn't keep the Sabbath."
Others countered, "How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?" There was a split in their ranks.
17 They came back at the blind man, "You're the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?"
He said, "He is a prophet."
18 The Jews didn't believe it, didn't believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. 19 They asked them, "Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?"
20 His parents said, "We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. 21 But we don't know how he came to see—haven't a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don't you ask him? He's a grown man and can speak for himself." 22 (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. 23 That's why his parents said, "Ask him. He's a grown man.")
24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, "Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor."
25 He replied, "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see."
26 They said, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
27 "I've told you over and over and you haven't listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?"
28 With that they jumped all over him. "You might be a disciple of that man, but we're disciples of Moses. 29 We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from."
30 The man replied, "This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! 31 It's well known that God isn't at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. 32 That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. 33 If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything."
34 They said, "You're nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!" Then they threw him out in the street.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
36 The man said, "Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him."
37 Jesus said, "You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?"
38 "Master, I believe," the man said, and worshiped him.
39 Jesus then said, "I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind."
40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, "Does that mean you're calling us blind?"
41 Jesus said, "If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.