3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 9

Contents

 Chapter 9: To see

blindguideThis is part 9 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

Chapter 9 opens with Jesus restoring sight to a blind man, and the rest of the chapter is essentially expounding on the meaning of Jesus giving sight to the blind: it means he equips people to discern truly the things of God.


REVIEWING THE TEXT – CHAPTER 9

The Man Born Blind

The story of the man who was blind from birth is often discussed in connection with the question of whether or not people suffer blindness as a result of sin. Clearly, at least in this man’s case, the answer is no (v3). But our theme is the see/hear/believe one, and this is much more closely involved with what the Evangelist was trying to say in this passage, as we will see.

When Jesus said, “so that the works of God might be revealed in him”, he wasn’t talking about God showing off with miracles. He was talking about this man’s plight being used as a prophetic sign of a greater truth – humanity is blind, and Jesus can give them sight.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is daynight is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

– John 9:1-5

Jesus is making clear light/dark, day/night comparisons here. While Jesus is with them, it is day. Why? Because he is “the light of the world”. When he goes, it will be night.

Now he demonstrates the principle…

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, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

– John 9:6-7

Syliva from Jesus’ mouth, mixed with the dust of the world… the man goes and washes… then he can see. There are any number of poetic connections here, but the most obvious is the washing, which is a parallel with Baptism.

Why is the name of the pool mentioned? More to the point, why is the explanation of the name of the pool (…”which means Sent”) given? Consider this: Jesus’ teaching will go into the world, and when that word has been received and the recipient “washed” (one of the symbolic meanings of Baptism) by the “sent” (“Apostle” literally means “one who is sent”, and the word “sent” here in verse 7 “Apestalmenos” uses the same root as “Apostle”), only then will the recipient see.

But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 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.”  They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

– John 9:10-12

Another important thing about the “wash” factor here is simply that it gave Jesus occasion to speak a command. The man later reports not just that he washed, but that Jesus said to go and wash and the man obeyed, so again, Jesus’ words are authoritative.

Jesus talked, just back in verses 4 and 5 about a time he called “night”, when he would no longer be “in the world”. In the previous chapter Jesus had said, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” (John 8:21), and in the chapter before that one, “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come”. It is all the continuation of that one single theme.

So what can we learn from our man born blind? He and his friends are now groping around looking for Jesus, and can’t find him. This is parallel to the larger narrative – he will ascend to heaven (Acts 1), and until Pentecost (Acts 2), he will not be available.

The Pharisees

There follows a fairly long passage in which the Jews are clearly “blind”, and the irony heaps up against them. It is fairly well summarised in the final few verses:

“We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

– John 9:29-33

Well, they should have known where he came from, he has told them several times. He came from God. The man is right.

Also, the Pharisees are wrong that he was “born entirely in sins”. They make that judgement because he was born blind. Jesus refuted it in verse 3.

Of course they drove him out – this is the pattern of typical behaviour for the Jewish leaders, not only with respect to Jesus but toward his apostles after him.

 Blindness

The final paragraph summarises the chapter, driving home the key point: Jesus’ word saves, and his ministry gives “sight”… and the Pharisees assiduously fail to comprehend it.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’

Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him.

Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’

– John 9:35-39

It is being made obvious here that the man had “seen him” but had not understood. Now that Jesus “tells”/”speaks”, the man “believes”. Jesus then makes the statement tying the whole chapter together, stating that he “came into the world…” with respect to people seeing and not seeing. The man born blind was a most fortunate prop, or extra, in Jesus’ demonstration of a key spiritual principle behind his ministry.

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

– John 9:40-41

Why?

Jesus is pointing out that the Pharisees, by saying “we see”, are claiming to know the truth. If they know the truth then they are responsible for responding to it, and living and teaching according to it. In the previous chapter Jesus pointed out that this group is acting like “your father the devil” (John 8:44). If they can “see” this, they should stop it. This is why their claim that “we see” is a self-indictment.

By now we are seeing another theme from the opening chapter being played out with increasing clarity: Jesus is “the light”, and the Jews are Jesus’ “own people”, and they don’t accept him.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

John 1:9-11

This is the deep irony that weaves through the Gospel of John. The Jews “seek a sign” instead of hearing Jesus’ words. They fail “to see”, and are therefore subject to judgement.


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 9

What do you now feel about the story of the Man Born Blind? Has this changed your feelings?

How vulnerable are we today, to the same errors the Jews were making in Jesus’ day?

In this chapter, what does “judgement” bring about for the people?


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