SCRIPTURE: John 9:1-41
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VERSES 1-41: THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-10), and is apparently still there.
VERSES 1-5: HE SAW A MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH
1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3Jesus answered, "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him. 4I must (Greek: dei) work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am (Greek: eimi) the light of the world."
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v. 2). The disciples' question assumes that suffering is caused by sin. It could be the parents' sin (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9) or the blind man's sin –– but he was blind from birth. The parents probably assume that his blindness is their fault.
"Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him" (v. 3). Jesus denies that the man's suffering is caused by sin. Instead, his situation provides an opportunity for Jesus to heal the man, thereby revealing God's works.
However, we should not forget that there often is a connection between sin and suffering. Not all suffering is caused by sin, but all sin causes suffering. Jesus shows us that sin and suffering are not always related, but not that they are never related.
"I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work" (v. 4). This extends to the church today. We should feel a sense of urgency, because the time is coming when we will not be able to work.
"While I am in the world, I am (eimi) the light of the world" (v. 5). Light and darkness are symbols of good and evil in this Gospel. The Prologue to this Gospel announced the Word, who brings light to all people (1:4-5).
"While I am in the world" hints at what is to come –– Jesus' Passion. He will die soon and darkness will descend upon his disciples. Because of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that darkness will be temporary –– but terrible nevertheless.
"I am (eimi) the light of the world" (v. 5). There are several "I am" (ego eimi) statements in this Gospel –– reminiscent of God's response in Exodus 3:14, "I am who I am." In this verse, we find eimi rather than ego eimi, but the sense is the same.
As the light of the world, Jesus has come to enlighten people about God. This blind man presents an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his light-bearing mission.
VERSES 6-7: HE WENT AWAY, WASHED, AND CAME BACK SEEING
6When he had said this, he spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man's eyes with the mud, 7and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means "Sent" –– Greek: apestalmenos). So he went away, washed, and came back seeing.
"When he had said this, he spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man's eyes with the mud" (v. 6). Note that the man has not expressed faith or asked for healing. His role is passive until he washes in the Pool of Siloam.
The people of that day believed in the medicinal use of spittle. Here, in Jesus' hands, the familiar folk remedy becomes a vehicle for physical healing and spiritual revelation.
"Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (v. 7a). Much earlier, King Hezekiah cut a long tunnel through solid rock from the Kidron Valley water source into Jerusalem to protect the city's water supply in the event of siege (2 Chronicles 32:2-8, 30; Isaiah 22:9-11; 2 Kings 20:20). The Pool of Siloam is a reservoir inside the city at the end of the tunnel.
"which means Sent" (v. 7b). The author notes that Siloam means "Sent" (apestalmenos –– from the same root word that as apostle). In this Gospel, Jesus is the one who is sent (7:28-29; 10:36; 12:45).
Jesus "spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man's eyes with the mud" (v. 6). Jesus' use of mud recalls the creation story, where God brought forth life from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7).
"Go wash in the pool of Siloam" (v. 7a). Jesus' instructions to go wash in the pool recall the story of Naaman and Elisha (2 Kings 5:9-14). In both instances, a washing is required, the healer does not accompany the infirmed person to the water, and the healing takes place only after the person obeys.
"So he went away, washed, and came back seeing" (v. 7c). The man is healed. Not only are his eyes healed, but a second miracle takes place as well. His brain is able to process what he sees.
VERSES 8-12: I AM HE
8The neighbors therefore, and those who saw that he was blind before, said, "Isn't this he who sat and begged?" 9Others were saying, "It is he." Still others were saying, "He looks like him." He said, "I am he." 10They therefore were asking him, "How were your eyes opened?" 11He answered, "A man called Jesus made mud, anointed my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash.' So I went away and washed, and I received sight." 12Then they asked him, "Where is he?" He said, "I don't know."
"Isn't this he who sat and begged?" (v. 8). It is easy to understand their confusion. The blind man has been a fixture for many years. They are accustomed to half-seeing him –– as we often half-see the marginal person in our midst.
"He looks like him" (v. 9). The man looks different now that he can see. His eyes were dull and lifeless. Now they are full of light.
"A man called Jesus made mud" (v. 11). The man serves as a witness for Jesus. This is the first of four interrogations, the other three being initiated by Pharisees (vv. 15-17; 18-23; 24-34).
VERSES 13-17: IT WAS A SABBATH WHEN JESUS OPENED HIS EYES
13They brought him who had been blind to the Pharisees. 14It was a Sabbath when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and I see."
16Some therefore of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he doesn't keep the Sabbath." Others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was division among them. 17Therefore they asked the blind man again, "What do you say about him, because he opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."
"Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he received his sight" (v. 15). This is the second interrogation –– the first by the Pharisees. First, they ask the man what happened. When he tells them, they turn their attention to the Sabbath. From their perspective, the man's condition was chronic rather than acute. There would have been no life-and-death consequence by delaying healing until the end of the Sabbath.
"How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" (v. 16). This is an example of Johannine irony. The healing of the blind man is a sign pointing to Christ. The blind man sees, but the Pharisees are blind to the truth.
However, the Pharisees have a point. The fact that Jesus has healed a man is not absolute proof that his healing is from God. Jesus himself warns, "false christs, and false prophets, and they will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the chosen ones" (Matthew 24:24).
How can we know if a great sign points to a true or a false prophet? The Pharisees apply a simple test. If the healing violates God's law, it must not be from God. That common sense rule, however, leads them to a false conclusion, because Jesus disobeyed, not God's law, but human interpretation of that law. The Pharisees, however, are divided on this matter. Some say, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?"
VERSES 18-23: THE JEWS DID NOT BELIEVE
18The Jews therefore did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight, 19and asked them, "Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20His parents answered them, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but how he now sees, we don't know; or who opened his eyes, we don't know. He is of age. Ask him. He will speak for himself." 22His parents said these things because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if any man would confess him as Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, "He is of age. Ask him."
"Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" (v. 19). This is the second of three interrogations by the Pharisees. Having interrogated the man, the Pharisees now interrogate his parents. The Fourth Evangelist identifies the interrogators as "Jews," meaning "Jewish authorities." The parents are also Jewish –– hence their concern about being put out of the synagogue. Dismissal from the synagogue would mean being ostracized by the community and separated from God.
"Ask him. He will speak for himself" (v. 21). In their fear, the parents respond cautiously –– cowardly. They confirm that this is their son and that he was born blind, but they do not know who opened his eyes. They tell the authorities that, if they want answers, they should ask their son what happened.
VERSES 24-25: ONE THING I DO KNOW
24So they called the man who was blind a second time, and said to him, "Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner." 25He therefore answered, "I don't know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see."
"So they called the man who was blind a second time, and said to him, 'Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner'" (v. 24). This is the fourth and last interrogation –– the third by the Pharisees. The phrase, "Give glory to God!" is a technical term calling for truthfulness, especially with regard to the confession of sins (Howard, 617). The authorities ask the man to confirm their finding that Jesus is a sinner.
The Pharisees say, "We know" (v. 24b). The word "know" recurs eleven times in this pericope. This is a story about seeing and knowing. The Pharisees assume that they know that Jesus is a sinner, but they do not really know what he is or where he comes from (v. 29).
"I don't know if he is a sinner" (v. 25a). The Jewish leaders try to get the man to confirm their opinion that Jesus is a sinner, but the man cannot do that because he has no personal knowledge to that effect.
"One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see" (v. 25b). The man wisely sticks to that which he does know. He knows that he was blind, and he knows that he can now see. Those are the two facts to which he can bear personal testimony.
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VERSES 26-34: I TOLD YOU ALREADY, AND YOU DIDN'T LISTEN
26They said to him again, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
27He answered them, "I told you already, and you didn't listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don't also want to become his disciples, do you?" 28They insulted him and said, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses. But as for this man, we don't know where he comes from." 30The man answered them, "How amazing! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God, and does his will, he listens to him. 32Since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34They answered him, "You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us?" They threw him out.
"I told you already, and you didn't listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don't also want to become his disciples, do you?" (v. 27). This man taunts his questioners, exhibiting great courage. He is the only in the family who shows courage! This is remarkable. He has lived his entire life in darkness, and suddenly finds himself in the interrogator's spotlight. Most people would be overwhelmed, but this man is equal to the task.
"We know that God has spoken to Moses. But as for this man, we don't know where he comes from" (v. 29). This verse describes the kind of conflict between Pharisees and the church at the time of the writing of this Gospel.
"How amazing" (v. 30). This passage is full of delicious irony. The blind man sees, but those who have eyes choose to close them to the truth. The authorities call the man to give glory to God by denouncing Jesus as a sinner, but the man gives glory to God by witnessing to Christ. The authorities continue questioning, trying to find a hole in the man's testimony. He responds by asking if they want to become Jesus' disciples.
"We know that God doesn't listen to sinners" (v. 31). This is a taunt that the formerly blind man hurls at his questioners –– not a universal truth. Elsewhere, scripture assures us that God does hear and forgive sinners who confess their sins (1 John 1:9).
"They threw him out" (v. 34). This suggests that they excommunicated him. Excommunication would be a stinging rebuke, and permanent excommunication would be religiously, socially, and financially catastrophic.
VERSES 35-38: DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE SON OF GOD?
35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and finding him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of God?" 36He answered, "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?" 37Jesus said to him, "You have both seen him, and it is he who speaks with you."38He said, "Lord, I believe!" and he worshiped (Greek: prosekunesen) him.
"Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and finding him" (v. 35a). In the man's hour of need, Jesus comes to him.
"Do you believe in the Son of God?" (v. 35b). Unlike modern TV evangelists, Jesus did not ask this question before healing the man. First, he healed the man, and now he asks if the man believes.
"Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?" (v. 36). While the Pharisees are predisposed not to believe in Jesus, this man is predisposed to believe. Jesus has only to fill in the blanks so that the man will know what (whom) to believe.
"He said, 'Lord, I believe!' and he worshiped (prosekunesen) him" (v. 38). Prosekunesen can mean either "showed great deference/respect" or "worshiped." Scholars are divided about its meaning here, but the context seems to favor "worshiped."
VERSES 39-41: ARE WE ALSO BLIND?
39Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, that those who don't see may see; and that those who see may become blind."40Those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and said to him, "Are we also blind?" 41Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains."
"I came into this world for judgment, that those who don't see may see; and that those who see may become blind" (v. 39). Jesus does not force belief or unbelief on either the blind man or the authorities. He acts in a way that reveals God's glory, and allows people to choose. The blind man responds by believing, and the authorities respond by not believing. They are blinded by their pride.
The Jewish authorities, identified once again as Pharisees, protest, "Are we also blind?" (v. 40). They are blind, of course, because they refuse to see. Jesus tells them that they would be better off blind, because they would then not be accountable for their sin. "but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains" (v. 41).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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