A lengthy spell of blindness (John 9:1-41)

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 day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 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. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 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.’

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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.’ 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. 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.’

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 and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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.’ 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. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

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.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 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?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.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.

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.’ 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.

I’m really struggling with these longer gospel passages from John we’re having at the moment.  I owe a blog post for two Sundays ago based on a long passage from John, am trying to do this one for the Sunday just gone based on another long passage from John, and know there’s a further long passage from John awaiting this Sunday too.  I find John quite a readable gospel, but it’s just heavier going trying to write a reflection (rather than sermon) on these long passages.

I get the feeling that the telling of this healing miracle would have been considerably shorter had it been in Matthew, Mark or Luke’s gospel.  In this account we hear of the blind man’s encounter with Jesus, the restoration of the blind man’s sight, an encounter between the blind man and his neighbours, the man is interviewed by the pharisees who then call his parents in for questioning too, the pharisees then question the blind man again, and then at the end of the story Jesus encounters the blind man a further time.  There’s quite a lot going on, and it has to be assumed that the author of John’s gospel included the details he did for a reason.

What to take away from this passage in  few words?  Firstly I find it interesting that following the restoration of the blind man’s sight his neighbours and those who had previously seen him begging couldn’t make up their mind whether it was really him or not.  Surely only his eyes had been healed; not the appearance of his face changed?  The ones who had previously seen were temporarily rendered blind to the man who had been born blind and could now see…

Towards the end of John’s gospel someone else is not recognised by someone who knew him well.  This time it is the risen Jesus, who has passed through death and conquered it, who is not recognised by his friend Mary Magdalene.  Is there something about proximity to God’s healing restorative power which renders people unrecognisable, even only for a short moment?

Another thing that comes out of this passage is the growing threat from the pharisees and other Jewish authorities towards Jesus and his followers.  The pharisees interrogate the man born blind twice, and question his parents whom were already in fear of the authorities.  The pharisees openly reviled the disciples of Jesus.  Of course, we know where this rising tension will lead: arrest, interrogation, probable torture and then a brutal death for the healer, the good guy in this story: Jesus himself.

The effect on the cured man is also profound.  Twice before the pharisees he defends Jesus, declaring him a prophet, as one without sin, and one sent from God who obeys God’s will.  Then face-to-face with Jesus and now able to see him (physically) he declares his belief in him and worships him: he now sees beyond Jesus’s face to see who he is spiritually as well.

And being John’s gospel the divinity of Jesus is never far away: the man born blind worships Jesus – he offers to him what should only be offered to God.  He offers to him what he himself had told the pharisees Jesus offers to God, his worship.  The author of this gospel wants to tell his readers that in Jesus he himself has found (and the man born blind has found) more than a teacher, more than a healer, more than a prophet even, more than one sent from God, more than God’s Son even, but God Himself amongst as.  The “Word”, the very essence of God, made flesh who has thrown in his lot with us and pitched his tent in the midst of us.

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