John 9 provides for us an amazing story. Many of you have either read it yourself, or heard of it. Perhaps you saw it in a clip in part of a movie about Jesus, or when you grew up as a kid you saw it on a flannel graph, although, that reference is probably pretty dated and only those of you over thirty-five caught it. Maybe, though, there are those of you who have never heard this story at all. Regardless of whether or not you have read this story, studied this story, or have no clue about this story, we can learn something today.
In this story we see different characters. There is the healer. There are the haters. And then, there is the healed.
This story in chapter nine follows a series of debates between the Pharisees and Jesus about who He was, and what team He was on. Jesus just went against everything they thought was the way to go. He kept on siding with the wrong people for some strange reason. He SUPPORTED the woman caught in adultery. Instead of picking up a stone, He picked her up and told her “go and sin no more.” He gave her a new label.
He challenged the Pharisees on what they believed in, and questioned if they even knew God at all. This was some seriously controversial stuff. Since there is no break with chapter 8, Jesus is presumably still in Jerusalem, and presumably not still in the Temple area. The events of chapter 9 fall somewhere between the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of the Dedication (10:22).
In John’s narrative the connection exists—the healing of the blind man recorded in chapter 9 (along with the ensuing debates with the Pharisees) serves as a real-life illustration of the claim Jesus made in 8:12, “I am the Light of the world”. This is in fact the probable theological motivation behind the juxtaposition of these two incidents in the narrative. The second serves as an illustration of the first, and as a concrete example of the victory of light over darkness.
C. K. Barrett summarizes the chapter this way:
This chapter expresses perhaps more vividly and completely than any other John’s conception of the work of Christ. On the one hand, he is the giver of benefits to a humanity which apart from him is in a state of complete hopelessness: it was never heard that one should open the eyes of a man born blind (v. 32). The illumination is not presented as primarily intellectual (as in some of the Hermetic tractates) but as the direct bestowal of life or salvation (and thus it is comparable with the gift of living water (4.10, 7.37 f.) and of the bread of life (6.27)). On the other hand, Jesus does not come into a world full of men aware of their own need. Many have their own inadequate lights (e.g. the Old Testament, 5.39 f.) which they are too proud to relinquish for the true light which now shines. The effect of the true light is to blind them, since they wilfully close their eyes to it. Their sin abides precisely because they are so confident of their righteousness.
This healing is so key in John’s narrative because of its great messianic significance. In the Old Testament it is God who provides sight for the blind, and here, we see the Healer doing what God does. Healing the blind. Jesus Christ in the healer. He’s the one who transforms the lives of those He touches. It is in fulfillment of these prophecies that Jesus gives sight to the blind. As the Light of the world he has defeated the darkness. Thus the miracle recorded here has significance for John as one of the seven “sign-miracles” which he employs to point to Jesus’ identity and messiahship.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew that Blindy McBlinderson, who I had known was blind since we were in preschool together, had a guy put mud on his eyes, giving him sight, I would be pretty amazed. I would hope that I wouldn’t question the method, and just be astonished and thankful my buddy had sight. But maybe, just maybe, I would be like another group in this story. The Haters.
We’ll look at the Haters next time!