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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

The Man Born Blind

John 9

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There is something peculiarly modern about this tale. Christians of our day will recognize the reaction of the Pharisees to the outpouring of God’s grace.

The Miracle

Joh 9:1-12 NIV As he went 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) "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (4) As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. (5) While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (6) Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. (7) "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (8) His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" (9) Some claimed that he was.

Others said, "No, he only looks like him."

But he himself insisted, "I am the man." (10) "How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded. (11) He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." (12) "Where is this man?" they asked him.

"I don't know," he said.

Who sinned?

In a debate that has long since vanished, the Jews of this time had developed a theory that allowed for some debate about “who sinned?” The question is universal; they allowed two answers:

  • First, it’s possible the parents sinned, and God punishes them by giving them a child born blind.[1]
  • At this time, however, it was considered possible that the child had sinned before birth. Those who held this position also held the soul to be eternal. (It’s not; you have a beginning, but this argument was yet to come.) It’s an argument still carried forward in Hinduism – the reason you were born such a miserable Hindu is that you sinned in a previous life.

Christ, however, staggers the disciples with his explanation: it was neither. The child was born blind so that the glory of God might be revealed. Thirty-seven years of blindness is a high price; the glory of God must indeed be expensive. I suspect the blind man might have wanted to have an explanation of, “Why me?” Most of the rest of us would like that answered too. He didn’t tell Job; likely enough he won’t tell you and me.

Work of God

Christ tells us that we must do the work of God. This takes some explanation, particularly as it concerns why we get no explanation of what that work might be at any given moment.

  • Ultimately, the work of God is beyond our comprehension.[2] We cannot understand it all. But that is no excuse for a failure to try, nor is it an excuse for leaving the work undone. God’s work includes that which has set apart for us to do.
  • The simplest form of doing the work of God is obedience to his commands; indeed, the Ten Commandments are explicitly called the work of God.[3] To the faithful Jew, this would be the work that God had set before him.
  • In the New Testament, Christ lifts our sights higher. The work of God is to believe in Christ.[4] If you believe, you obey. (But don’t forget that to believe, you must obey).

So we see that the work of God is not something beyond our grasp, even if it is beyond our comprehension. Christ sets us an example here: we must do our part.

How are we to do this? Perhaps we can look to the beggar for a life example.

The Beggar

Imagine a life wherein you can only receive, and never give. That was the life of a blind man in this time; the only “occupation” he could fill was that of beggar. His ability to eat was dependent upon his ability to convince other people to enjoy the feeling of being generous. Give to the poor; God will bless you. It’s the right thing to do. That was his sales pitch.

Curiously, it was also the sales pitch of the Pharisees. They too told you what God wanted you to do; they too would take your money and make you feel good in doing what God has commanded. The species seems to be with us still.[5]

It’s a tough life, being blind. Think of your days in elementary school. Do you remember how cruel children can be? Think of what other children must have done to this man – leading him into who knows what embarrassment and humiliation. It probably developed his caution to the point of cynicism. It is all the more remarkable, then, that he is obedient to what this man Jesus tells him to do. It sounds for all the world that someone is playing a cruel joke on him – put mud on your eyes and send you off to some pool, with the mud there for all to see on the way. We don’t know why he trusted Jesus; we only know that he did – and that counted for everything.

The Inquisition

Joh 9:13-34 NIV They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. (14) Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. (15) Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." (16) Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."

But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. (17) Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."

The man replied, "He is a prophet." (18) The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. (19) "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" (20) "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. (21) But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." (22) His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ[1] would be put out of the synagogue. (23) That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." (24) A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God,[2]" they said. "We know this man is a sinner." (25) He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (26) Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" (27) He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" (28) Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! (29) We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." (30) The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. (31) We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (32) Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. (33) If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." (34) To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.

The Pharisees

It’s a lot of hard work to become a Pharisee in these days. Much study, much memorization and a great deal of contorted logic are involved. But just because something’s difficult to attain doesn’t mean it’s worth attaining. Here’s the logic that’s driving the Pharisees:

  • Healing is work. Jesus did it on the Sabbath. Work on the Sabbath is prohibited. Wait until next week.[6]
  • Making clay is also work. That’s two you owe us.
  • Spit on the eyes is contrary to rabbinical tradition. (This might just explain why Jesus did it that way.)

With this logic, the Pharisees now confront the man born blind.

Simple man’s defense

The beggar is certainly not capable of debating theology and rabbinical tradition with these Pharisees. Indeed, they expect him to agree with them. Instead, he presents the defense of a simple man:

  • First, the facts. I was blind. Now I see. That much I know for certain.
  • Second, you don’t need to know much about theology to know that God isn’t about to give such healing power to a hardened sinner. Even the Pharisees teach that.
  • Besides, you’re the experts. You tell me how this can happen.[7] All I know – and all I need to know – is that it did.
The personal attack

If you can’t win the argument with logic and facts, do not despair; there are other techniques available. We have a good example here. Step by step:

  • Wrap yourself in the mantle of something greatly respected – God, the flag, science, motherhood, apple pie. Make it clear your opponent is not opposing you, but the thing so respected.
  • Don’t attack the facts – at first. Only after failure of logic is this useful. Even then, be selective. Twist and distort. (Satan cannot create facts, only twist them.)
  • Don’t attack morality – just bend it to your own uses.
  • Then – attack the person on the other side, personally. Explain the source of their error as being personal (“You’re a sinner, a capitalist, a man…”); don’t let the argument drift back to facts and logic.[8]

The great miracle

Joh 9:35-41 NIV Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" (36) "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." (37) Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." (38) Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. (39) Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." (40) Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" (41) Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

“Lord, I believe”

There are two miracles in this chapter; the second one is curing spiritual blindness. This blind man started with the idea that Jesus is a man – of which there should be no doubt. Nothing more than that. God often deals with us so that we not told everything at once, but things are gradually revealed to us. The man becomes a prophet; the prophet becomes “Lord.”

It’s not obvious to him at the moment written of, but later writers see some very deep connections:

  • “He made clay out of spittle, for the Word became flesh.” (Augustine). Christ, being man, uses the things of this world for his purposes. In so doing he proclaims mud and spit fit for use by God, because Christ is God and Christ is in the world.
  • Adam, you will recall, is made from the dust of the ground. No one else in Scripture ever healed a man born blind; indeed, some traditions hold that this is a sign of the Messiah. It is a new thing; as the creation of man was. It is therefore fitting to use the same ingredients.
For Judgment

Often enough Christ proclaims that he did not come to judge the world.[9] At his return, he will, but even now we can see how his simple presence is judgment. How so? Setting up a standard creates the possibility (and sometimes the requirement) of judgment.

  • Christ’s perfection is one such standard. By this we know we are sinners, and in need of grace. If we judge ourselves by this standard, we will know to seek God’s amazing grace.
  • We often set up our own standards of judgment. God, in fairness, uses them to judge us.[10]

Christ will eventually, in his time, return to judge the living and the dead. In the meanwhile, however, the cockroaches still scatter when the light goes on.[11]

Blindness and guilt

May I submit that there are two kinds of spiritual blindness, each with its own cure?

  • There is a natural spiritual blindness, such as happens for those who have not heard of Christ. The remedy is to preach the Gospel – to turn on the light for those who cannot see.
  • There is a willing spiritual blindness; those who have it are condemned simply by stating that fact.

This teacher wears a patch over his right eye, for that eye distorts his vision. If you close your right eye, you’re just as blind as he is.


[1] Deuteronomy 5:9 is cited in justification for this.

[2] Ecclesiastes 11:5

[3] Exodus 32:16

[4] John 6:29

[5] By no means do I mean the fellow at the roadside with the cardboard sign. Look elsewhere; religious television, for example.

[6] The counterargument is given in Mark 2:27

[7] Picture the AFLAC duck, listening to Yogi Berra. “Huh?”

[8] C. S. Lewis’ portrait of “Bulverism” is a golden example of this.

[9] John 3:17

[10] Luke 6:37

[11] John 3:19

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