John 9: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
Although verses 1–2 were already covered in great, laborious length in the previous post, I’m including the whole chapter as part of this post, since it’s all one story. So those verses are being covered twice, but it’s my blog, I can make up whatever rules I want for how often passages are covered…
As we saw in the previous passage, Jesus and his disciples are passing by a man who was born blind, and the disciples ask Jesus why the man was born blind. They’re assuming it was caused by sin, they’re just wondering whose sin it was: the man’s, or his parents’?
But Jesus tells them that neither the man nor his parents caused this blindness by their sin. The reason he was born blind was “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3). He then goes off on what seems like a tangent:
“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.” (verses 4–5)
He then heals the man: he spits on the ground to make some mud, rubs the mud on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go and wash his eyes in a certain pool. The man does, and when he comes back he can see!
Not surprisingly, this healing causes a stir:
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” (verses 8–12)
So the people bring the man to the Pharisees, and specific mention is made of the fact that this took place on the Sabbath. The Pharisees ask him how he received his sight, and he tells them: Jesus put mud on his eyes, then he washed, and now he sees. This divides the Pharisees, with some saying Jesus can’t be from God since he doesn’t keep the Sabbath but others saying that a sinner couldn’t possible do the things Jesus is doing. So they ask the man himself: what does he say about Jesus? He responds that he thinks Jesus is a prophet.
But then another thought occurs to them: maybe this is all a bunch of noise about nothing—maybe the man hadn’t actually been blind in the first place!
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 how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (verses 18–23)
So they call the man back in, and they’re like, look, we know this guy Jesus is a sinner (which presupposes that he couldn’t have performed this kind of miracle), so please just tell the truth! The man answers that he doesn’t know if Jesus is a sinner or not, all he knows is that he used to be blind, and now he’s not blind. So they ask him again: tell us how he did it. This time the man seems like he’s starting to get exasperated: he already told them how Jesus healed him, and they obviously didn’t listen! And then he adds some fuel to the fire, saying, “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (verse 27) This amps up the argument:
And 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, “Why, this is an amazing 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 if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (verses 28–34)
(Instead of “You were born in utter sin,” the NIV says, “You were steeped in sin at birth” in verse 34, which seems even more graphic. Despite what Jesus said to his disciples about the causes of the man’s sin, the Pharisees seem to have chosen a different theory as to why he was born blind.)
When Jesus hears that the man has been cast out he seeks him out and asks him if he believes in “the Son of Man.” And at this point the man demonstrates his lack of knowledge, coupled with his faith in Jesus: he says he doesn’t even know who the Son of Man is, but if Jesus tells him, he’ll believe in him! Jesus tells the man that he’s the Son of Man—actually, he says to the man, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (verse 37, emphasis added), which re-emphasizes that Jesus has proven himself with this impactful miracle—so the man immediately believes and worships Jesus.
Then, as he so often does, Jesus points out how his miracle is a metaphor for a larger spiritual point:
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (verse 39)
Some Pharisees overhear Jesus saying this, and ask him, “Are we also blind?” (verse 40). Jesus answers, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (verse 41).
This is yet another event in the life of Jesus in which the Pharisees challenge him for the actions he’s taking on the Sabbath, but it gives us more than the usual amount of detail as to how and why the Pharisees are coming to their conclusions.
Jesus’ Apparent Tangent
Jesus’ disciples have asked him whose sin it was who caused the man to be born blind, and he responded that it wasn’t caused by sin at all. But then, before healing the man, Jesus talks about the fact that we have to do God’s work while we still can, and that Jesus isn’t going to be in this world forever (as a man), but that he’s the light of the world as long as he’s in it.
Jesus is aware of the fact that it’s the Sabbath, and even though people aren’t going to like it, this man needs help so Jesus is going to help him.
A lot of people (including myself) are struck by the fact that he decided to heal this man by making some mud and applying it to the man’s eyes. In other instances Jesus heals with a word—sometimes he even does it from a distance!—so why the mud in this case?
- He might have been doing it this way for the sake of a man who hadn’t had a lot of physical contact with others in his life; Jesus is actually touching the man.
- Perhaps the man had weak faith, and needed what seemed like “medicine” to believe he could be healed?
- Some of the commentaries I looked at compared this healing of the man with “clay” to God’s initial formation of Adam through clay; perhaps this was a callback to that?
- It’s also possible that Jesus did it in this way specifically to stir up conflict with the Pharisees: perhaps “making mud” in this way was something they’d have considered “work,” which would cause the rest of the conflict to come for the rest of the chapter.
I will say that Matthew Henry’s Commentary made an interesting point on Jesus’ use of spittle to make the mud:
He made clay of his own spittle, because there was no water near; and he would teach us not to be nice or curious, but, when we have at any time occasion, to be willing to take up with that which is next hand, if it will but serve the turn. Why should we go about for that which may as well be had and done a nearer way? Christ’s making use of his own spittle intimates that there is healing virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ; clay made of Christ’s spittle was much more precious than the balm of Gilead.
The debate among the Pharisees—and between the Pharisees and the newly healed man—is fascinating. For one thing it’s not the one-sided form of “debate” that’s often presented in the Gospels. At least some of the Pharisees here seem to be genuinely trying to discover the truth, not just trying to shut Jesus down.
As a whole, if we look at the bulk of the Gospels, the Pharisees weren’t genuinely debating with Jesus or listening to him, but that doesn’t mean that some individual Pharisees weren’t genuinely trying to serve God in what they thought was the best way. It’s even mentioned in Acts 15 that some of the Christians in the new Church were from the party of the Pharisees, so some eventually believed. (Paul himself, of course, being the most prominent example.) Who knows, maybe some of the Pharisees mentioned in this passage eventually became Christians!
And then when we bring in the newly healed man, it seems like a classic case of “book learning” debating with “street smarts.” The Pharisees know what they know based on countless hours and effort studying the Scriptures, trying to glean all the knowledge possible out of them; the man responds with, “I don’t know about all that, but I know that I used to be blind, and now I can see, and Jesus did it.” When they call the man a sinner and cast him out, it almost seems like they’re frustrated with the way the conversation is going.
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
A minor point on this question, but as mentioned, the man doesn’t understand who Jesus is—not fully. He knows Jesus has power from God, and assumes Jesus must be a prophet, but he doesn’t have full understanding. And that’s not a barrier to him believing in Jesus!
The same thing happens to many new Christians, to this day. When someone comes to faith in Him, that person doesn’t necessarily understand a lot about Him. There are many things—even things that we might consider fundamentals to Christian knowledge—that the person might not yet know. Many Christians, when they first come to faith, might be in exactly the state that this man was in: I don’t understand all of this, Jesus, but I trust you.
I keep coming across passages in the book of John that are soaked in theology, and that cause me to think deeply about who Jesus is (and who I am in relation to Him), which is good and beneficial to me. But John also includes verse 3:16, and even understanding that God loves the world enough to send His Son to die for us is a good starting point to faith and further knowledge.
Sight to the Blind
Jesus tells the newly healed man that he came to give sight to the blind—obviously meaning more than just literal blindness and sight, but referring to spiritual blindness and sight—but that he also came so that those who “see” might become blind. He says something similar to the Pharisees: if they were blind they wouldn’t be guilty, but because they claim to see, they are guilty.
The point is not that Jesus is causing the Pharisees’ blindness. What he’s saying is that their spiritual pride—their surety that they know the way to God’s heart, and unwillingness to listen to Jesus—is exactly what is preventing them from seeing the actual truth; from having “sight.”
The same thing definitely happens in a modern context. I wrote this at what I assume was the tail end of the postmodern era (before it was yet replaced with whatever came after postmodernism), when the idea of “absolute truth” was anathema to a lot of people: many people would have been prevented from believing in Christianity because they were so sure that there’s no such thing as absolute truth that they’d reject out of hand a religion that would not only claim to be the arbiter of absolute truth but also make the audacious claim that Jesus is the only way to God, to the exclusion of all other means! People who were so sure they were right on that point (ironically) that they couldn’t even hear the claims of Christianity, thus ensuring their blindness.
But even those of us who are Christians can fall prey to this on individual points. How often do we read the Bible and simply reject certain passages out of hand—whether we do it consciously or subconsciously—because there’s already a believe planted in our minds that we won’t let be dislodged by the Scriptures? It’s really easy to scoff at the Pharisees’ unbelief in the Gospels, and then do exactly the same thing ourselves when we read our Bibles!
This tendency is nefarious and often non-obvious, unfortunately. So the best we can do is pray: before we ever delve into the Scriptures, we should be asking God to help us to see what He has put in His Word, and accept it, even if it’s different (or antithetical) to our existing beliefs.