John 9:1-412017-06-04T15:21:09+00:00

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John 9:1-41

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John 9:1-41  Biblical Commentary:

JOHN 2-12. THE BOOK OF SIGNS

Chapters 2-12 are often called The Book of Signs, because the miracles in this section are called signs (2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:48; 6:2, 26; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:37). The word, signs, is significant, because signs point to something. In this Gospel, signs point to Jesus, the Messiah (Madsen, 24).

JOHN 9-10. JESUS THE SHEPHERD

The story of the man born blind is “part of a more extended unit that is completed in chapter 10, where Jesus talks about his relationship to his followers in terms of shepherd and sheep, contrasting this with the role of the religious authorities” (Lincoln, 280). These religious authorities will reveal themselves to be uncaring in this story. In chapter 10, Jesus will call them “thieves and robbers” (10:8) who come only “to steal, kill and destroy” (10:10a). By way of contrast, Jesus says of himself, “I came that (the sheep) may have life, and may have it abundantly” (10:10b).

JOHN 9:1-41. THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-10), and is apparently still there. There are two connections between that feast and our text:

• During that festival, large candelabra are lighted in the temple courts, high on the temple mount, symbolizing “the revelation and truth of the Jewish faith” (Gower, 358-359). At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus declared himself to be the light of the world (8:12), a claim that he reiterates in our Gospel lesson (9:5).

• At the festival, priests poured water from the Pool of Siloam onto the temple steps “so that it would flow down and out through the Temple to the world outside, and so indicate the way that the Jewish faith would satisfy the world” (Gower, 358). The Pool of Siloam is the place where Jesus will tell the blind man to wash the mud from his eyes.

JOHN 9:1-5. JESUS 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.”

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth” (v. 1). The fact that Jesus sees this blind man is in itself remarkable. People prefer to pass by beggars without seeing them, because it is painful to see misery—to see a man or woman so far gone that there is no hope of restoration. This man had become part of the background, but Jesus sees him. This is the first step toward the man’s healing.

The fact that this man was born blind makes the miracle that follows all the more remarkable. If his blindness had occurred more recently, healing might seem possible—but as this blind man will point out, “Since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind” (v. 32).

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). It makes us feel less vulnerable if we can understand the cause of misfortune, because that might help us to avoid it. That misfortune might strike randomly is terrifying, so it is natural that the disciples should inquire about the cause of the blind man’s blindness.

The disciples’ question assumes that suffering is caused by sin. It could be the parents’ sin. Exodus 20:5 says, “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me”—a thought that is repeated in Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9.

Or it might be the blind man’s sin. If so, his sin had to take place in the womb, because he was blind from birth. In the Jewish thought of the day, that was a possibility, in part because of reflections on the struggle of Jacob and Esau in the womb.

The blind man and his parents are surely accustomed to hearing that blindness is the result of sin. They probably assume that the man’s blindness is somehow their fault. They might even have their own theory about the particular sin or sins that caused the blindness. Each time they hear someone raise the connection between sin and suffering, they suffer a little more.

“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. It is useful to remember that God’s works can be revealed through adversity. Our faithfulness in adversity can be a compelling witness. Our faithfulness in helping those in need can also be a compelling witness.

However, we should not forget that there is a connection between sin and suffering. That was not true in the case of this blind man, but it is often true. 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. We do the truth a disservice if we use this text to teach people that sin and suffering are never related. When I sin, I hurt those closest to me and myself as well. Children pay a price for the sins of their parents. Crack babies are an obvious example, but the principle holds in less extreme circumstances as well.

Jesus says that sin is not the cause of this blind man’s infirmity. The disciples thought that it was, but they were mistaken. We must be careful about judging other people’s sin. It is all too tempting to make negative judgments when we do not have all the facts.

“I must (dei) work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work” (v. 4). The plural “we” includes the disciples, and extends to the church today. We—all of us—must do Godly work while we can.

The Greek word, dei, suggests a divine imperative—a calling by God to do his works while we are able. We should feel a sense of urgency, because the time is coming when we cannot work. This is true in an eschatological sense—i.e., the Second Coming—but it is also true in another sense as well. A neighbor recently died suddenly and unexpectedly. I had spoken with him frequently, but had never witnessed to him about my faith. Now the opportunity is gone and will not return. Someday I, too, will die. Whatever good I would do, I must do while it is day—while I am alive and able.

“While I am in the world, I am 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. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it” (1:5).

“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). The Prologue to this Gospel has told us that the Word is “the light of men” (1:4) and that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it” (1:5). It referred to the Word as “the true light that enlightens everyone” (1:9). Jesus told Nicodemus, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than light; for their works were evil” (3:19). He told the woman caught in adultery, “I am the light of the world” (8:12a). Now he says the same thing to this blind man.

There are several “I am” (ego eimi) statements in this Gospel (4:26; 6:35, 51; 8:12, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1)—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. He will bring physical light to a blind man, just as he will bring spiritual light to the world. The healing of a lame man or a leper would not serve the same illustrative purpose here.

JOHN 9:6-7. THE BLIND MAN 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.

Jesus’ use of mud recalls the creation story, where God brought forth life from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). Jesus’ healing of the blind man is creative rather than just restorative. The man, blind from birth, never enjoyed sight that could be restored. Instead, Jesus creates sight ex nihilo—from nothing—just as God created the world ex nihilo.

“and said to him, ‘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.

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.

“which means Sent” (apestalmenos) (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. He says:

“You both know me, and know where I am from. I have not come of myself, but he who sent me is true, whom you don’t know. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me” (7:28-29).

“Do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?” (10:36).

“He who sees me sees him who sent me” (12:45).

“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. The brain of a person blind from birth lacks the ability to process visual information properly. The initial response to such a healing tends to be confusion. It can take a very long time for such a person to function normally. A neurologist says, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person” (Sacks, 70). When Jesus heals this man’s eyes, he also gives him the mental ability to understand what he is seeing (Hoezee, 521).

The early church associated this healing with baptism. It appears in catacomb art as an example of baptism. Anointing and spittle were adopted as part of the baptismal ceremony.

JOHN 9:8-12. 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 the man who sat and begged?” (v. 8). The man’s neighbors recognize but do not recognize the man. Some think he is the blind man, and others think he just resembles the blind man. It is easy to understand their confusion. There is no cure for lifelong blindness, so this could not be the blind man. Furthermore, the blind man has been a fixture for many years. They are accustomed to seeing him begging alongside the road—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. Our eyes are windows into our soul. Not only do we see other people with our eyes, but they also see us through our eyes. This man’s eyes were dull and lifeless. His posture and demeanor were those of a beggar courting pity. Now his eyes are open and full of light. He is astonished and excited. No longer crouching along the road or moving hesitantly through the crowd, he is no longer the man whom they had known. It is no wonder that they fail to recognize him.

“How were your eyes opened?” (v. 10). This interrogation by the man’s neighbors is the first of four interrogations that he will undergo. The other three will be conducted by the Pharisees (vv. 15-17; 18-23; 24-34).

“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 my sight” (v. 11). The crowd’s confusion gives the man opportunity to serve as a witness for Jesus. His neighbors ask who he is and what has happened—and he tells them.

“Then they asked him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I don’t know'” (v. 12). This man’s “repeated and humble confession of ignorance (9:12, 25, 36) stands in contrast with the Pharisees’ brash statements (9:16, 24, 29)” (Kostenberger, 285).

JOHN 9:13-17. 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.”

“They brought him who had been blind to the Pharisees” (v. 13). This man’s neighbors are perplexed and don’t know what to believe, so they turn to the Pharisees—recognized religious authorities—to make sense of this healing.

“It was a Sabbath when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes” (v. 14). Jesus has already been involved in one sabbath controversy that was similar to this one (5:1-18). In that situation, Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 38 years.

“Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he received his sight” (v. 15a). This is the second interrogation—the first by the Pharisees. They begin by questioning the man who has been healed—a logical place to get the facts of the matter.

“He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and I see” (v. 15b). The man explains in brief what Jesus did. However, it isn’t what Jesus did but the fact that he did it on the sabbath that is of interest to these Pharisees.

“Some therefore of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath'” (v. 16a). “This man” refers to Jesus—not the formerly blind man.

This is an example of Johannine irony. The healing of the blind man is a sign pointing to Christ. The blind man sees that, but the Pharisees refuse to see it—the blind man sees, but the Pharisees are blind to the truth.

However, we must understand that the Pharisees have a point. From their perspective, the man’s condition was chronic rather than acute. There would have been no life-or-death consequence if Jesus had delayed the healing until the end of the sabbath. Neither Jesus nor the blind man can travel on the sabbath, so they will still be together when the sabbath ends. Therefore, the Pharisees believe that Jesus has violated the law by performing unnecessary work on the sabbath. Kneading (making mud with spittle) was one of the prohibited activities on the sabbath (O’Day, 653). So was healing. So was putting spittle on the eyelids (Barclay, 52).

Furthermore, the fact that Jesus has healed a man does not prove that his healing is from God. Egyptian magicians proved themselves capable of reproducing many of Moses’ signs (Exodus 7-8). Jesus himself will warn, “For there will arise 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? In the case of the blind man, 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 they rely on rabbinic interpretation of the law rather than the law itself to determine what is and is not allowable. In other words, Jesus disobeyed, not God’s law, but human interpretation of that law. Another problem is Pharisaic pride. Thinking that they have the light, they resist Jesus’ light.

“Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ There was division among them” (v. 16b). In this Gospel, the Pharisees are almost always presented as hard-line opponents of Jesus, but this verse softens that image just a little. The fact that some Pharisees ask how a sinner can perform such signs tells us that some of them are open to learning the truth.

“Therefore they asked the blind man again, ‘What do you say about him, because he opened your eyes?'” (v. 17a). The Pharisees continue to interrogate the formerly blind man, asking his opinion, something they would never have done under more usual circumstances. This is almost certainly the first time that any authority figure has ever asked this man’s opinion. The fact that these Pharisees ask this question reveals their continuing frustration and bafflement (Kostenberger, 286-287).

“He said, ‘He is a prophet'” (v. 17b). There is a progression in this man’s witness to Jesus. In verse 11, the man identified his healer as Jesus. Now he responds, “He is a prophet.” In verse 38 he will take the final step and address Jesus as Lord.

The woman at the well, another marginal person, also witnessed to the fact that Jesus was a prophet (4:19).

JOHN 9:18-23. 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.”

“The Jews therefore did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the him who had received his sight” (v. 18). In this Gospel, the phrase, “the Jews,” refers to Jewish leaders who are hostile to Jesus.

The formerly blind man has probably lived with his parents all his life. They know whether he was born blind. They can also confirm that the man before them is their son.

“Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” (v. 19). This is the third interrogation—the second 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 (v. 22).

“His parents answered them, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind, but how he now sees, we don’t know, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know'” (vv. 20-21a). The parents respond cautiously. They confirm that this is their son and that he was born blind, but they do not know who opened his eyes.

“He is of age. Ask him. He will speak for himself” (v. 21b). It seems remarkable that these parents would divert the hostile questioning to their son! They surely felt great sorrow for their son as he grew up blind. They probably felt guilty, assuming that they were somehow responsible for his infirmity. They had to provide extra care for him—to protect him. Seeing him begging alongside the road must have caused them anguish.

Now, suddenly, their son can see, but the parents can’t enjoy the miracle. The Pharisees intimidate them. “He is of age. Ask him.” Caught between a rock and a hard place, the parents buckle!

“His 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. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him'” (vv. 22-23). Dismissal from the synagogue would mean being ostracized by the community and separated from God. Ezra 10:8 suggests that it might also result in forfeiture of one’s possessions.

JOHN 9:24-25. 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 same phrase used by Nicodemus (3:2). The word “know” recurs eleven times in this reading. It is significant, because 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 (note the comment on the word “know” above on v. 24b). 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.

JOHN 9:26-34. 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.

“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” (v. 26). This kind of repeated questioning is designed to put the man on the defensive or to find a chink in his story that will cause the story to unravel.

“I told you already, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples, do you?” (v. 27). This man taunts his questioners, exhibiting great courage. He is the only member of his family who shows courage! Again 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 situation. He has said, “I don’t know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). He now refuses to be drawn into opinions about things that he does not know, steadfastly affirms the things that he does know.

“You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses. But as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from” (vv. 28-29). This verse reflects the conflict between Pharisees and the church at the time of the writing of this Gospel. While Pharisees considered themselves disciples of Moses, the readers of this Gospel know that, if they were, they would better understand what Moses had to say about Jesus (5:39-40). “On the last day, Moses himself will be their accuser (5:45-46)” (Carson, 374).

The power of this man’s witness is reflected in the angry response of the authorities. Known for their learning, they find themselves losing a debate with an unschooled beggar. Capable of arguing fine points of law in great detail, they find themselves bested by his personal testimony. A lesson for us—our most powerful witness for Christ is our testimony about what he has done for us.

“How amazing! You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (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.

• The authorities say that Moses’ authority comes from God, but they do not know where Jesus comes from—implying that he must not come from God. The man responds by pointing out the obvious truth, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing!” (v. 33).

• The authorities imply that one cannot be a follower of Moses and Jesus, but must choose one or the other. The message of the Fourth Gospel is that one can be faithful to Moses only through faithfulness to Jesus.

• The authorities repeatedly use the phrase, “we know,” but repeatedly reveal their ignorance (and their blindness).

• The authorities accuse the man of trying to teach them. The reader is aware that he is capable of doing just that, but they refuse to learn (or to see).

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God, and does his will, he listens to him” (v. 31). Earlier the Pharisees said, “We know that this man is a sinner” (v. 24) and “We know that God has spoken to Moses” (v. 28). Now the formerly blind man says, “We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners.” We must keep the context in mind here. This blind man is not denying God’s mercy, but is instead trying to establish that the man who healed him did so by God’s power. He is taunting his questioners—not revealing a universal truth. Elsewhere, scripture assures us that God does hear and forgive sinners who confess their sins (1 John 1:9).

“Since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (vv. 32-33). There was at least one instance in the Old Testament of the blind having their sight restored (2 Kings 6:8-23)—and there are assurances that the blind shall see (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7)—but there is no instance of a person born blind being healed.

“You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us?” (v. 34a). The Pharisees are the undisputed authorities in religious matters, and take pride in that fact. To be on the losing side of an argument with this beggar is more than they can stand. Therefore they try to impugn the formerly blind man’s character. Their contention that he was born entirely in sins is based on their assumption that his blindness was caused by his sins or those of his parents—something that Jesus has denied (v. 3). But these Pharisees are no longer discussing theology. Now they are throwing spears.

“They threw him out” (v. 34b). Did they excommunicate him from the synagogue or simply tell him to leave? If the former, was the excommunication temporary or permanent? Verse 22 suggests that they excommunicated him, but scholars are divided on this point. Most treat this as excommunication, but Brown, an eminent scholar on this Gospel, says that it was “simply ejection from their presence” (Brown, 375). Any excommunication would be a stinging rebuke, and permanent excommunication would be religiously, socially, and financially catastrophic.

JOHN 9:35-38. LORD, I BELIEVE!

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. Chrysostom says, “The Jews cast him out of the Temple; the Lord of the Temple found him” (Barclay, 57).

Many early Christians would have been banned from the synagogue and would find comfort in this story (Brueggemann, 217).

“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—meaning, “Do you trust me?”

“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. He has experienced first-hand Jesus’ compassion and power. Now Jesus has only to fill in the blanks so that the man will know what (whom) to believe.

“You have both seen him, and it is he who speaks with you” (v. 37). Until this day, this formerly blind man has never seen anything. Now he has seen the Son of Man.

“He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped (prosekunesen) him” (v. 38). When Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, the man confesses his belief and worships him—the final step in the opening of his spiritual eyes.

Prosekunesen can mean either “showed great deference/respect” or “worshiped.” Scholars are divided about its meaning here, but the context seems to favor “worshiped.”

JOHN 9:39-41. 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 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. We are reminded of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have eternal life.

“For God didn’t send the Son into the world
to judge the world,
but that the world should be saved through him.
He who believes in him is not judged.

“He who doesn’t believe has been judged already,
because he has not believed in the name
of the one and only Son of God” (3:16-18).

Jesus does not rob the Pharisees of their sight, but they are blinded by their refusal to see. In their pride, they assume that they see clearly, and reject anything incongruent with their beliefs. Jesus does not condemn them, but they are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Son of God.

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. “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (v. 41). They portrayed the blind man as a sinner, their evidence being his affliction. Now Jesus portrays them as sinners, the evidence being their refusal to see Jesus, the light of the world.

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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, “The Gospel of John,” Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1955)

Bergent, Dianne and Fragomeni, Richard, Preaching the New Lectionary, Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2001)

Borchet, Gerald L., New American Commentary: John, Vol, 25A (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1996)

Brown, Raymond, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John I-XII (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966)

Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R. and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991)

Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)

Gomes, Peter J., Proclamation 6: Lent, Series A (Minneapolis: Fortress Press)

Gossip, Arthur John and Howard, Wilbert F., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)

Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)

Hoezee, Scott, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)

Kingsbury, Dean and Pennington, Chester, Proclamation 2: Lent, Series A (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)

Madsen, George H. O., Lectionary Bible Studies, The Year of Matthew, Lent-Easter, Study Book (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1977)

O’Day, Gail R., The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)

Sacks, Oliver, “A Neurologist’s Notebook: To See and Not See,” The New Yorker, May 10, 1993.

Sloyan, Gerald, Interpretation: John (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)

Smith, Charles W. F. and Koester, Helmut, Proclamation: Lent, Series A (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974)

Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)

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