A man born blind — John 9 (part one)

This year we’ve looked at two encounters with Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel: the Samaritan woman in John 4 (in May) and the lame man by the pool in John 5 (last week). We’re about to read yet another encounter, that of the man born blind (John 9). It seems this is intended to be read as a parallel story to last week’s, in which we are invited to compare the responses of the two men who were healed by Jesus—both to be challenged about how we have responded to Jesus, and also in how we journey together with others who are checking Jesus out.

The story

Let’s go through the story now:

John 9:1-2 As Jesus went 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?”

That was a common view of sickness in Jesus’ day, which he immediately corrects:

John 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

And then Jesus gets a little obscure:

John 9:4-5 “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

It’s as though Jesus is trying to justify why he’s about to heal the man. We’re on a clock. We have limited time. So let’s keep working. But we don’t yet know why he needs to justify himself.

John 9:6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.

Maybe he also put slices of cucumber [pic] there, but the text doesn’t say. Anyway, having given the skin care industry a few ideas, Jesus tells him to go and wash it off.

John 9:7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

A miracle! The man who was blind from birth can now see! And his neighbours were astounded.

John 9:8-9 His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

Right from the start, there’s controversy. Some scepticism. Some resistance to acknowledging the power of God at work in his world.

John 9:10-11 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 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.”

They want to get to the bottom of this, so they ask:

John 9:12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.

So the crowd makes a crucial decision:

John 9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.

Why the Pharisees? What do they care? Why involve the teachers of the law?

And it’s just at this point, John decides to fill us in on the crucial detail in the story. (Just like he did last week in John 5.) Probably the reason Jesus made a big deal about having limited time to do the work of God. John tells us:

John 9:14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.

Aha! That’s why we’re getting the religious police involve. That’s why this is such a big deal. Jesus has broken the Sabbath – the day when God’s law says you’re not supposed to do any work. And he’s broken it by healing someone. Which the Pharisees said was against the law – unless someone’s life was at stake. And surely, if the man had been blind since birth, this Jesus could have waited one more day?

So the man is forced to tell his story yet again:

John 9:15 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.”

And the stage is now set for people to respond to Jesus. He’s given a hint of who he is by this miraculous healing. What will happen now? Will they respond in faith? Or continue in unbelief?

Let’s just pause in the story a minute. Because this seems to be the main point of this chapter. The human responses to Jesus are suddenly placed front-and-centre.

Let me put it this way: If you were an actor playing the role of Jesus in a dramatisation of John’s gospel, you’d be pretty much on stage the whole time. But here in chapter 9, this would be your chance to take a quick breather. In terms of the number of verses, it’s the longest time Jesus is absent from the stage! So given Jesus’ constant presence throughout the gospel, when he suddenly disappears for 28 verses and John shifts the focus to the supporting cast, we need to pay attention; we need to ask why!

And the answer is – John wants to teach us something about how people respond to Jesus. Something that will help us as we seek to guide others toward faith. The people we encounter: how will they respond to Jesus? What are some of the steps they might take? What are the barriers we might have to help them overcome? And what are the negative responses we’ll also have to deal with?

This week, we’re going to look at three different responses to Jesus; the three responses we see in this story of the blind man being healed. The response of the Pharisees; the response of the healed man’s parents; and of course, the response of the man himself.

To think about

Read the rest of John 9, and write down how each of these three “characters” in the story responds.

Are there any people you know who have responded to Jesus in a similar way?

Post responses and questions

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