John 9

by Glenn on January 21, 2022

This past Wednesday night we read John 9 in our Bible study. There are a number of remarkable things about this passage. I’m still thinking about it (John 9) and them (the remarkable things), so I thought I would write about them this morning.

First, Jesus addresses a major theological issue found in the first two verses: “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?’” (9:1–2)

Inside this question is an assumption about those who suffer, in this case a person who had been born blind. The question the disciples ask amounts to “Who can we blame for this? What is the source of this man’s suffering? Is it something he did and is responsible for or something his parents did for which this person is now paying a price?”

And so the theological issue is the source of human suffering. All of us walk around with assumptions about why people suffer. What are our assumptions about our suffering or the sufferings of others?

Later in the passage, a group of religious leaders will admit their own belief that it was the fault of the guy born blind. They will say to him, “You were steeped in sin at birth.” (9:34)

We spent quite a while wrestling with this issue on Wednesday night. All of us suffer in some ways and what are we to conclude about that suffering? Is it someone’s fault? Can I blame someone? Am I to blame? Or we see someone suffering and wonder “Who did what so that this person deserves this?”

There is something else in that question—“Who sinned?”—that I’ve been thinking about. It’s that tendency to hold ourselves superior to others whenever possible. We think “There are good people and sinners. Those who are suffering are clearly among the sinners.” It’s as though the disciples are above this man born blind, looking down on him.

How does Jesus answer the question? He doesn’t. It’s in verse 3 where Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” In other words, “There is a problem with your question.” Jesus is telling his disciples their assumptions are all wrong. But Jesus doesn’t leave the answer there. He announces, “But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Spoiler alert: Jesus will heal the man.

A second thing I love about this passage is something I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before. It’s something about how the story is written that speaks to me. Almost everyone in the passage is a flat character. What I mean by that is everyone in the story basically is who they are all along. Jesus is Jesus. The disciples are the disciples. The Pharisees are the Pharisees. And when we meet the parents of the man born blind, they are who they are. None of them really change.

Only one person really changes in this story. It’s the man born blind. The way this story is told we can’t miss it. And what a transformation. Look at the evolution of his thinking about Jesus:
—The first time he speaks of Jesus he describes him as “the man they call Jesus.” (9:11)

—The second time he speaks of Jesus it follows an argument among the Pharisees. They accuse Jesus of being a sinner but they wonder “How can a sinner perform such signs?” (9:16) And so they ask the man born blind about Jesus and he replies, “He is a prophet.” (9:17)

—The third time he speaks of Jesus is after he has been brought back to the Pharisees. There is a fairly intense argument at the end of which the man concludes, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (9:33)

—The last time we hear from the man born blind is after Jesus has circled around and met up with him. Now at the end of the story Jesus asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (9:35) The man born blind had never seen Jesus. Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes and told him to wash in a certain pool. This act of trust and obedience resulted in his healing. And now that he sees Jesus, he declares, “Lord, I believe” and the text says “he worshiped him.” (9:38)

What an evolution. From Jesus is a man to Jesus is a prophet to Jesus is from God to I believe in and worship Jesus.

The purpose of the gospel of John is so that we may believe Jesus is who he says he is. Whatever else is going on, this is the heart of it all.

It’s amazing to me how this story shifts. We begin with a physical healing. A man born blind receives physical sight. But there is also this question of who has and does not have spiritual sight. Jesus came to bring sight to the blind. The key to receiving spiritual sight is admitting our blindness.

Those who admit their need receive from God.

Back to that issue of suffering and the response of Jesus. One commentator made this connection. Genesis 1:1, of course, says God created the heavens and the earth. Then Genesis 1:2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep . . .” There was darkness in creation and that is the moment God said, “Let there be light.”

In other words, it is the nature of God to enter darkness and chaos and bring light.

There are new headlines these days beyond COVID and the normal and abnormal political machinations going on. There are “rumors of war” in Eastern Europe. My prayer this morning is that God would enter the darkness and chaos of our world and bring light.

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