A reflection on John 9:1-41 for Sunday, October 30, 2022 at Mosaic Gungahlin.
As he walked 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 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.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
…Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
John 9:1-12 and 35-41 (NRSVA)
Jesus’ disciples open our passage with a theological conundrum: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
A question callously devoid of either connection or compassion. Theology can be.
They wonder of the origin of this man’s blindness – but only to an extent. They do not question whether this man’s lack of sight extends from ’sin’ itself. Their only query is in regard to who committed the sin: “…this man or his parents…?”
They have made an assumed a clear connection between suffering and ’sin’.
Jesus, however, does not hold to their understanding. In fact, he radically departs from it. If there is purpose here, he claims, it resides not in punishment, but in the revelation of ’God’s works’. Jesus – rather than linking blindness and sin – links this suffering to the shedding of light upon the work of God. The original word used here implies both light and sight. This work is intended to be a revealing.
Through this, Jesus will turn the light on.
This metaphor is continued in Jesus’ use of ’day’, ’night’, and then Jesus’ provocative claim: ’I am the light of the world’.
Our text leaves very little initial space to contemplate this phrase. Jesus immediately spits, makes a mud-pack, and smears it on the man’s eyes. Unlike many gospel healings, this one is Jesus-initiated. There is no approaching Jesus here. No request. In fact, this physical contact is the first contact – or recognition of any kind – between Jesus and this man. Jesus doesn’t even ask permission.
Just the spreading of a newly made mud-cake on unseeing eyes.
This is a beautiful moment of incarnation – the creator stooping to utilise body-fluid and dirt to do God’s ’work’.
Heaven and earth united.
Make no mistake, John wants us to know that this healing is ’work’. It even looks like the kind of work a doctor might perform. Jesus simply made a salve, spread it on the offending area, and asked the man to wash.
The work of any first-century healer.
John also seems to go out of his way to ensure that his readers make a connection between the call to go to the ‘…pool of Siloam’ and its meaning. Siloam, we are told, is translated ’sent’. As our story unfolds, we can’t help wondering if Jesus sends this unnamed man to be healed or on a mission to tell of this encounter.
My suspicion: Both.
The resulting miracle, or as we understand it by now, ’sign’, is described so simply by John: ‘Then he went and washed and came back able to see.’
The work of the ‘light of the world’.
Our story reads as if all this occurs beyond the prying eyes of the public. It seems there are no witnesses to the entirety of this miracle whatsoever – a characteristic we have seen in both the water-to-wine sign and the healing of the official’s son.
Here, however, there is one notable exception: this previously blind beggar.
And it is this one who will repeatedly offers his simple testimony.
This man’s story, significantly, comes in response to his ’neighbours’ astonishment: ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’, they ask. Clearly there is some dispute over his identity. He casually assures, ’I am the man’. Those satisfied move onto the question of how. His short, initial account: “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’
His claim spreads like wild-fire and moves the focus of the inspired investigation from the man-born-blind to the one who ’sent’ him: Jesus.
But, ’Where is he?’
The encounter between the Pharisees and this newly healed man is revealing. There is plenty of evidence of a miracle. So much so that by the time this man is before the religious leaders there is little dispute about the healing.
The problem is the breaking of the sabbath. This is about work done when.
Surely we are supposed to recognise blindness here. Perhaps also a blinding light.
So they interview and re-interview. They call his parents who can offer no independent witness. This man only repeats and re-words.
In the end their response is to expel. It is surely an admission that the Pharisees have no real answers. Their final accusation reminds the reader that they come from the disciple’s original perspective on blindness. Their assessment: ”You were born entirely in sins…”
I love the text’s movement at this point. The Pharisees ’drove him out’, and when Jesus heard that they had ‘driven him out’ he went in search of him. The healer’s response: Jesus ’…found him…’
Driven from religious spaces to be found by the ’light of the world’..
Unsurprisingly, it results in a second encounter – and a second seeing.
His response to Jesus’ invitation to believe in the ’Son of Man’ reveals that the previously blind man has no idea about Jesus. This man understands so little. He can’t explain the gospel. All he has is his limited, though personal, story. Jesus’ offers his brief clarification, however, and it results in trust and worship.
A further epiphany: ”You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.”
The final paragraph seems to be Jesus’ commentary on the whole incident: ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
The Pharisee’s seem to have at least understood this metaphor well enough to use it. Their question may also reveal their growing uncertainty. ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Perhaps it reveals doubt – or fear.
Does it also point to a promising crack in their religious certainty?
If so, Jesus is aware of it enough to take the opportunity to pry a little further. Jesus cycles back once again to the disciple’s – and the Pharisee’s – initial link between ’sin’ and suffering. These religious leaders, even while refusing to see the ‘work of God’ in front of them are still claiming 20/20 vision. Yet, all they see is a breach of the code.
They are turning away from this ’sign’.
And that amounts to Jesus sad assessment: ‘…your sin remains.’
Of course, his is not a final or absolute assessment. After all, this one came to reveal a way for all – including those blinded by shallow religion – to live in the ’light of the world’ .
What do you think this story might imply about God’s action in our lives before we understand? What do you think this story implies about our incomplete encounters with God and the telling of these stories?
How does this story invite us to address the limitation of law and religion?