All I Know Is That I Can Now See! (john 9.8-40)

87517639All I know is that I can now see! (John 9:8-40)

His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” 10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” 11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”

It is highly significant that Jesus, upon healing the blind man, sent him to be washed at the pool of Siloam. You may remember that when Jesus healed a man near the pool of Bethesda he did not command him to wash himself. (Read about the difference between pool of Siloam and pool of Bethesda here).

12 “Where is he now?” they asked. “I don’t know,” he replied. 13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

Pharisees were the favorites of urban Jewish dwellers. It is probable that the reason the people went to the Pharisees was that the Pharisaic movement was a grass-root religious movement and was less connected to the Temple establishment than were the Sadducees. By the time of Jesus, the role of the priests, who were largely Sadducees, was in many ways taken over by the much more popular and progressive Pharisaic movement.

Jews have never agreed on any topic as it connected to anything else. This time was no exception. Some of the Pharisees consulted about Jesus’ mud making, Sabbath-breaking activity, while others did not. Some of them cited this as a proof of Jesus’ innocence and of the fact that God granted him supernatural abilities, therefore approving his ministry.

17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

Given the fact that not all Pharisees were against Jesus on this matter, we should not assume that the investigation into the man’s healing only yielded negative impressions from the first. It is possible that two parties within the pharisaic camp were debating with each other and in this case came to very different views regarding the person of Jesus. Was he a sinner or was he a saint? It was up to the formerly blind man to report what he thought and what he thought had happened to him.

But it was not so simple. The side that did not approve of Jesus was far more powerful than the group among the Pharisees who loved him. Therefore, the predominant reaction and subsequent questioning from the hoi Ioudaioi to the man who had been blind was overwhelmingly negative. (Remember, the Pharisees were part of the hoi Ioudaioi and yet hoi Ioudaioi and the Pharisees are not equivalent.)

18 The Jews still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents.

Those who rejected Jesus and his divine calling had to also reject his miracles, because Israel’s God (the argument accepted by all) would not endow someone of whom He did not approve with miracle working power.

The important thing here was not the healing itself. It was not even the fact of opening the eyes of the blind man. The issue was something far more powerful: it was causing a man who had been blind from birth to see!

The authorities refused to believe that the man in fact had been blind from birth. They called in witnesses who would validate their growing suspicion that this was either a hoax or a case of partial healing which was common in the ancient world. No one would know the blind man better than his parents.

19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

The persecution of the Jesus followers had already begun. The primary way Jesus and his followers were rejected was to expel his followers and sympathizers from synagogues.

A word about synagogues of Jesus’ time is probably in order. In short, synagogues were different from what they are today. A synagogue was something like a mini-Jewish community center, organized not around, what we would call today “religious activity;” such as worship and Torah study (though it no doubt included it), but around things like travel hospitality, caring for the poor and other activities that supported the community.

Additionally, it is important to realize that there were synagogues under the religious control of a variety of Jewish religious fractions. This is likely what was behind Matthew’s usage of “their synagogues” vs. “our synagogues.” In and around Jerusalem, however, all synagogues were under the formal control of the  hoi Ioudaioi so there were no “our” synagogues and “their” synagogues.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.” 30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” 34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

This is an important story because it proves once and for all that the hoi Ioudiaoi are none other than the Jerusalemite authorities. They came to the healed man, telling him ahead of time what the accepted answer was to be. He, however, rejects their answer by saying that he was not a trained theologian and should not be asked about the intricacies of theology and halachah (what is lawful and what is not). He only knows that he was blind from birth and now he sees everything perfectly! They continued with questioning exactly how Jesus healed him. At this point, the man sarcastically asks them if per chance they also want to become Jesus’ disciples since they are so interested in him. They then pronounce a curse on the man whom God has just blessed with the miracle of sight. They persist that they do not know where Jesus comes from and by what authority he does what he does. The healed man’s sarcasm betrayed his new found confidence. He said to them: “Hm…. This is strange that you don’t know.” Then he used their own argument against them: “We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” (vs.31-33). They became angry and accused the man of insubordination and excommunicated him from the synagogue, possibly by physically removing him.

35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” 37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!” 38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.

When Jesus healed the blind man we must keep in mind that the man did not see Jesus at that time. When the light broke through his blindness, it was very exciting and too confusing. It doubtful the man would even recognize Jesus if he were to see him again. Moreover, he was probably told about Jesus’ spitting and mud making prior to his healing by those who witnessed the miracle  since he would not have known hat this was in fact something that Jesus was doing.

Jesus asked the healed man who had been blind if he believed in the Son of Man. Jewish Son of Man theology was already very much developed in Judaism in both canonical (by later standards) texts such as (Dan.7:14) as well as in non-canonical texts such as Enoch material. Given the accusation of the sinfulness of Jesus, it is intriguing that the Son of Man in some Jewish theological writings was characterized by utter righteousness:

“This is the Son of Man who is born unto righteousness; and righteousness abides over him, and the righteousness of the Head of Days forsakes him not. And he said unto me: ‘He proclaims unto thee peace in the name of the world to come; for from hence has proceeded peace since the creation of the world, and so shall it be unto thee forever and for ever and ever.” (Enoch 71:14-17)

When the man acknowledged that he was ready to accept the Son of Man and to believe in Him, Jesus revealed his identity that he was the Son of Man of apocalyptic Jewish expectation. The man Jesus healed responded by an affirmation of faith and worship before the Logos of God who gave had given him light. This harkens back to John 1:9: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

39 Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

Jesus revealed much more to the healed blind man. Jesus told him (and to us by extension) that the very reason he had come was to judge. This meant in some cases that he would give sight to the physically blind and in some cases it would mean taking away spiritual sight from those who thought they could see.

40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” 41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

The confrontation continues. Those Pharisees who overheard this conversation challenged Jesus about his claim that they were blind. To which point Jesus responded that it would have been of benefit to them to have been blind, because than they could not be accused of anything. But in their case, they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, because by their own confession, they could see rather well.


About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

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