John (Part 31): Messiah Illustration – the Blind Man Healed (ch 9)
Chapter 9 provides us with an illustration of the revelation of the Messiah. The chapter contains the story of a blind man healed by Jesus. But there are layers of meaning here that we are meant to see. The chapter begins as Jesus passes by a blind man. The man, no doubt, is probably sitting at a gate to the temple or to the city or somewhere where people constantly pass by. He probably makes his living as a beggar.
Chapter 8 ended with Jesus leaving the temple complex. Perhaps it was during this exit that he passed by the blind man at one of the gates. However, we should not necessarily assume that to be the timing. This story could have occurred days after the previous chapter’s incident or even beforehand. Remember that John is writing thematically, not chronologically. Besides, it seems unlikely that the disciples would be musing about the blind man’s condition if they were hurrying out of the temple just as the Jews’ were trying to stone their Lord. And, speaking of stoning, it also seems unlikely that the Jews would be attempting a stoning if that were the same day as the miracle with the blind man since this incident takes place on the Sabbath (9:14). But there is a thematic connection, which we will get to soon.
As they approached the blind man, the disciples considered his condition. Maybe Jesus had stopped to ask Judas (the carrier of the purse – 13:29) to give the man something. Or perhaps Jesus had just spoken of sin and judgment, and the disciples were relating it to this man’s condition. However the thought came, the disciples present the question to Jesus: who sinned causing this man’s condition—his parents or he himself? Somehow they knew he had been blind from birth, perhaps from seeing him before and in discussion with him or others, or, more simply, perhaps his birth defect was that he had no eyes rather than only no sight. Whatever the case, the disciples seem sure that somebody’s sin caused this problem. The Jews did think that prenatal sin was possible, and so although he was born blind, the sin still could have been his own. But the possibility was odd, and it was this that probably prompted the disciples’ question. The OT does seem to indicate at times that punishment is the direct result of a person committing sin (e.g., De 28:15-68; Je 31:30, Ez 18:4). However the OT also hints that punishment may come to children whose parents sin (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Nu 14:18; De 5:9; 28:32; Je 31:29; Ez 18:2).
Jesus answers that his condition is not the result of some specific sin that either he or his parents committed. Of course, the world does bear the marks of sin. The third possibility that the disciples do not think of is the inherited sinful condition from Adam. Physical deformity is a result of our sinful race and not necessarily a specific punishment for a specific sin. But Jesus’ answer in verse 3 continues with a comment about the display of God’s works.
There is a little unclearness in the Greek concerning this verse. Usually it is translated adding extra words to present the idea, as the HCSB does, that “this [blindness] came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him. However, those extra words are not in the Greek. The KJV actually has a better word-for-word rendering: “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day.” The sense conveyed—that the blindness was caused by opportunity for the works of God to be made manifest—is accomplished through punctuation: the colon after parents and the period after manifest in him. If we adjust that punctuation (which doesn’t exist in the Greek), we get a different sense: “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day.” The colon after parents was changed to a period, thus completing the thought. The word But begins a new thought. By placing a comma after manifest in him, we understand the verse now as the blindness giving opportunity for the works of God, rather than to display the works of God, God intentionally caused the blindness.
I lean toward this alternate punctuation and meaning. The meaning of the traditional punctuation gives a stronger impression that God caused either sin or its results. God never causes sin and, therefore, never causes its results. However God does manipulate activities that are the normal course of sin so that he may best accomplish his Zion purpose—everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. God never acts on whim or in caprice. And God’s ultimate purpose in everything he does in regard to interaction with his creation is for that same foundational Zion purpose. God’s manipulation, then, according to Kinship Theology, is in moving forward, in which case relationship increases and resultant blessing increases, and in moving away, in which case relationship decreases and misfortune increases.
Note carefully that God’s purpose is the glory of perfect relationship. Sometimes Christians mistakenly, I think, argue God’s purpose is his own glory. While I agree in a sense, that notion by itself has a danger of leading us to a divide between us and God. But God is love, and part of the definition of love is giving of self. So God does give of self in his love, but it is for the Zion purpose—the joy of relationship with us. We can’t separate our involvement in that Zion purpose from God’s ultimate goal and desire. It is just as wrong as to swing away from God to ourselves, claiming we are the ultimate purpose of God.
This teaches us that just as God engages life always with the Zion purpose in mind, we, as image bearers, must also engage life with the Zion purpose in mind. In community relationship, we embrace rather than avoid or get rid of. We embrace rather than interact only for our personal benefit. We embrace for purpose of selfless benefit in relationship. Notice the interactions lined up for us in this passage. In 8:59, we see the Jews acting wrongly by wanting to kill. In 9:2, we see the disciples only interested in study for their broader knowledge gain. But in Jesus we see someone interested in the works of God, which will lead to the miracle and a new relationship.
In verses 6 and 7 we come to the miracle. Jesus spits on the ground to turn the dry dirt into mud. John is the only Gospel author that records this miracle, and he wrote around AD 90. Tacitus also wrote around this time period, and he records a story in which the emperor Vespasian heals blindness with his spittle. And, of course, John is accused by some of copying the story. However, Mark, writing decades earlier, already recorded another incident of Jesus healing a blind man with his spittle, rendering the copying accusation without merit.
But why did Jesus use spittle? Some commentators try to link the spittle with OT ritual anointing. However, spittle is never elsewhere in the Bible given as a positive element. People spit at others in anger with desire to shame or disgrace them (Nu 12:14). Dirt also is thought of disparagingly as valueless (Ps 18:42; Jer 17:13). So the mud that Jesus formed represented sin. It is the washing in the pool that removed the mud (sin) so that he could see.
There is wordplay in verse 7. Jesus tells the man to “go.” And he is directed to the Pool of Siloam – Siloam means “sent.” Each half of verse 7, then, has a mini-chiasmus.
We find that the first “go” in John 9:7 is the same word used in John 8:21 speaking of Jesus going back to the Father. And we find the “came” at the end of the verse is the same word used in John 7:28 speaking of Jesus coming from the Father. Therefore, we have in this story of revelation of the Messiah the same identifying marks Jesus used to show he was Messiah in the previous section.
Siloam is the name of the whole aqueduct system bringing water from the low end of the south side of the temple mount back up to the temple area, and thus the name – Sent. The pool is at the source of the water at the southern end. This section of John is all connected to the time of the Festival of Tabernacles. It is from this pool that the high priest gets water for the ritual libation on the altar on the last day of the feast. Therefore, we can easily see the purification connection of this man’s washing there in that pool to what was shown at the altar. Through this, then, we also see that the healing is provided by God through Christ, just as is spiritual healing. So the whole miracle symbolically depicts spiritual healing. In spiritual healing, we have a release from sin (the blindness of the story). We have release by the Messiah (Jesus’ instructions in the story). We have a release through revelation (Jesus claim as light of the world in verse 5). And we see release through faith (the blind man going to the pool).
It is, I think, important to recognize that although the miracle here of physical healing symbolizes spiritual healing, the man did not have spiritual healing in conjunction with the physical healing. We will see that more clearly as the chapter continues.
The miracle is met by the man’s neighbors in wonder. Miracles are hard to accept, and so some of these people, although they knew the beggar, doubted whether it was the same man. Of course, someone who was blind but now sees may carry himself differently. And if he actually had no eyes but now had eyes, he might also appear different enough to give some doubt.
Notice the progression: a dramatic change took place, they asked what happened—what was responsible for the change, and he replied with his simple testimony. This activity continues the symbolism. It is the activity of the new Christian’s witness.
Verses 12 through 34 is a long section in which, unlike most of the rest of the book, Jesus does not appear. This section involves the Pharisees’ investigation into the event. Verse 12 sets the scene by essentially saying that Jesus is not around. We need to understand from the start that the Jewish leaders are already against Jesus. They know who he is; they are concerned about his public following; and they are interested in discrediting him. The Pharisees are mostly concerned that people will trust him rather than them for how to think of God and live life. The Sadducees are mostly concerned with maintaining the difficult balance between their Judaism and Roman authority. A popular leader outside their control was dangerous on both counts. This is why the Jews tried to discredit him, arrest him, trap him, and stone him in the last two chapters.
Verse 13 begins telling us that they brought the formerly blind man to the Pharisees. We learn two things from this verse. First, he did not go to them on his own, as the sick man healed in chapter 5. They brought the blind man. The they do not appear to be his neighbors of verse 8 (although some commentators think they are). Rather this group of Pharisees seem to be a subgroup of the Sanhedrin that have issued a summons. First, this group does the same formal summoning in verse 18. Second, they have the authority to excommunicate (9:22, 34).
The investigation appears to be divided into three plans of attack—each giving way to the next as it is found not helpful.
Their first spin on the story is to remove the miracle worker from prominence. Of course, miracles tend to be looked at with amazement, and sudden veneration is given to the miracle worker, and so this is difficult to accomplish. But if they could either find cause that the miracle worker is a criminal or that the one receiving the miracle really doesn’t credit the miracle worker, the miracle worker loses importance.
So they know the miracle was done on Sunday. They need to find out just how it was done so that they can give Jesus criminal status by accusing him of breaking the Sabbath law. Therefore, they ask the man how he came to see (9:15). As soon as the man tells them Jesus put mud on his eyes, the more zealous of the Pharisees leap to their feet crying, “Aha! We have him! He broke the Sabbath!” But others realize this reason just won’t fly. There was no ordinance against putting mud on someone’s eyes. And to suddenly claim that this was more work than other things already allowed would be a hard sell. After debate, they still wonder if they can deflect interest in Jesus. After all, the man was healed at the Pool of Siloam. People were claimed to have been healed at the Bethesda pool. Maybe the blind man doesn’t even attribute the miracle to Jesus. So they ask him in verse 17, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?”
They were disappointed in his answer. He called Jesus a prophet. Why didn’t he call him a healer or miracle worker or just really kind? Jesus didn’t pronounce some prophecy to him, did he? So why call him a prophet? The man must have reasoned (and correctly so) that this good work—this good miracle—could be only from God. Therefore, the man must be of God. And that’s what prophets were—people from God who conveyed God’s message and activity.