Blindness John 9:1-41

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In our comment on John 2:11 we guessed that in constructing his Gospel John may have built it around seven signs:

1 Water to wine at a wedding (2:1-11)
2 A royal official's dying son (4:46-54)
3 A man paralyzed for 38 years (5:1-9)
4 Five thousand fd (6:1-14)
5 Walking on water (6:16-21)
6 A man blind from birth (9:1-7)
7 Lazarus raised from the dead (11:17-44)

This would therefore be the sixth sign. And it gives us much more detail than the previous ones. John pictures for us the astonished questioning of neighbors (9:8-12), religious leaders (9:13-17), the man's parents (9:18-23), and the man himself (9:24-33).

John wants us to see the miracle as a sign pointing to the Son of God as the light of the world (9:5). The metaphor of light has already been introduced three times (1:4-9, 3:19-21, 8:12). Now John wants to work around the metaphor of spiritual blindness. We use a similar metaphor when we say "I can't see the point" or "I can't see the way ahead."

What do we mean by spiritual blindness? We can imagine a man who had gone blind going to an exhibition of Van Gogh paintings. How much would he be able to pick up from the comments of those who could see? A sadder situation would be a woman with good eyes, who went round the exhibition only interested in the latest fashions of those who attended. Or someone who was asked "How did you enjoy Van Gogh's paintings?" and replied "the carpets could do with a good vacuum, and I noticed cobwebs up in every corner."

But spiritual blindness is a much more serious condition than a mere inability to see. In the previous chapter we noted that if we are not of God (children of light) we are inevitably taken captive by satanic lies (8:31, 36, 44-47). As Paul explained "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the Messiah's glory" (2 Corinthians 4:4). This is why Jesus used such tough words about the Pharisee legalists of his day (Matthew 23:16, 17, 19)

Jesus also said "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8). And earlier in John's Gospel Nicodemus was told "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" (3:3). Which suggests that it was possible to go to attend the temple in Jerusalem (or a Christian church building in our day), never see what God is doing, and not even realize that one is spiritually blind. "Surely we are not blind, are we?" (9:40)

9:1 Again John avoids being precise about chronology. Nor does he mention the man's name. All we are told is that he was a well known temple beggar (9:8), as was the lame man healed two or three years later through Peter (Acts 3:2). And the important fact was that this man had been blind from birth.

9:2-3 Jesus must have stopped to look carefully at the blind man, and this makes the disciples ask the ancient question about the origin of congenital deformity. One possibility was the Hindu doctrine of transmigration and karma which explains that our present troubles are due to our own fault in a previous life. Another was that children suffer due to their parents' fault, as in the proverb "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:29, Ezekiel 18:19, see the explanation added to the second commandment, Exodus 20:5).

In our day we are very conscious of the horror of deformity due to thalidomide, fetal alcohol syndrome, and children getting AIDS from their parents' blood. We also know that pollution and harmful radiation can damage our genes without our knowing the cause.

But Jesus' answer is that we must never blame the person or his parents for physical deformity. That is cruel and inevitably misses a host of unknown causes. Whatever a person's physical advantages or handicaps, we must look to what God is going to do in that person's life.

9:4-5 And that reminds Jesus that "my Father is still working and I am working" (5:17), and there is urgent work to be done in this blind man's life. As the light of the world, Jesus has kept enlightening people in various kinds of darkness. Here he intends to intervene to give this man not only physical sight but spiritual sight "that God's works might be revealed in him" (9:3).

9:6-7 In the ancient world saliva was used by doctors as a treatment for eye problems. In many cases Jesus healed by touching, or being touched, or by a word, or even at a distance. But here he used what was recognized as a form of medical treatment (as he did in Mark 8:23). It was a half mile walk from the temple to the Pool of Siloam to the south east of the city. And when the blind man washed off the clay an hour later and began to see he would know it was the direct result of Jesus words (9:11).

9:8-9 An hour or two later when he returned to the temple area Jesus had gone away (9:12, 35). And people who knew him could not believe that this was the same person they had previously known as the blind beggar. Everybody accepted the fact that no medical treatment had ever restored sight to a person born blind (9:32).

9:10-12 The man had never seen Jesus, but he knew his name and he described exactly what had happened to him.

9:13 -16 In their perplexity the onlookers took the previously blind man to the religious authorities for their opinion in such a case. When questioned, he told them what had happened. Their immediate reaction was the legalistic objection to him being healed on the sabbath day. Others argued that if Jesus was a sabbath breaker he would not be able to heal a man blind from birth.

9:17 So they asked the man who had received sight about his opinion. Evidently he did not know Jesus had claimed to be either the Messiah or the Son of God, and he assumed Jesus must be a prophet like Elijah (1 Kings 17:20-22) or Elisha (2 Kings 5:1, 14) through whom God had worked great miracles.

9:18-23 When the man's parents were questioned, they had no doubt this was their son who had been born blind. But they avoided giving an opinion about how the miracle occured because they were afraid of being excommunicated.

By this time the religious authorities had already decided that Jesus could not be the Messiah. They were expecting a Messiah who would arrive suddenly to intervene on their behalf. We have already noted the fact that as the eternal Son of God Jesus had been known throughout the Old Testament period as the Messiah (anointed) King reigning among the nations (1:17, 4:25-26, 7:26, 31, 41-43)

9:24-34 John now records the bold response of the previously blind man. He makes a series of unanswerable statements beginning with "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." He also mocks the religious leaders by asking if their questioning indicates they want to become Jesus' disciples. Instead of taking the obvious facts seriously they claim that his previous blindness was due to being "born entirely in sins" (see the comment on 9:2).

9:35 The RSV, NRSV, NIV and other modern translations follows the manuscripts that say "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" but that makes no sense in this context. The term Son of Man often refers to Jesus as a human being (as in Mark 2:28 and John 8:28, 12:34, 13:31), and the previously blind man obviously knew Jesus was a human being. The King James Version follows other manuscripts that have "Do you believe in the Son of God?" John has again and again been helping us to believe in the Son of God (3:18, 5:17-23, 10:36, 20:31). Believing that Jesus was fully human would not have helped the previously blind man's faith.

9:36-38 The man had not known that Jesus is the Son of God (as in our reading of 9:35), but having been so wonderfully given his sight he now has no problem believing this.

9:39-41 Jesus' coming into the world inevitably forces people to choose between moving towards the light of God or stumbling blindly into greater darkness (3:19). The Pharisees take Jesus' remark about spiritual blindness as referring literally to their physical blindness. So Jesus explains that there is no sin in being born physically blind, but for a religious leader to claim to see and know the truth when he is spiritually blind is a very serious condition.

10:1-42 The Shepherd