Lord I Believe
John 9: 1 — 41
This is a lengthy but familiar story we are given to meditate on during Lent. The scholarly commentaries analyse it verse by verse in wonderful depth. For our meditation we will draw entirely, on this occasion, from the Gospel Story by R Cox, and add a few explanatory notes for your assistance.
Some Notes On the Text
Verses 1 — 12
Pool of Siloam: Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind.
It was probably on the Sabbath following the Abraham — argument, that Jesus' attention was drawn by the appeal for alms by a beggar, sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the temple (Acts 3: 21). The apostles, who had been silent and lost in all the deep discussions with the Pharisees, have regained their old familiar way with the Master. It is quite likely that they did not know at this time that the beggar had been born blind. So their question is twofold: Was his blindness a punishment for some personal sin? Or were his parents being punished for their sinfulness before he was born? They knew he could not have sinned before birth.
The Book of Job had clearly shown that suffering may be inflicted on the innocent, but the apostles had probably not given much thought to the subject, and were only voicing the common opinion of their day.
No personal sins were responsible for his blindness (our Lord makes no mention of original sin, the cause of all suffering); he was to fit into God's plan as a demonstration of how all blindness can be cured only by him who is the light of the world. He represents the spiritual blindness of the Jews; they can find the light of life only through faith in Jesus.
This strange procedure of Jesus in working the cure
was meant as a test of the man's faith, the usual condition of his favours. There was also a deeper meaning to it: the blind man would receive his sight only if he washed in water that bore the name of him who had been 'sent' by the Father
(a play on the name 'Siloam'). This could be nothing else but a figure of Baptism, which gives a new power of seeing by the light of faith.
Verses 13 — 23
Temple Precincts: Pharisees Question the
The blind man returned first to his own home; there the news
of his cure soon spread. His identity was established, but the explanation of
his cure puzzled the neighbours; so they decided to get the opinion of the
Pharisees, their spiritual guides in all their problems. The people were not
denouncing him as an impostor; they were merely looking for an explanation.
At first the Pharisees adopted the same line of argument as
in the case of the cripple at the pool. Jesus was a violator of the Sabbath.
But in the light of his claims at the recent feast of Tabernacles, this was
dangerous ground; once accept the fact of the cure, then the conclusion was
obvious: Jesus must be all he claimed to be.
So they decided to deny the fact itself. At this point of
the narrative, St. John calls them 'the Jews,'
his ordinary name for the sworn enemies of Jesus; they are the same Pharisees
to whom the blind man was brought first. This man was still under the spell of
his recent experience; he held doggedly to his story; he was a partisan of
Jesus, and so they could get no satisfaction from him. Then they hit upon the
plan of summoning his parents; these simple folk could be embarrassed by
adroit questioning, and intimidated through their reverence for their leaders.
But the parents saw at once that the question was loaded;
they knew the Pharisees' hatred of Jesus was the reason for this interest in
their son; so they refused to compromise themselves. They testify to the
identity of their son, and the fact of his blindness from birth; they shy
clear of any discussion on the manner of his cure. Even though an admission
that Jesus had wrought the miracle, would not necessarily mean to confess him
as the Messias, the parents can see that the evilly intentioned Pharisees
might easily read that into any statement made.
'Forbidden the synagogue' was the Jewish form of
excommunication (see 1 Cor 5: 2). Is had been resorted to during the recent
arguments at the feast of Tabernacles, to frighten the common people from
adherence to Jesus.
Verses 24 — 34
Temple Headquarters: The Blind Man Has His Say
Baffled by the parents' refusal to give evidence, the Pharisees call the son back into their headquarters in the temple. The parents showed signs of fear and awe in their presence; maybe the son would give way under pressure. With great solemnity they command him to speak the truth ('Give God the praise' is a Hebrew form of adjuration, to tell the truth); they, the learned men in Israel, have examined the case; all they need is his agreement to their finding, and they will let the matter drop. Surely he will not dare question the decision of the court! (Neither side mentions Jesus by name during the whole of this incident.)
But they have underestimated this blind beggar's courage. He will not be trapped by theological distinctions; he stands firm on the objectivity of the fact of his cure. When they question him again to try and get him to contradict some details of his former recital, he becomes annoyed and ironical. Instead of answering questions, he attacks his questioners. They react to his taunt with insult: he can have Jesus, they follow Moses. The point of bringing Moses in is the Sabbath law, which Jesus has broken by healing the blind man; to follow Jesus, is to be in opposition to Moses, who gave this
Emboldened by the effect of his irony on the Pharisees, he launches into a long speech; the Jewish leaders are so taken aback at his audacity that they listen open-mouthed. At least one point on which both sides are in agreement is the indisputable fact, obvious all throughout the scriptures that God will pardon a sinner, but work wonders only through a saint.
Verses 35 — 41
Environs of Jerusalem: The Blind Man Finds Faith
Our Lord would not let such a courageous defence go unrewarded. He sought him out, like the cripple, and revealed his Messianic dignity, as he had to the Samaritan. It was from the voice that he recognized Jesus; but now, in the light of faith, he believes and worships Jesus both as his Saviour and his God ('worship' is always used by St. John in its strict sense).
The Pharisees present were not the malevolent group of the previous interview; rather that element in the party who were wavering between adherence to Jesus and their leaders. Jesus contrasts these proud and learned men with the humble and simple man; he has found the light of faith, while they remain spiritually blind. All through the gospels it is the same story: the sinners, publicans, poor and outcast have come to Jesus; they have felt the need of redemption. But the pride of the Pharisees has kept them blinded. They think they have no need of instruction or correction; they will not admit their sinfulness. How can they have their sins forgiven, if they deny there are any to forgive?
We know, of course, that we are just as likely to be elitist and very self-opinionated as were some of the Pharisees in our Lord's time. We can be just as blinded by our attitude of "having the truth". If we fall into this trap we are easy prey to the more dangerous fallacy that we have no real need for on-going instruction or regular correction. The message of Lent counters this false notion. Before we call for a "great revival" to bring a wayward civilization back on track we need to examine our own need for a new direction.
In our story the answer to our needs is demonstrated in the uncomplicated humility of the man born blind. The revival needed in our times is for each person to listen to what Jesus says, and obey — even without understanding. This would be revival on a microcosmic scale: not "big", but truly widespread and therefore truly "great".