All of John chapter 9 is devoted to this one story, a story about blindness and sightedness, and about power and grace. You would think a man who had been born blind and reduced to beggary, would gain the world with his eyes and sight restored. Instead, he lost everything.
But the people who were in power, temple authorities represented in the Pharisees who had driven this man out, who were seen as those with great spiritual insight are now shown to see nothing at all.
Surveilling from the shadowed eave of the portico, a number of Pharisees were keeping an eye out for Jesus. It had been an impassioned session with the man whose sight had been restored, and deeply distressing that he would choose to view this Nazarene troublemaker as a prophet, as even the Messiah. They had approved among themselves the recent move of synagogue rulers in the Pharisee sect to remove those who confessed Jesus as Messiah.
One of them tensed and focused on someone moving across the courtyard. Others followed his gaze and instantly recognized Jesus’ signature gait, and the twelve who went everywhere with him. As they watched, Jesus came up to the man they had just tossed out. He had wandered to the middle of the courtyard, stumbling, as though he were in a daze. None had rushed to help him, filthy as he was in his beggar rags.
Neither had they made an effort, for he had defiled their very ears with his obstinacy and his unctuous attempts to teach them.
Without words, they had been communicating with each other. One thrust his chin towards Jesus and lifted his shoulders and hands. Should we go find out what he is saying? Several others nodded curtly, and with a swiftness that belied their grey hair and dignified robes, they were striding across the temple’s vast marble plaza.
As they neared they could hear Jesus saying, “. . . speaking is the one.” To their startled eyes, the man collapsed to the ground, and was now on his knees, looking up with frank adoration. Was he worshipping Jesus?! They stared in fascinated horror.
“I believe, sire.”
They were now behind Jesus, looking at the man, some with hand to mouth, others clutching their robes. If their ears had been assaulted before, this egregious transgression—right here in the holy court of Almighty God—was in a whole new category of calumny.
Before they could speak, Jesus had turned and locked his eyes on them. Holding up his hand, Jesus spoke with deep gravity, “I came into this world, I into judgment, in order that those who do not perceive and see would see and perceive, and those who see and perceive would become blind.”
They glared at him for a long moment. It was exactly this sort of yeshiva argument he worked with such mastery that had hoisted them before on their own petard.
Finally, one spoke. “Then we are not blind?” It was not a genuine question. His face was composed with iron lines, his jaw set, his brows drawn, his eyes sparking with fire. One hand was lifted to rest on his prayer shawl, the other opened with aquiline grace to indicate the rest of the Pharisee party standing there with him.
It was unusual for the wind to be absolutely still, but it was. Not a breath of air moved. Jesus studied the man, then turned to study the rest of the Pharisees.
“If you all were being blind, then you were not having sin.”
They did not respond.
But John listened intently. They had asked him who had sinned, the man? In utero, as some of the rabbis taught? Or had it been his parents who had sinned and brought this great tragedy upon themselves and upon their son? They had thought themselves very learned indeed referring to this theological conundrum.
But Jesus had brought them up short.
This was not about sin at all, he had told them. Nobody sinned, here. This man’s lack of sight was intended for God’s great glory. It had made no sense at the time. Why would Jesus say such a thing, they thought, as they looked with pity at the thin and grimy beggar at their feet.
Now, hours later, Jesus was teaching on the same theme. Being blind, not perceiving, was not a sin, it was nothing to be ashamed about or feel guilty about. It was not dishonor to be hidden. There was no sin in it. It would be the opportunity for God’s glory, for the brilliance of God’s light to burst through the darkness of not seeing to the unspeakable thrill and joy of seeing.
They experienced it daily, it seemed, with Jesus. They so often simply did not see. But Jesus was saying that was no sin.
“But now that you say, ‘We see,” your sin remains.”
What happened next John chose not to record.
Who is Actually Blind?
Jesus had stated earlier in this gospel that he had not come into the world to judge, but to save.
Yet that statement is held loosely, for Jesus is also the Light of the World. The light exposes everything, the good and the bad. Some people can finally see when the lights get turned on, but others hide their eyes because for them the brightness actually blinds.
The Pharisee sect considered themselves right with God and right with their fellows in the faith. They believed in Torah, both written and oral, and lived by this law. They taught it, they protected it, they were vigilant in it, and the people loved them for this. They believed in an after-life and that God would punish the wicked and reward the righteous in the world to come.
They also believed in a messiah who would bring in an era of world peace, and actively looked for his coming. They taught on this, and they searched the prophecies and knew them. And the people looked to them to either deny or defend those who made claims to this anointing.
They felt they, of all Hebrews, were the most spiritually minded and sighted.
Was Jesus referring to them!? Were they the ones Jesus was calling blind?
In essence, Jesus replied, “You are responsible for the light you have, for the truth you know. If you were blind, then you would not be held accountable for truth you were unable to see.
“But if you, being Pharisees, claim that you can see spiritual truth, yet you willfully ignore the truth of my word, then you will be held accountable and guilty for seeing the light yet choosing to live in the darkness.”
John did not say so, but I can imagine that did not go well.
None are so blind as those who refuse to see
Being willfully, stubbornly blind about something makes a person incurable.
Not believing something will not make it go away, or be untrue, or have no power in your life.
Writing that down prompted me to wonder what God has been putting in front of me, through this Bible study, through prayer, through a loving friend or family member, that I may have been resisting, not listening to, being obtuse about.
People who are physically blind learn ways to navigate the world differently than by sight. There are still some hardships involved with being physically blind, but it is God’s grace, to make life rich and available when you have a disability or are physically challenged in some way.
But to be spiritually blind goes beyond hard. To be spiritually blind will bring death. But by God’s grace, Jesus promises to give spiritual sight to every person who will believe him and act on it by putting our faith in him.
[Cover Image | Pixabay.com]