The trial of the formerly-blind man.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 July

John 9.13-34.

One Sabbath, Jesus cured a blind guy with spit-mud. His neighbors caught him seeing, and decided to bring him to the Pharisees, figuring these’d be the guys who could identify if this miracle was a God-thing or not.

John 9.13-16 KWL
13 They brought the formerly-blind man to Pharisees:
14 The day Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes, was Sabbath.
15 So again, Pharisees were asking him how he received sight.
He told them, “He smeared mud on me, on the eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Hence some of these Pharisees were saying, “This person isn’t from God: He doesn’t keep Sabbath.”
Others were saying, “How can a ‘sinful person’ make such miracles?” They were divided.

Yeah, they weren’t much good at it.

Lemme start by pointing out the obvious: By definition, miracles are God-things. They’re anything the Holy Spirit does in our physical universe. Might look natural, or resemble natural phenomena. But because the Spirit personally does ’em, they didn’t happen naturally; they don’t have a natural origin; they are always more-than-natural, or supernatural. The sick might naturally get better; or they might have the sort of disease which never gets better, but the Spirit intervened, so they get better anyway. And skeptics object, “Well, there was a chance…” because they don’t wanna acknowledge the Spirit. For two usual reasons:

  • They doubt miracles happen anymore, or ever happened.
  • They doubt the particular miracle-worker.

In these Pharisees’ case, they doubted Jesus the Nazarene. After all, he was notorious for interpreting “Remember the Sabbath day” his own way… and in so doing, violating their Sabbath customs. They didn’t wanna work in any way that inconvenienced them; he feels helping others is an entirely valid exception. Christians should agree with Jesus… and don’t always. (Heck, often we don’t help others the other six days of the week either.)

As usual, when John or the other authors of scripture refer to “the Pharisees” or “the Judeans,” they don’t necessarily mean all the Pharisees or Judeans. Some of these Pharisees correctly recognized a legitimate miracle happened, and therefore it was incorrect to presume Jesus wasn’t from God. Since their judgment didn’t hold sway in this case, it’s clear these believing Pharisees weren’t in charge. (It’s not clear whether they were a majority or not; ancient Israel wasn’t a democracy, so even if they were a majority, ’twouldn’t matter. Synagogue leadership could overrule the majority, same as a judge can overturn a jury’s verdict.)

The rest simply tried to get the formerly-blind man to distance himself from Jesus. That didn’t work, so they turned on the man himself.

John 9.17-34 KWL
17 So they told the formerly-blind man again, “Because Jesus opened your eyes, what do you say about him?
The man said this: “He’s a prophet.”
18 So these Judeans didn’t believe him—
nor even that he used to be blind and received sight.
Not till the point they called the parents of the one who received sight 19 and questioned them,
saying, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? So how can he now see?”
20 So in reply the man’s parents said, “We know this is our son, and he was born blind.
21 We don’t know how he now sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him! He’s an adult. He’ll tell you about himself.”
22 His parents said this because they feared the Judeans:
When anyone recognized Jesus as Messiah, the Judeans had previously agreed they’d be out of the synagogue.
23 This is why the man’s parents said this: “He’s an adult. Ask him.”
24 So the Pharisees called the formerly-blind man a second time,
and told him, “Swear to God you’re telling the truth. We know this person’s a sinner.”
25 So this man replied, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner. I know one thing: Having been blind, now I see.”
26 So they told him, “What did he do to you? How were your eyes opened?”
27 So the man told them, “I already told you, and you don’t listen.
Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to be his students. Do you?
28 They raged at him, and said, “You’re that man’s student. We’re Moses’s students.
29 We know God spoke to Moses; we don’t know where this man’s coming from.
30 In reply the formerly-blind person told them, “This statement you made is confusing:
You don’t know where he’s coming from—and he opened my eyes!
31 We know God doesn’t listen to sinners.
But when one’s a God-fearer and does his will, God listens to this person.
32 Someone opening the eyes of a person born blind is unheard of in this age.
33 If this man weren’t from God, he’d be unable to do anything!”
34 In reply the Judeans told the man, “You were entirely born in sin.
And you try to teach us?”—and they threw him out.

Some good theology in there; some bad.

Lemme first point out that while the formerly-blind man is the good guy in this story, and had some valid things to say about Jesus, he’s not infallible. Because various Christians have taught this story as if he was infallible; as if everything he said about Jesus was true, and everything the Pharisees said was false.

The Jews wouldn’t let you into temple if you were ritually unclean. Pharisees, who imagined synagogue was just like temple in that you worshiped God there, wouldn’t let you into synagogue for the same reason. And illness, like blindness, was regularly considered ritual uncleanliness. Something was physically wrong with you; therefore something must be morally wrong with you. It’s why Jesus’s students presumed the man was born blind because somebody sinned, Jn 9.2 and why the Pharisees likewise declared this man was “entirely born in sin.” Jn 9.34 Both were wrong, Jn 9.3 but that’s what their culture wrongly taught. Birth defects aren’t to automatically be interpreted as God’s curse. In our fallen, damaged world, most of the time they just happen.

So the formerly-blind guy had little relationship with the Pharisees of his community. They might’ve given him alms, but they also kept their distance. They didn’t let him go to synagogue: He was considered a sinner, and they abandoned him to his sins. They taught him nothing, and everything he knew of God had to be picked up from people’s communications outside synagogue. At least he still believed in God; often such people give up on him. And since he kinda picked up his beliefs about God from anywhere and everywhere, it’s understandable they’d have little structure, and a number of errors. But what he did have was commonsense, so there’s a fair amount of that in his answers.

As there should be. Theology which lacks commonsense is usually the product of wishful thinking. Look at the Pharisees, fr’instance: They didn’t want to follow Jesus, so they abandoned commonsense, lest it lead them to Jesus.

The formerly-blind man deduced Jesus is a prophet. ’Cause look at the results! It’s really a simple logical syllogism:

  1. Miracles come from God;
  2. Jesus wrought a miracle;
  3. ergo Jesus comes from God.

Likewise he deduced Jesus must not be a sinner, same as some Pharisees also deduced:

  1. God doesn’t listen to sinners;
  2. God obviously listens to Jesus;
  3. ergo Jesus can’t be a sinner.

Although I’m gonna object to the first premise of that argument, ’cause sometimes God does listen to sinners, because grace. God justifies our relationship with him because we trust him, not because we’re good. But lots of people make that mistake; Pharisees and Christians alike. It’s karma-based thinking, so it’s mighty common. But faith in God is the basis for miracles, not obedience. Balaam and Samson were mighty disobedient, y’know, and God did stuff through them anyway. He does stuff through sinners all the time. If he didn’t, nothing would ever get done!

Still, the formerly-blind man has more sense than the Pharisees, who can’t accept his logic. Doesn’t matter that he cures the blind; doesn’t matter that he did a never-before-heard-of miracle. He breaks Sabbath. It simply never occurs to them they’ve misinterpreted Sabbath: They’re right, he’s wrong, and it can’t be the other way round. And if this guy challenges him… well, he’s a sinner, so of course he’s wrong. Out of the synagogue he goes.

Which was probably not a huge loss to the man. After all, they never let him in synagogue before.

Our takeaway? Obviously, don’t be like the Pharisees in this story. Use your head. When a miracle happens, God is involved. Now figure out why he’s involved, instead of trying like mad to defend your prejudices. You don’t wanna slip up, and wind up blaspheming the Spirit.

Christ Almighty!