John 9 - Who is blind?

Erkki Koskenniemi
Reija Becks

The ninth chapter follows the structure already familiar to us. John tells us a miracle story first, but unlike other Synoptics, he does not immediately continue with a report on the next event. Instead, he explains the spiritual meaning of the event. As the present miracle by Jesus is the healing of a blind man, the rest of the chapter deals with spiritual blindness.

Who is to be blamed? 9:1-7

The common Jewish idea was that the cause for sickness and misfortune was nearly always sin for which God punished the sinner. With this view in mind, those born blind formed an interesting theological dilemma: for whose sin did they have to suffer, for their own or for someone else’s? The rabbis explained that Esau sinned even in his mother’s womb and thus drew upon himself the wrath of God. On the other hand, if the parents worshipped false gods, the fetus took part in idolatry even in his mother’s womb.

What does Jesus say is the reason for suffering? At this point Jesus simply does not examine the question of sin and its punishment (see 5:14), and apparently this passage just cannot be used in solving that issue. What happened is a special case, in which God’s greatness was to be revealed. Next we are led to look at the words ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ (or ‘night’ and ‘day’) in connection with ‘seeing’ and ‘blindness’. Although knowing that he is risking his life (of course it was Sabbath again), Jesus starts to heal the blind man. The day is short and requires busy work. Yet another prophecy in Isaiah 35 is thus fulfilled as the blind man receives his sight.

Explanations 9:8-34

The healing of the blind man really makes people wonder, and they try to get some insight into it. Even though the enquiries seem to centre around the man born blind, in reality they are focused on Jesus and his identity. First the neighbours and then the bystanders simply marvel at what happened, unable to grasp it. The teachers who were closest to the people were the Pharisees, to whom the people turned for an explanation. They called attention not to the miracle but to the fact that Jesus had performed a miracle on the Sabbath and thus, in their view, broken the Law of Moses. However, some wondered, astutely, how was it then that God heard Jesus, as it was a commonly believed that God did not hear the prayers of sinners. The healed man was certain that Jesus was a prophet.

The simplest solution would of course be to deny the miracle. That is why the man’s parents were called over and questioned whether he was actually born blind. Fearing the Jews, they settled for the minimum, saying that yes, it was their son, born blind, but they were not willing to talk about anything else. There was a possibility that they were to be put out of the synagogue for a week, a month, or even for life. At thirteen, a Jewish boy was deemed capable of acting on his own behalf. Referring to this, the parents relieved themselves from responsibility. So the man once blind has to step forward again. ”Give glory to God” is a solemn demand that it is no use lying and thus protecting a sinner. Nonetheless, the man asks the most vexing questions possible: if Jesus is a sinner, why does God listen to him? If God listens to him, why do the Pharisees know nothing about him? These issues are so difficult that the Pharisees close the debate by casting the man out.

A blind person sees, those who see are blind 9:35-41

Two discussions with Jesus conclude the section. One is with a person who sees and the other one is with those who are blind. Our attitude to Jesus defines whether we have spiritual vision or spiritual blindness.

Jesus actively sought out the man who had been cast out. In the Gospel of John, there are only a few confessions of faith without any reservations at all. One of them can now be heard from the man who once was blind. He believes Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, the coming judge, and worships him.

Some Pharisees are standing by, and Jesus’s tough words are directed to them. Spiritual blindness in itself is bad enough. If a person also firmly believes that they themselves are able to see, the situation is shocking. In other words, it is bad enough that they reject their only helper, but on top of that, it is most tragic if they really think they do not need any help at all. Spiritual pride is the worst form of "hardness of heart". People with that kind of heart will be shocked and surprised when the Son of Man comes as the judge of all the men on earth.