THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN - PART XII
THE CURE OF THE BLIND MAN
I. This event continues showing Jesus' role in the light of the world, through the symbolism of curing a blind man. There is also an indication of baptism.
A. The healing comes on the heels of the forgiveness of the adulterous woman and the discourse regarding Jesus as the light of the world who shows forth the glory of God.
1. There the cure begins with the disciples asking Jesus whose sin caused the man's blindness, and Jesus focuses attention (for the moment) away from sin.
- The Old Testament
does say that illnesses can be caused by sin. See, e.g., Duet.
28:15-69 (especially19:28-29); Ps. 38. There are also several
instances of temporary blindness as a prevention for additional sin.
See, e.g., Gen. 19:11, Ex. 4:11, 2 Kings 6:18. But there was also
a notion that even the just could suffer. See, e.g., Job, Ps.
41. In addition, under the old dispensation, God was said to have
inflicted punishment to the third and fourth generations, although grace
to the thousandth. See Ex. 34:7. Ezekiel, however, prophesied
of a time when children would no longer suffer for their parents'
sins, nor parents for their children's. See Ez. 18:1-20.
- Some Jews also
believed that one could sin even in the womb. And, with better
justification, it was generally acknowledged that some sin afflicted
the whole human race. See, e.g., Ps. 14:3, 51:7; Job 4:16-17,
25. In addition, it was generally accepted that the sin of Adam
and Eve introduced physical infirmities into the world.
2. Thus the disciples
ask whose sin caused the blindness, believing it either that of the
parents (or possibly a generation or more back) or the sin of this person.
By proposing the sin of the blind man caused his blindness, they may
mean either personal sin, or that general sinfulness of humanity.
3. But Jesus wishes to refocus attention on suffering as showing forth the work of God, the blind man being a first example.
- Indicating that
the cur of the blind man is an example of showing forth the work of
God in general, He goes on to say that "we" must do the works of
the Father while it is still day.
- The night can
have several meanings. It could mean the death of Jesus, the light
of the world. In other words, Jesus is indicating that He must
teach the full Gospel before His death. It could also mean the
death of each person, indicating that each person must act now, for
he does not know when the time for acting will end. See, e.g.,
Is. 38:10. Another is that the night is the loss of faith that
will come if one does not walk by the light of Christ. See John
12:35-36. The idea is that if one does not act upon one's faith,
the night of doubt will come. In any case, it emphasizes the importance
of acting when the opportunity arises.
B. Jesus then cures the blind man by means of mud made of dirt and saliva and having him wash in the pool of Siloam.
1. The use of
such mud as a curative (including for blindness) was attested to in
the ancient world. See, e.g., Tacitus, Histories 4:81. Thus,
the action was not as strange as it may seem now. In Tobit, Tobias
uses fish gall and his own breath to cure his father's blindness.
there is still something noteworthy about Jesus doing so, given the
fact that He usually cured with simply a word.
3. One possible
reason is they indicate the curative powers of the sacraments.
The idea is that if even Jesus used symbols to perform His works, surely
He would have His Church do the same. In particular, the catacombs
have a number of images of this event connected to baptism, emphasizing
the aspect of baptism as opening ones spiritual eyes to the light of
faith. Part of the idea is that, as God created man by dust and
breath, so too He recreates man through dust and water. Another
possible idea is that the mud is a symbol of the recognition of man's
sinfulness and the waters of Siloam the washing away of that sinfulness
that gives one the light of faith. This passage is now the Gospel
reading for the fourth Sunday of Lent, and the second Sunday of the
"scrutinies" for those entering the Church. The forgiveness
of the adulterous woman is the reading for the first of these scrutinies,
and the raising of Lazarus the reading for the third. The focus
is on forgiveness of sins, illumination of the mind, and raising to
4. By sending the man to the pool of Siloam, Jesus also indicates that some response to God's cure is required.
- In a remarkable
feat of engineering, workers under King Hezekiah created the pool of
Siloam by digging an underground tunnel from the spring outside of Jerusalem
the location of this pool. The idea was that, if the city was
besieged, there would still be a supply of water. See 2 Kings
2:20, 2 Chron. 32:30. The waters that supplied this pool were
considered to be a sign of divine favor, and the rejection of them the
rejection of God's protection. See Is. 8:6. Thus, Jesus
is symbolically sending the man to the waters of God's favor for the
cleansing of sin.
- The man had to
stumble through about six hundred yards to wash in the pool. There
was a humility and faith in doing so.
II. The cure was on the Sabbath and thus violated the prevailing rules on keeping the Sabbath.
A. The Pharisees
ask whether the cure is from God, for it is on the Sabbath, which they
considered to be wrong, although other works on the Sabbath were permitted.
See, e.g., 1 Macc. 2:39-41. On the other hand, Isaiah had spoken
of such cure of blindness, both literal and figurative, as a sign of
the Messiah. See Is. 9:1, 42:6-7, 18, 43:8. As with the
previous cure on the Sabbath in chapter 5, they do not go to Jesus for
an explanation, but instead questions the man.
B. As the questioning
continues, the formerly blind man becomes more certain in faith, going
from understanding Jesus as a man doing good works to a prophet to a
prophet able to do what no prophet had done before, to the Son of Man,
to one worthy of worship (i.e. God Himself.) The authorities meanwhile
go from doubt to an adamant refusal even to consider Jesus' claims.
C. The man
first begins to see Jesus as a prophet, for the prophets sometimes had
the ability to cure illnesses. See, e.g., 2 Kings 5; Is. 38:1-8.
D. The authorities then question the parents. But they, while affirming the fact of the cure, refuse to take a stance out of fear. They know that affirming that Jesus can cure blindness would be considered evidence that He is the Messiah, and support of this proposition was strictly forbidden. The whole atmosphere is one of a fearful, totalitarian state.
- To be thrown out
of the synagogue meant not only expulsion from that place, but shunning
by the people. There were at least three degrees of this punishment:
one week, thirty days, or permanently. It would appear that the
threat here was of permanent exclusion.
E. The authorities then go back to the man, apparently wanting him to change his testimony. Despite the lack of any additional evidence or discussion, they claim to know that Jesus is a sinner.
1. There is an
irony in the phrase "Give God the praise," for it is a call to speak
the truth, see Joshua 7:18, Jer. 13:16, but here there is a lack of
concern about the truth.
2. They then
demand an explanation another time, asking how Jesus cured him.
They could either be trying to see if there is some inconsistency in
his accounts, or possibly asking him how Jesus got the power to perform
miracles, a question he clearly could not answer.
3. The man, likely sensing a trap,
asks them for their motives, whether they are really interested
in being disciples of Jesus.
4. The man refers
back to the sensible point that never in Jewish history is it recorded
that one was able to open the eyes of a blind man. Tobias found
a cure for his father's blindness, but that was a later blindness.
And blindness that was a punishment for sin after birth was also cured.
See 2 Kings 6:14-17. But this level of cure was unique.
5. The man argues
that the cure must be from God and, therefore, Jesus must be from God,
for otherwise His prayers would not have been answered. See, e.g.,
Ps. 66:18, Prov. 15:29, Is. 1:15; see also James 5:16. The authorities
could have argued, as they did elsewhere, that miraculous powers can
come from dark forces, see Duet. 13:1-5, Matt 2:24-27, but doing so
would probably lead to a demand to question Jesus and lead to a lengthy
inquiry, which is what they were eager to avoid. In addition,
the curing of the blind and the lame was especially a sign of the Messianic
reign, see Is. 29:19, 35:5, and a divine prerogative, see Ex. 4:11,
Ps. 146:8. Thus it would be difficult to argue that the cure is a sign
of evil powers at work.
6. Generally, the man
is trying to draw the leaders to a simple recognition of the facts that
they are eager to avoid. There is a dramatic contrast with the
simple honesty and courage of the man and the evasiveness and anger
of the authorities, as well as a certain cowardice in not going to Jesus
7. Their response
is simple insult and expulsion without any fact-finding. The authorities
are starting to show their hand.
F. There is an overall
theme that this and other miracles increase the understanding and fervor
of those willing to believe, but do nothing for those unwilling to believe.
See also Luke 16:31. This theme will be continued with the raising
III. Once the man has been rejected by the authorities, he becomes an even greater object of Jesus' power and compassion, for now Jesus reveals even more to him.
A. Jesus again defies
the law by immediately associating with the excluded person. He
then calls upon him to believe in the Son of Man. When the man
indicates his willingness to believe, Jesus reveals Himself as the Son
of Man. This reference seems more to Jesus as the judge referred to
in Daniel 7.
B. The man takes
this revelation a step further and "worships" Him. Worship
is reserved for God alone. See Ex. 34:14, Dan. 3:28. Thus,
the man goes from recognizing Jesus as the great judge to implicitly
understanding Him to be God Himself, although he may not have fully
understood the implications of that idea.
C. Jesus then spells out His role as judge, opening the eyes of those who understand they need His help and blinding those who believe they understand everything. Isaiah had said that those who reject God's ways are blind, see Is. 56:10, 59:10. Here, Jesus points out that, precisely because He is bringing the light of God into the world, those who reject Him are confirming their blindness, and therefore, entering sin.