One Thing I Know

Reading: John 9.1-12,35-41

The world community watches developments in Israel with the fervent hope that now there can be peace instead of a crazy destructive war whose the present phase began in October 2000. I was in Israel in February 2001. The seven days our small group spent there were peaceful and memorable. The only hostility of the week was the crash of a bus into Israeli passengers waiting at a bus stop in the south of Tel Aviv. Our Jewish guide had genuine care for the economic suffering of the Palestinians and questioned the controversial settlements that were still being built.

The origins of the conflict are complex, the situation intractable whichever way we try to look at it, the resolution well nigh impossible. For 1900 years Jews have longed to return to their homeland. Because of the Holocaust, their return in modern times was urgent and compelling. But in the meantime, Palestinians have lived in the land for hundreds of years.

Where did it all begin? Where will it all end? Those are questions we ask, not only about this conflict, but about many human situations. Where did it all begin? may just be an academic question of someone detached from the situation. But where will it end? what will be the outcome? – that’s the hope or despair of someone deeply involved.

Whose Sin…?

So we turn to consider the healing of the man born blind.

The disciples were detached from the man’s situation. Here’s a case of blindness. What is the reason? Whose sin is responsible? His own or his parents’? They didn’t “feel” his need. That fellow over there is a case to be contemplated, not a person to be cared for and helped. For the Pharisees he was a case too. He had been healed on the Sabbath. They weren’t really concerned about his blindness or the fact of his healing. Their rule had been broken!

But Jesus cared about the man – “that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9.3). He spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So he went, washed and came home seeing. Why did Jesus do this? We just don’t know how miracles happen. If we could explain them, they wouldn’t be miracles – extraordinary manifestations of the power of God. Of course, with mud on his face the blind man became especially receptive to the suggestion that he wash his face!

He had been a beggar, so everyone knew him. But now they had a question – can this really be the same person who used to beg? Yes, “I am the man.” Then how did it happen? “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see” (v. 11).

That was the fact and, throughout the whole story, we see the man sticking to it.

Growing in Faith…

The Pharisees became involved because the healing had taken place on the Sabbath. We would expect that the healing of a blind man to be the cause for great rejoicing. And, unlike the lame man healed by the Pool of Bethesda, he wasn’t obviously breaking a Sabbath rule (like carrying his bed). But he had been healed on the Sabbath and they regarded that as an infringement of the Sabbath rule. Who was the healer? What had he done?

The man stuck to his story and in his dogged persistence we see a change taking place in his attitude to Jesus. In v. 11 he spoke of “the man they call Jesus”.

The Pharisees get into an argument among themselves, the stricter ones insisting that Jesus cannot be from God since he doesn’t obey the Sabbath law, the others questioning whether a sinner could perform such a miracle. So they turn to the man – “ what have you to say about him?” “He is a prophet.” (v. 17)

Maybe the miracle didn’t really happen at all! We should check it out with his parents. “Is this your son? Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” The parents are unwilling to be drawn into the controversy. Perhaps they can see all too well the possible consequences of involvement. They are afraid. They know that the Jewish authorities have agreed that anyone who says he believes that Jesus is the Christ will be expelled from the synagogue. They confirm that he is their son and that he was born blind. Beyond that, you had better ask him – “He is of age” (v. 23).

So they come back to the man. The stricter Pharisees have the upper hand. “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner” (v. 24). They don’t seem to be very open to hear the truth! They have already made up their minds about Jesus.

But the man can’t be drawn into their conclusions about Jesus. He sticks to his story. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (v. 25)

As they press him for the story which he has already made plain to them, he makes a revealing statement. “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (v. 27) So simple, isn’t it? Very little contact with Jesus yet, but faith and commitment are building up within him. It slips out so easily, but they pick it up immediately. They hurl insults at him – “You are this fellow’s disciple!” (v. 28)

But the interrogation leads the man further. Just a moment ago, he couldn’t say whether he thought Jesus was a sinner or not. Now he is convinced. God doesn’t listen to sinners. “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (v. 33). At this, they throw him out of the synagogue.

Do You Believe…?

Now Jesus finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (v. 35)

The man knows Jesus has healed him, but he hasn’t seen Jesus before. “The Son of Man” was one of the special ways in which Jesus spoke about himself. It wasn’t as obvious as “Messiah”, yet for those who knew the Scriptures it was a definite reference to a glorious heavenly being sent from God.

“Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you”. “Lord, I believe,” and the man worships Jesus (vv. 37-38).

What is the man who healed you? The man called Jesus… a prophet… I am a disciple… he has come from God… the Son of Man, the Christ… Lord, I believe!

Jesus had come so that the blind could see. He came for the Pharisees too, but in their stubbornness they weren’t receptive to receiving their sight. They were in danger of a blindness that would be permanent. The key is in how they respond to Jesus.

We shake our heads at the tragedy of Israelis and Palestinians. Where did it all begin? How will it all end? Today’s Bible story begins with the question about the sin of this man or his parents. It ends with the question of the guilt of the Pharisees. What of the tragedy of an Australia which forsakes its trust in Almighty God?

How do you respond to Jesus? Who is he – for you? The man called Jesus? A prophet? Are you his disciple? Who is he? Someone from the beyond, sent from heaven?

Jesus came for you. We move towards celebrating his most important work in the days of his flesh – his death on the cross for the sins of humanity, for your sins and mine. Do you respond to him – put your trust in him – as your Saviour and Lord?

© Peter J. Blackburn, Halifax & Ingham Uniting Churches, 6 March 2005
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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