22.03.2020 — Irony of blindness and truth

4th Sunday of Lent – 22nd March 2020 – John 9,1-41

Irony of blindness and truth

The narration of the healing of the blind man can be divided into three sections: introduction to the healing (9,1-5); description of the healing (9,6-7); and reaction to the healing (9,8-41). The narrative includes several characters: the blind man, Jesus, the disciples, the Pharisees, and the blind man’s parents. As in John 3 and 4, the religious instruction is conveyed through dialogue in this narrative.

This account of Jesus healing the blind man functions as a commentary on Jesus’ claim: “I am the light of the world” (9,5; 8,12), which links these two chapters. The only way people can approach the light of God shown in the person of Jesus is acknowledging their own blindness. This chapter exemplifies the movement from unbelief to belief, and opinions about Jesus’ identity and ‘work’ separate those who believe in him or not. With the blind man’s declaration “Lord, I believe” (9,38), he demonstrates the kind of faith that is required for salvation. Sinfulness is the secondary theme. Both Jesus and the man were considered sinners by popular culture (9,2.24.34). Jesus reply disconnects the linkage between sickness and sin. Instead Jesus does the healing to disclose the glory of God. In another sense, the man is also a foil for the blindness of the Pharisees, a poignant example of an irony: a blind man who sees what the religious authorities do not (9,39-41). The chapter starts with a man born blind assumed to be a sinner (9,2) and ends with some of the Pharisees who are declared sinners because they pretend to “see”.

As the attitude of the religious authorities hardens and darkens, the man born blind grows in insight that he went through various stages of advancing sight. Before receiving the sight, the man never saw Jesus. After his eyes had been anointed (9,6), he identified his healer, Jesus, as an ordinary person (9,11) and doesn’t know from where he was. Next when pressed by the Pharisees he expresses his belief that Jesus is a prophet (9,17). Later, after his parents had shied away from confessing Jesus to be the Christ (9,22), he boldly rebuts the charges of the Jewish leaders and asserts that Jesus is indeed from God (9,33). And finally, when he was driven out, Jesus finds him and reveals himself fully to him as the Son of Man. The man bows down before him in worship (9,37-38), the only time in this Gospel that anyone is said to do this. We notice, as the narration progresses, “blindness” moves from a physical to a spiritual level. By the end, the blind man not only sees in physical way but also believes, and receives spiritual light. Thus the blind man, unlike his parents, becomes courageous to say again and again what he knows, to speak truth to power, to tell what he can about the amazing grace by which he has been touched. On the other hand, his Jewish interrogators become more and more blind. They go from a rather divided and critical acceptance of the healing (9,13-16), to disbelieving that it ever happened (9,18), to vilifying the man’s effort to bear witness to it (9,24-34). They end in abiding sin (9,41). The Jews are ironical in their behaviour. They invoke God, but in fact deny God; they ask for the truth, yet they refuse the truth; and they say they know, but they do not. Thus truth and reality are elusive – a context which is very appropriate to a story of blindness and sight.