John:9 is the parable of the nameless blind man whom Jesus cures by putting a mixture of mud and His own spit on his eyes and telling him to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off. Thereafter, there is some doubt that the man, now with his sight recovered, is the same man whom Jesus cured but those who know him, his friends and his parents all agree that it is him. Still not believing, the Pharisees call the man to an interview. The man maintains to the Pharisees that he was cured; the Pharisees conclude that he is either a Disciple or a liar. Later, Jesus finds the man (who, of course, has never seen Him) introduces Himself and gains a follower to the annoyance of the Pharisees who are there at the time.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
1. As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
We see that
(i) the blind are common and unremarkable;
(ii) everyone believes that any deformity or illness is from God.
(iii) It is not explained how they instantly knew that the man was blind from birth, but the implication (although the writer doesn’t say this) is that the man was begging and crying this out to attract donations - but wait! Later we will see that the man's parents are alive but, despite being blind, he does not live with them - so he has an occupation.
Now this man will become famous, and the writer of the Gospel knew this. This presents a problem – why doesn’t the writer name him in the traditional manner, i.e. Zob of Galilee, son of Tharg? Well, the writer doesn’t do this because otherwise people will go and try to check, and they won’t find him or his sons or anyone else who has heard of the miracle, so the man has to be anonymous.
Police: “Where did you get that gun?”
Villain: “From a man in a bar.”
Police: “It is stolen and has been used in a murder!”
Villain: “I’m truly shocked! How do I get my money back?”
(See later reference where the same reason for omitting the verse John:5:4 is used)
John:9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him…
We are not told how Jesus knows “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” is just slipped in there, so that, subconsciously, you will know that Jesus knows everything and thus is God. Or, more likely – is it that Jesus does know this man and thus his parents? Is a fix coming on? Are the Pharisees going to be correct? Or is it all a folk tale?
The theological point however is that Jesus does not deny that God makes the blind, see
Exodus 4:11 And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?
but adds a further reason – “God makes the blind so that you can see how powerful God is.”
This alone places God firmly in the category of psychopath, but, in 30AD was considered quite reasonable attribute for The Most Powerful – after all, God was to be feared.
See also Romans:9:19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.)
So “God makes people blind to make Himself look good” must have seemed like a really solid reason because nobody questions it.
Can we then assume that, in 30AD, everyone knew that God made some people to stoke the fires of Hell? I think it’s a good bet – even today we hear and say, “He’s a bad’un, nothing good will come of him.” There are people who are bad from birth… least that’s what people believe, so God doing this is just part of the whole show.
4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
That’s the tag line and leads to the excuse for working on the Sabbath - this is a well-written story.
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.
Why spit? Why mud? There is a phrase “He’s the very spit of his father/brother/someone else.” As late as the 1950s, I remember a colourful insult, “How did you get here? Did someone spit on a wall and the sun hatched you out?”
Spit has long been associated with semen – white viscous liquid from within the body. The insult of spitting on someone did not arise because it was unhygienic, there was no conception that there were bacteria, it arose because it was the metaphorical ejaculation over someone - with all that that implies.
Here we see the magical, life-giving power of spit which was well accepted in the belief -system of the day. So it is no coincidence that Jesus mixes this with mud (from which Adam came – a powerful spell indeed!)
7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Healing pools were common in the area and at the time. Holy springs – water = source of life - like that at Lourdes and a million other spas throughout the world and history, still attract the gullible. Significantly, there is the pool at Bethesda
It is worthwhile investigating the pool at Bethesda - Joh:5:1: After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Joh:5:2: Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
Joh:5:3: In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
Joh:5:4: For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
Many versions of the Bible omit verse John:5:4. It seems that even that population of Jerusalem in 30AD wouldn’t have believed the angel part because it is all too easy to check, “Hey, where’s this angel then?”
Between vv 8 and 23, there is discussion as to whether the man healed is the person Jesus blessed – the conclusion is broadly that he is, but the job was done on the Sabbath. But the insight into life in 30AD comes when, during the investigation, the Pharisees visit the ex-blind man’s parents, who basically say, we know nothing, he’s been healed but he’s a grown man – go and ask him directly.
You may think that the parents were just pissed off with the Pharisees or wanted to point them to the source, but no
“21a Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”
So here we see that in 30AD, the Pharisees were the religious police and able to strike terror into the hearts of the people. This is the controlling of heretics and those who will not tow the party line. I assume it came with a Stalinist show-trial. It shows what a grip the Temple had on the people, but at the same time, it shows that there were those who didn’t fully accept the power of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees do question the man, who tells them that Jesus is a prophet. Still not happy, they call him to a second interview without coffee:
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “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?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!
29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
This is interesting. Why don’t they know where Jesus came from, yet in verse 22, we read – “the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” They also know that Jesus has disciples - 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple!
Even the man remarks upon this:
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.
Here we have another ingredient of the folktale – the common man is cheeky to authority, but is right and authority can do nothing.
There then follows the summary of belief in superstition:
31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
So no logic here - no forensic explanation - just a trading of superstitions.
The story ends by explaining its moral: Spiritual Blindness. But in doing so, the writer is forced to introduce the Pharisees as witnesses to the conversation between Jesus and the ex-blind man. The writer does this as an afterthought.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Now this is a really lovely device. Notice how Jesus didn’t know where the ex-blind man was but knew he had been thrown out and so went and found him. This, theoretically, would have been easy to do. The man, when he was begging would have been in a neighbourhood that knew him, so Jesus probably went there and asked around.
(Or had Jesus said, "I'll be outside the Pharisees' place: you make your way home and I'll follow - I want to know what was said."?)
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
OK, first note how short and to the point the conversation is – we can see that it takes less than 5 seconds to read. Next ask yourself, “Why were there Pharisees with Jesus?”
Jesus needs to find the man; we do not know why – as far as I am aware, he does no other follow-up visits to his miracles. He finds him, starts to ask questions, and this is the real miracle, suddenly Pharisees are there and listening!
Has someone run off to the Temple and told the Pharisees? Even so, the Pharisees would have to sweep the area for Jesus and the man and they would have to find them together not only instantly, but also just at the moment they start to speak. How likely is that?
(Or did the Pharisees believe that the man was lying and in cahoots with Jesus, thus they followed the man after they had thrown him out and, Lo and Behold! There he is with Jesus!?)
In fairness, the Pharisees have twice interviewed the man, and we know that he is not living with his parents. So he has some address of his own, but even then the coincidence of the Pharisees arriving at just the right time is too much to accept. And why would they go? They have already concluded that the man is a liar.
An insight into the unchanging nature of the belief systems of mankind is also given. Despite everything, the Pharisees refuse to accept that Jesus is related to God and, despite everything (the Pharisees are well aware that idiots and liars roam the world, Jesus cannot see any merit in the dogma and logical cynicism of the Pharisees (Granted, it if had been real and a fix, Jesus would be unlikely to spill the beans.) Basically, there is an argument as to whom has the real hot-line to God. (They could be Baptists-Protestants and Catholics / Muslims and Christians / etc.)
John:9 is a remarkable piece but clearly a folk tale – this could not have happened - i.e. it is not the report of a miracle at all. It is a morality tale that has been stuck into the Bible and given life by attaching it to one person; the person who is the generic hero. Yet, within the tale, there are insights into the life and times of the Jewish people around 30AD.
Remember, nobody expected that John:9 would be read in 2013. It is ‘of its time’ – if they had any faith, the followers of Jesus would have been expected to have been raptured within their lifetime. However, like any good folk tale, this tale is
(iv) unverifiable and
(v) carries an inspirational message and
(vi) credits the hero with (a) defeating the enemy (b) proving his point (c) wit and wisdom, (d) supernatural powers that only spring from God, such that
(vii) people will stand in awe of Him.