A man born blind — John 9 (part four)

This week we’re looking at the story of the man who was born blind, found in John 9. Specifically, we’re looking at the three responses made to Jesus in this story. You might want to start with Monday’s post to catch up, or quickly read the first 15 verses of John 9. So far, we’ve seen that some people (like the Jewish leaders) are prejudiced against Jesus from the beginning. Others are initially interested, but competing concerns – such as the approval of others – end up winning out (just like the blind man’s parents.) But before we look at the final response, we need to take a quick detour – back to last week’s story in chapter 5. Because John seems to be deliberately contrasting the responses of the two men.

It was a very similar setup. Jesus comes across a lame man, who’s been sitting by the pool for 38 years. But he’s unable to walk and has been waiting for someone to help him in, in the hope that the pool’s magic properties will somehow heal him. So Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well. Seems like a bit of a stupid question at the time, but hold that thought for a bit. The man says yes. So Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk. And the guy does.

But again, John holds back the vital detail until now: it was a Sabbath, and it’s not only healing on the Sabbath that’s against the law – carrying your mat is also considered “work” as well. So, as with the blind man story, this quickly comes to the attention of the Pharisees. They question him:

John 5:12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

And there’s the question. What does the guy do? Does he keep his mouth shut to protect Jesus, like a journalist protecting his source? After all, there were no metadata retention laws back then, so he probably would have got away with it?

Or does he dob Jesus in to save his own skin? Deflect the charge of “working on the Sabbath” back onto Jesus. Despite the fact that – um – Jesus just healed him. And he owes Jesus big time? What will he do? Let’s take a look:

John 5:3 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

That’s a relief. He didn’t know who Jesus was, so he could honestly say “I don’t know.” All good. Crisis over. Except…

John 5:14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

So now we have a bit of a choice. Be grateful and keep silent, or sell Jesus out?

John 5:15-16 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

And there we have it. He chooses to sell Jesus out. And in so doing, gives the Pharisees even more ammunition against him. Why does he do this?

I think we can go back to Jesus’ question before he healed him. Do you want to be made well? Except the word “well” is probably better translated “clean.” Because sickness made you unclean – impure – according to Jewish law. So Jesus was asking him if he wanted to be healed so that he could become clean in the sight of his community. And the man said “yes.”

But of course, with maybe a bit of hindsight, we know that Jesus offers a far greater cleansing – for those who have faith in him. And that word “faith” in Greek isn’t just about belief in a set of facts about Jesus. It’s about trusting in him, and him alone. And being loyal to him – faith-ful to him – no matter what the cost.

So when Jesus found the man a second time, I think this wasn’t just a chance encounter. Having been physically healed, I think Jesus wanted to see if the man wanted to go further. His initial response to Jesus – a tentative step of faith to pick up his mat and walk – Jesus wanted to see if this initial response meant that he wanted all that Jesus had to offer. An ongoing, faithful, loyal relationship with Jesus that would end up at the right destination: eternal life.

But instead he sold Jesus out. He was disloyal. He saved his own neck and dumped Jesus in it. (A bit like the blind man’s parents dumped their son in it in order to avoid becoming outcasts.) And we don’t see him again in the pages of John’s Gospel.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We see echoes of his faithless response in chapter 9. When it’s the blind man’s turn to face the music. And that’s where we’ll head tomorrow.

To think about

Do you know anyone like this? Someone who’s happy to receive good gifts from God (however they perceive him), but when push comes to shove they wouldn’t want to be identified with him? How do you respond?

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