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A Youth Worker's Commentary on John, Volume 2
By Les Christie
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Les Christie & David Nystrom
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHere's Mud in Your Eye
Birth is the beginning of the process of death. (Now, isn't that a pleasant way to start off this volume?) Thoughts about health and healing occupy a lot of our time because we tend to do all we can to keep our decaying bodies alive There are four types of healing:
1. Natural healing in which the body throws off an intruder by itself. The body compensates for the injury or illness and rebuilds or restores itself.
2. Medical healing using medical providers, drugs, and machinery.
3. Psychological healing using trained counselors to improve a person's mental health.
4. Divine or miraculous healing in which there is no possibility of the above three types of healing taking place. This healing violates the laws of nature.
This fourth type of healing is what we'll see at the beginning of John 9.
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
As chapter 9 begins, Jesus has just slipped away from a crowd that was preparing to lift up stones in order to kill him (8:59) because of his "I AM" statements. Outside the temple—just a short time after declaring, "I am the light of the world" (8:12)—Jesus sees a man born blind who has never seen the light. Although his adversaries were surely pursuing him, Jesus takes the time to lend a hand to this blind man whom so many had overlooked. I'm so glad Jesus is never in a hurry, never too busy to care about others and their predicaments.
No one could say the healing in this passage was one of the first three types of healings, because the man who'd been born blind experienced immediate healing The scene is similar to Acts 3:1-10, where Peter heals in the name of Jesus a man who'd been crippled since birth Both men are beggars who are healed in the temple area.
The temple seems like a good place to beg This blind man perhaps hoped the people going to and coming from the temple would be in a generous mood. In that culture charitable deeds were viewed as a way to gain favor with God and as a defense against wickedness.
The man's physical condition could be compared with the spiritual state of the unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 4:4— "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." This man who'd been blind since birth did not seek out Jesus; how could he have seen him coming? Yet Jesus comes to the blind man just as Jesus comes to us—before we even consider coming to him.
While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God's creation.
Each one of them is Jesus in disguise. —Mother Teresa
2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 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."
The disciples' question may seem cruel at first. Many people in the first century—and even today—blame their afflictions on their own or their parents' sins. Exodus 20:5 seems to offer some reason for this belief: "I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." Yet this verse and Exodus 34:7 are primarily national in scope—focusing on how future generations of the nation of Israel will suffer due to the failures of those who precede them.
But the religious leaders also considered parental sins as having individual consequences on one's children. We see this today in cases where children suffer from the effects of a parent's abuse of alcohol or drugs, such as "crack babies" or those born with fetal alcohol syndrome. When a mother has gonorrhea, the infection can be passed to the child's eyes at birth and cause blindness—although we now have medication that can cure this. But Ezekiel 18:20 tells us, "The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child." Each individual bears the consequences of his or her own sin. There is not always a direct link between suffering and personal sin.
The disciples are asking why this man should suffer if his parents are the ones who sinned. Many religious leaders of Jesus' day would have answered by talking about a prenatal sin, a sin in utero. They would say that a child could commit a sin in the womb and suffer for the rest of his or her life. This comes from a unique interpretation of Genesis 4:7—"Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." They would say the "door" refers to the birth canal and this man must have been a bad, bad embryo! They would reinforce this notion by pointing to Genesis 25, which speaks of Jacob and Esau wrestling in their mother's womb.
Jesus says this particular guy was born blind so he could glorify God. He was a prepared vessel, a miracle waiting to happen. This does not mean God deliberately caused this man to be born blind. Jesus is saying to his disciples, "I don't want to get into a theological or philosophical argument; this happened to serve God's higher purpose. Here's a man who needs light, and I am the light of the world—so let's get at it." The "must" (9:4) indicates a sense of urgency.
Can you imagine the disciples having this discussion with Jesus right in front of this man? The disciples act as if the blind man isn't even there, but he must have heard every word—including their question about who sinned. They stopped not to talk to the man but to talk about him. Yet Jesus sees him as a human being in need of a healing touch from God. From his earliest childhood, this man has experienced only darkness. There was no Braille, no Jews with Disabilities Act in antiquity. He's spent his entire life begging. So Jesus compassionately reaches out to him.
When Jesus speaks of the night coming (9:4), he may be referring to the period after the crucifixion and before the resurrection. He may also be referring to the religious leaders' attempts to snuff out the light of Christianity. He says, "we must do the works of him who sent me." This "we" is inclusive—Jesus is talking about his disciples—including you and me.
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 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.
Commentators go crazy over these verses because this is one of the rare cases where Jesus uses a substance to heal someone. Usually Jesus just speaks or touches a person and healing occurs But here he creates mud with his saliva In antiquity, spittle was thought to have medicinal power However, Jesus does not need mud or saliva.
There are only two other recorded incidents in which Jesus put saliva on a person to heal him. In Mark 7:33 Jesus heals a man with an impediment of speech and hearing by first putting his fingers into the man's ears and then spitting and touching the man's tongue. In Mark 8:23 Jesus takes a blind man outside the village, spits on the man's eyes, and then places his hands on the man.
Some have suggested that Jesus healed in this way in order to make use of the healing quality of saliva, or that he did it to tick off the religious leaders because the spitting incident may have been more offensive to devout Jews than breaking the Sabbath. But Jesus healed the man in this way simply because he wanted to do so. God is creative and uses variety in his healings. We want to put God in a formulaic box (five easy steps to healing), but God often surprises us.
Notice that Jesus does not ask this man if he wants to be healed. This is a work of pure grace.
One of the extraordinary things about this miracle is that Jesus does here what God does in Genesis 2—out of the dust of the earth, he creates Jesus does not restore sight. He creates it. The man does what he is told and he can see No fanfare, no lightning. God just created two new eyes.
We don't know why Jesus didn't go to the pool with the man, or why the man had to go to that specific pool. The Pool of Siloam is a small rock-cut pool (20 x 30 feet) located inside the south wall of the city. King Hezekiah built it in 701 BC in case the city was seized. The pool was fed by Hezekiah's tunnel or aqueduct from the Gihon spring in the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30). To build the tunnel, excavators had to cut through 583 yards of solid rock. The tunnel was only two feet wide in some places, with an average height of six feet. The builders cut from both ends and met in the middle. It was an amazing engineering feat.
The word Siloam means "sent" in Hebrew. The water from the large spring outside the city was sent to this little pool inside the city walls. The high priest would draw water from this pool for the Feast of Tabernacles. (See the commentary on 7:39 in Volume One for more about this. ) It was the only source of spring water in the city.
The message in this healing is that those who long to see—physically or spiritually—must go to Jesus, the One sent by God. Giving sight to the blind was predicted as a messianic activity in Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; and 42:7.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, "No, he only looks like him."
But he himself insisted, "I am the man."
10 "How then were your eyes opened?" they asked.
11 He replied, "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."
12 "Where is this man?" they asked him.
"I don't know," he said.
Imagine seeing for the first time—seeing mountains, trees, and people. The healed man must have been dancing with excitement. But his neighbors seem reluctant to celebrate with him; they do not smile, rejoice, or clap for joy.
This man was a beggar, and then as now, beggars get treated as if they are invisible. Most people don't make eye contact with beggars. When the man's neighbors see him, some think he's the man they'd often seen begging; others think he just looks like that man He tells them, "I am the man." The man actually uses the words ego eimi, meaning "I am"—a phrase Jesus uses multiple times in John's Gospel (see Volume 1 of this commentary for more about this.) This incident shows that John isn't referring to Jesus' divinity every single time this phrase is used.
It's clear that the healed man knows little, if anything, about Jesus. He humbly acknowledges that he doesn't know where the man who healed him has gone.
READ BETWEEN THE LINES
Define "miraculous healings."
Why did Jesus choose to heal this particular man?
What biblical evidence is there for—or against—the belief that trials are the direct result of sin?
How does Jesus answer the disciples' question about who sinned?
What does Jesus mean by "the night is coming"?
What did Jesus tell the man to do? Why?
What do you think it would be like to see for the first time?
How do the neighbors react to the healing?
What is the significance of the term the blind man uses when he says, "I am"?
What does this man know about Jesus?
Why do you think giving sight to the blind is the miracle that occurs most often in the Gospel? How does this tie in with Jesus being the light of the world?
WELCOME TO MY WORLD
What types of healings have I, and those I know, personally experienced?
What is the relationship between sin and suffering?
How have I or my friends used sicknesses, tragedies, weaknesses, or disabilities to bring glory to God?
How am I similar to this blind man? (See Ephesians 4:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4.)
How am I "sent"?
How do I react when I see someone begging on the sidewalk?
If I were blind, what would I miss seeing the most?
What are some of the "blind spots" in my life?
Chapter TwoThe Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."
16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."
But others asked, "How can a sinner perform such signs?" So they were divided.
When this formerly blind man's neighbors brought him to the Pharisees, he must have been smiling from ear to ear There are several possible explanations for why the man's neighbors brought him before the Pharisees:
1. The neighbors did not understand what had happened and hoped the Pharisees could explain it.
2. The neighbors may have heard of the plots against Jesus, so they brought the healed man to show the Pharisees how wrong they'd been about Jesus.
3. The neighbors knew the miracle had been done on the Sabbath, so they wanted to see how the Pharisees would respond.
By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus is violating the rabbinic teachings (or "yoke") that had been put in place during the time between the writing of the Old and New Testaments. These teachings were based on the Ten Commandments, but the rules themselves were not biblical. For example, the biblical commandment to honor the Sabbath led to a long list of activities that were forbidden on the Sabbath. Here are just a few examples:
You could not cut your fingernails, toenails, hair, or beard.
If your lamp ran out of oil, you could not put fresh oil in the lamp You had to sit in the darkness. Carrying new oil was working. In fact, you were forbidden to turn lamps on or off on the Sabbath. (Even today some orthodox Jews have lights set by an automatic controller for the Sabbath.)
You could not make clay or knead mud—a tradition Jesus violated by making the mud and placing it on the man's eyes.
You could not heal a person on the Sabbath, which Jesus also violated While pacifying a problem was acceptable, completely healing someone was forbidden.
The Pharisees question the former blind man about what has happened, and he gives them a simple answer. Some of the Pharisees didn't seem to care that a man born blind was now able to see. They were only concerned that a rule had been broken. So they seek to break down the man's testimony.
These Pharisees insist, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." They are a little like folks who insist on following the 25 mph speed limit even if you need to drive faster than that to avoid the path of a runaway truck! These Pharisees contend that Jesus couldn't be God because he doesn't meet the standards they have established for godly behavior. But others ask: How can a sinner do such miraculous signs? The group stands divided, so they ask to hear more from the man born blind.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."
The man replied, "He is a prophet."
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. 19 "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?"
20 "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. 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. 23 That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
The former blind man calls Jesus a prophet. It was probably the most significant title he could think of. But the neighbors remain skeptical until the blind man's parents arrive.
These Pharisees are not on a search for truth. They are ignoring all the evidence to build a weak case against Jesus. The parents of the former blind man answer the Pharisees questions very cautiously because the religious authorities hold a powerful weapon over the parents' heads. The parents were afraid of being excommunicated (12:42; 16:2). So rather than answer the questions directly, they put the responsibility back on their son, insisting that he should speak for himself since he is of age.
Excommunication was a dreaded punishment There were two levels:
Nidduy, where you'd be severely talked to and then excommunicated for 30 days; and
Herem, where you'd be permanently excommunicated.
If you were excommunicated, you would have no part of the social, legal, and religious life of the community. Even your family would treat you as if you were dead. You could not buy food at a local store. No Jew within the community could do business with you. If you died, the family would not have a funeral for you. You would be forbidden to attend religious services, branded as a traitor, and not allowed to make sacrifices or read the Torah. If you were permanently. excommunicated, you usually relocated to another town.
Excerpted from A Youth Worker's Commentary on John, Volume 2 by Les Christie Copyright © 2012 by Les Christie & David Nystrom. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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