I love the story of the blind man in John 9. Stereotypically Johannine, the kind of story that we read of in 6 or 8 verses in the Synoptics is told, retold, and developed for an entire chapter. As the story unfolds we have opportunity to witness various types of responses to Jesus and Jesus’ followers, we hear more of John’s Christology, but most of all we ourselves hear the testimony of the witnesses and are thereby called to make the same assessment of Jesus that the characters in the story are making.
One thing that struck me as I read the story just now was that the story of the healing is told three times. The narrator tells us the story in John 9:1-7. Then in vv. 8-12 the healed man tells his story to his parents and others who saw him. This posse, it seems, leads the man to the Pharisees to whom the man once again tells the story (vv. 13-17).
The rising action seems to reach its apex with the man’s confession to the Pharisees, that he believes Jesus to be a prophet, which is juxtaposed with the immediately following statement: “The Jews (Judeans?) did not believe about him that he was blind and regained his sight.” So they call their next witnesses, the man’s parents, who will testify that the man was blind and now sees, but not to how he was healed.
In their third scene of questioning, the Pharisees turn once again to examine the formerly blind man himself. Now they are turning from the actions themselves to the man’s assessment of Jesus. “We know he’s a sinner, so what do you say?”
This greatness of this second round of testimony from the blind man to the Pharisees comes to light when we recall how the whole story starts. People bring in the blind man, and the question is, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” To which Jesus replies, “No, but that the works of God may be made known in him.” And so, when the Pharisees begin their questioning with, “Give glory to God,” we the readers know that their request is deeply ironic. Their insistence that Jesus is a sinner is precisely a denial of the glory of God, while the man’s own telling of his story and refusal to call Jesus a sinner is its affirmation.
The second great moment is this marvelous rebuke that the healed man levels against his questioners: “This is the amazing thing, that you don’t know where he is from and he opened my eyes!” We’re being told by the story what Jesus will later sum up: the blind man really is the one who sees, and these who should have been given sight by Moses are walking around blind.
The third great moment is when the Pharisees give their final rebuke to the man, “You were completely born in sin and you teach us?!” We who followed the story from the beginning know that the man was not born in sin, but was born blind in order that he might, indeed, become a living teacher, putting on display the work of God.
Besides being beautifully crafted, this story stands out to me for another reason as well: we’ve just gone through four scenes in a Gospels story (verses 8-34), without seeing or hearing from Jesus directly. Jesus reenters the scene in v. 35, where he will first wrap up matters with the healed man, an interaction that ends with the man affirming his belief in Jesus and kneeling before him, before turning to a final interpretation of what has happened. When Jesus confronts the man he’d healed, he tells the man, “You have seen him, and he is the one speaking with you.” Yes, blind man, you can see Jesus now.
Jesus interprets the scene for us, explaining what has happened as a microcosm of his ministry: for judgment I came into the world: so that those not seeing might see, and so that those who see might become blind. And, the Pharisees don’t miss his point. What? Us blind?! Alas, yes…
At other points in John’s Gospel, Jesus invites his critics to interpret the signs correctly: these are the work that the Father is doing through him, God’s own testimony that Jesus is the One sent into the world. Here we receive testimony from the narrator of the book of John itself and from the healed man. And the question then turns squarely on us: Do we see Jesus?