John 9: Conclusion

At this point in John's narrative, even a reader as obtuse as I am should begin to see the connection with Chapter 8, in which the Pharisees had denounced Jesus as a Samaritan and a demoniac.  Why Samaritan?  In Chapter Seven, He “walked in Galilee,” because he had aroused hostility “in Jewry,” that is, in Judaea, where  they ridiculed him as a Galilean, a hinterland of the tiny Jewish kingdom that had been traded away by Solomon and only restored at the end of the Second Century by the later Maccabean rulers, who forced the inhabitants to convert to Judaism.  

A quick glance at a map reveals that Galilee lies beyond Samaria.  The Judaei, as John repeatedly calls them—real Jews in their own conceit—had reason to distrust and despite the outlanders of Galilee.  Some in Judaea recognized him as a prophet; others as the Christ; “But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?”  When Nicodemus attempts to speak on Jesus’ behalf, he meets with the same charge:  “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.”

In chapter eight, after the controversy over the woman taken in adultery, Jesus tells these Judaei that those who follow him will know the truth, and the truth will set them free, but some of them, relying on their descent from Abraham, scoff at the notion that they have ever been anything but free.  When Jesus finally discloses the truth— “Before Abraham was, I am”—the Judaei pick up stones in order to stone him to death, but he hides himself and leaves the temple.  I should think there is a more than little significance in that last verse of the chapter:  Jesus’s true nature is hidden from the Pharisees, and in leaving the temple, he is taking his decisive step that separates Himself from official Judaism.  

This is the context for Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees in chapter nine.  They have repudiated Him as a Galileean—a bogus Jew—and thus the equivalent of a Samaritan and a demoniac, and now they declare him a sinner, for not keeping the Sabbath, and thus incapable of doing miracles that come from God. 

Not satisfied with the testimony of witnesses or of the formerly blind man, they summon his parents, who hem and haw:  “…by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself."    "These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”  We know that after the Crucifixion it was a regular policy (how strictly enforced, we do not know) to exclude Christians from formal Jewish functions, and it is exactly in this seen we begin to see the implications.  

The Pharisees then recall the blind man and declare that the man he claims to have healed him is a sinner.  The man, like a Christian, is skeptical of conjectures and rests his opinion on fact (a point made repeatedly in Evelyn Waugh’s charming novel about Saint Helena):  “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”  Again they insist on a repetition of the story.  It is at this point that someone reading for the story would begin to get exasperated, but the repetition serves to draw our attention once again to the conundrum:  How can a sinner do the works of God?

The Pharisees then draw the line:  The man is a follower of Jesus, while they are followers of Moses.  One cannot be both.  The blind man, with dogged persistence in his one piece of evidence, tells them they don’t know where Jesus comes from, but, still He opened the man’s eyes.  The healed man draws the only possible conclusion:

"Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing."

The Pharisees take us back to the beginning, asking how a man born in sin—as the blind man must have been—can presume to teach men learned in the law.  The healed man, cast out of Judaism by the Pharisees, is consoled by Jesus, who reveals to him that He is, indeed, the son of God.  Here, we might expect the anecdote to be concluded, but a surprise awaits the Pharisees and us.  

When Jesus goes on to broaden his claim, by declaring:  “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind,” the Pharisees ask, with some astonishment, “Are we blind also?”  Here the Greek might be more accurately translated, “Surely we are not also blind?”  

Jesus answer must have bewildered them:  “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”  This will take a little “unpacking” as the professors would say.  The most obvious point is that the sight of the Pharisees is their knowledge of the Law.  Since the Law should have told them to expect the Christ, their rejection of Jesus is an act of willful wickedness.  The blind, namely the Gentiles, are not guilty in the same way, because they had no reason to expect the Christ or know what He would be like.   In their ignorance, they are now in a position to be given sight, but the antiquated vision of Pharisees serves to convict them of their sin.  We can neither be damned nor saved, as the Pharisees persist in believing, by our ancestors.  

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Josh Doggrell says:

    They were without excuse.