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How the Story of a Blind Man Opens Our Eyes

John 9:39-41 Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, "Are we also blind?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains.”

When we read the Gospel of John, it is important for us to perceive the themes that are found just beneath the surface of the narrative. The most predominant one in John 9 is spiritual blindness. The subtlety and irony of this chapter makes for a very interesting and thought-provoking reading experience. What on the surface appears to be “just another” healing miracle is actually something more profound: John is communicating a very important message, one that can be traced back to the Old Testament and especially the prophets.

Consider Isaiah 6:9-10:

And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

John picks up this theme in John 12:37-40:

Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them."

When Jesus healed the man blind from birth, we eventually discover that this man came to be cured of his spiritual blindness as well. Trace the progress of his understanding through John 9: from “the man Jesus”(v.10), to “He is a prophet” (v.17), to “Lord, I believe!” (v. 38). At the same time, consider the blindness of the Jewish leaders, highly educated men whose confident pronouncements actually betray the severity of their blindness. For example all their talk of “we know this” and “we know that” (see verses 24 and 29) was exposed as phony by one innocent comment from the healed man (verses 29-34), which led to his immediate dismissal from the synagogue:

“We [the Pharisees] know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, "Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing." They answered and said to him, "You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?" And they cast him out.

The main point is this: it is one thing to recognize one’s spiritual blindness, for that sort of blindness is curable. It is quite another to deny it altogether. Such a condition is incurable. That explains what Jesus means in the ironic reversal of John 9:39-41 (cited above): the blind man’s eyes were opened, but the Pharisees were obviously blind--apparent to everyone but themselves. By claiming to see, their guilt remained as a settled condition, thus confirming them in their blindness. Their so-called “ability to see,” that is, their great spiritual insight only demonstrated their true condition as the Lord Himself declares elsewhere: "If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt 6.23)

What a commentary on our world today! Think of all the great “intellectuals,” especially the ones advocating a complete overthrow of absolute truth and morality. Tragically, their state of willfull blindness is leading them and those who follow them over the cliff. Remember the same sunlight that softens wax also hardens clay. Jesus as the light creates a crisis, and the response can never be neutral.

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