“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
“I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me. It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.”
— George Orwell
This text is not about being blind. Surprise. Verse 26 should give anyone a clear hint that what really is at stake here is faith in Jesus and the transformation that results from it. Those who “see” have a different perspective than their neighbors who are “blind.”
By the time of the Feast of Booths (7:1-2) speculations about Jesus are stirring. He has healed the man at the pool of Bethesda - a Sabbath healing with trouble ensuing, as attested in 7:23-24. There has been the walking on the water, a rather private miracle, and the feeding of the 5,000, a rather public miracle. Water has been turned into wine, an obscure miracle but it lead to some disciples leading to some sense of faith in Jesus. There has been a healing of an “official’s” son (4:46ff) which has come and gone without comment and aftermath.
The healing at Bethesda and feeding of the 5,000 were slightly different. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath an argument has to break out. It is just necessary in the confines of the law and a plot to seize and kill him is hinted at. (5:18) When the feeding of the 5,000 happened, multitudes tasted, saw, and were mesmerized. They not so much follow Jesus as hound him. They are fascinated by what Jesus can supply toward the life of this world. (6:26) Jesus gives the famous bread of life sermon. It is so successful that many of his disciples turn their backs on him at the end of it. (6:66)
But, by the Feast of Booths the question is nonetheless in the air: Could this be the Christ? (7:25) The irony is that the word comes by conspiracy theory. The people know that the authorities want to kill him but he is walking around unafraid at the feast in Jerusalem. “Could it be that the authorities know he is the Christ,” (7:26) that is why they don’t dare seize him but they also are withholding the information from the people? The authorities send officers to arrest him but they don’t do so. They too are fascinated with Jesus. So, the authorities take council what to do. Who shows up at that council? Nicodemus, who becomes the voice of reason, justice, and due process. They silence him with the words: “Are you from Galilee too?” Apparently, the story is that prophets and Messiahs do not come from Galilee. (7:52) Hey! Didn’t Nathaniel have the same opinion? (1:46)
What follows is a long discourse on who is able to witness to Jesus. (Chapter 8) That chapter might well leave us with the question: “if you believe you are an offspring of Abraham, should you not be a witness to Jesus for certainly Abraham and all the prophets witness to him as does the Father himself?”
If you say: “No,” because you claim to be a child of Abraham and wise in these things then you prove yourself to be blind, in the metaphorical sense of the word. (9:41) If you say: “yes,” then you do not belong in the Gospel of John, for Jesus neither sought or needed the testimony of people. But, the Spirit would eventually give witness to him. (7:39) For now in the story, all faith is conditional.
Chapter 9 contains a miracle enigma. Yes, it is a healing story but it is also a story of judgement. (9:39) Remember, we have been in chapter 8 were a credible “witness” to the authority and identity of Jesus has been debated hotly. What are we hunting for in chapter 9? [cue the jeopardy theme] A credible witness to the man’s identity, origin, and place in life. The devil is the Father or Lies (8:44) and Jesus has accused the authorities of being the devil’s children. What is the assumption of the authorities? Simple: Everyone is lying. How do they know this? Well . . .
I grew up in a small town in northern Germany. Like small towns everywhere and at every time, people lived close to each other. As result, people made each other their business. Being a recluse was not possible since your reclusiveness was everyone’s biz. We all lived a somehow public life and we were all talked about and we all talked about each other. I think they call that “community.” It just is.
The defense mechanism in community is to have part of who you are and how you are protected and private. As kids, we were told very clearly that what was discussed at the kitchen table stayed there. But, it only applied to our kitchen table, not anyone else’s though that was never said. It was just assumed. There was always a bit of keeping things in the darkness involved in living in a small town in my youth. It added layer of: “What is actually going on in those peoples’ minds,” to every conversation or situation. Speculation is a fertile field for evil and temptation. Contractual “darkness” is a deep well were evil is conveniently kept until it is full to overflowing. From it flow waters of death. Jesus gives drink that causes the heart to bring forth rivers of living waters. (7:39)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (3:19)
To what extent can people be trusted? The Pharisees in our story trusted no one. They do not trust the healed man, they do not trust his parents, they do not trust their own officers, they do not trust Nicodemus, they do not trust Jesus. The question must be asked: If you really do not trust anyone here on earth and expect dark secrets in all the hearts that you meet, how will you relate to God? In that state of mind does not the sentence: "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,” make perfect sense and does that temptation not say to you that God cannot be trusted either?
The way we maintain our relationships with people is a clue to the way we treat our relationship to the Almighty. The blind man in his healed state was eventually ejected from the community. His presence exposed a flaw in the authorities. They did not know how to explain Jesus and the healing made it obvious. His last reply was basically all true and the authorities probably even taught the very same thing. But they cannot abide having their kitchen table thoughts exposed. If they expel this man from their midst because he has unwittingly exposed them, what will they do with God? The way we maintain our relationships with people is a clue to the way we treat our relationship to the Almighty.
After this, Good Friday is the only option left for the authorities. They are blind and not fit to be the shepherds of these people. Jesus will now speak of the Good Shepherd. (10) He will drive home the point that he is the Son in the raising of Lazarus. He must die. He does not fit in our darkness. He is too bright. (1:1-5)