Those Who See May Become Blind

Those Who See May Become Blind

In John’s gospel, there is an interesting account of Jesus healing a blind man.  Although the miracle is the catalyst, it is not the main theme of the passage. The main theme of the passage is the contrast between Jesus’ approach to religion and religion’s approach to Jesus.

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

First, notice that the disciples automatically assume that if a family has experienced great misfortune, it must be because God is punishing them for some sin. Jesus used this as an opportunity to turn their understanding of Who God is and what God does upside down.

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

What is Jesus saying, here?  That the man was blind from birth for a reason?  That not only those present that day, but throughout the ages, every time this account is retold, people would be amazed at the powerful purpose behind his suffering and perhaps learn to trust God with their own suffering?  God made a divine appointment with this man, before he was ever born, to cross paths with Jesus on that very day and hour.

Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Jesus Breaks the Rules on Purpose

Now, Jesus had the power to cure blindness without making a little mud potion first.  Why did he do this? He has a sneaky reason in mind. We’ll find out what it is if we keep reading.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is he.”

Others said, “No, but he is like him.”

He kept saying, “I am the man.”

So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

They said to him, “Where is he?”

He said, “I do not know.”

The first concern of the people is how the blind man could see.  They are not celebrating, they are baffled.  They want the religious leaders to put a stamp of approval on what just happened.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

Notice that the religious leaders react in the same manner as the people; they want to know how it happened.  And as soon as they learn how it happened, that Jesus performed “work” on the Sabbath day by making a little spit-dirt mud potion, therefore breaking their religious rules about the Sabbath, they were quick to put their stamp of religious disapproval on Jesus.  They wanted to assure the people that this is not the way someone from God behaves.  Someone from God would follow the religious rules, therefore Jesus is not from God.

The Spirit Gives Life

This is a perfect example of the difference between religious bullshit orthodoxy and the glorious freedom and abundant life Christ gives, as is expressed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Jesus is demonstrating a “new covenant,” to them, which is “not of the letter but of the Spirit.”  The letter is the religious rules – this step by step formula for salvation that people can actually screw up. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  Jesus is contrasting the religious system with His glory.  Paul calls this system “the ministry of death.”  God gave us the “ministry of death” or “ministry of condemnation” so that we would understand what doesn’t work.  Any system that requires something from us will fail, because we fail.  The only system that will guarantee success is one where everything completely depends on Him.  He does not fail.  The comparison/contrast between these two systems is explained by Paul, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.  Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all…”

But among these disapproving religious leaders there were some who remembered that the blind man could now see.  They set the religious dogma aside long enough to recognize that something amazing was happening.  They actually considered the possibility that maybe they had the wrong idea about Who God is and what God does.  The blind man, having never met Jesus before, had no idea Who Jesus was.  So his best guess about the whole thing was that Jesus must be some kind of prophet.  He may not have had an accurate knowledge about Jesus, but he believed in Jesus with all the knowledge he had been given.  The Jews, however, did not believe, even though they knew a lot more about Jesus than the blind man did.  They sought to disprove that the miracle ever happened.

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

Ministry of Fear

Notice how the religious elite handle the situation.  First they make a rule that anyone who says Jesus is Who He says He is, will be put out of the synagogue.  Then, they dare people to defy their rule, as if their rule is the standard over the truth itself.  They hold on to power over the people through fear.  This is classic letter-of-the-law stuff.

So for the second time [the religious leaders] called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

Since it is obvious that a miracle had, indeed, taken place, the religious leaders no longer had the option of denial.  So they try a new approach.  The religious leaders attempt to corner the formerly blind man into a confession that God, not this man who claims to be the Messiah, is responsible for his miraculous healing.  They want to make Jesus out as nothing but a Sabbath breaking heretic, to sever the connection between Father and Son and dispel any notion that Jesus actually has the authority and power to overthrow their system.

[The formerly blind man] answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

Ministry of Death and Condemnation

The formerly blind man sees in more ways than one, what is really happening here.  Even though he does not yet have an accurate understanding of Jesus Christ, his behavior is characteristic of the redeemed.  The formerly blind man becomes to us an example of someone whose spiritual blindness has been healed, as Paul describes it and contrasts it with those who remain in spiritual bondage or have returned to spiritual bondage, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, […] but their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.”  When people who are stuck in their own religious garbage have their bondage and blindness pointed out to them, it pisses them right off.  See how they respond to the formerly blind man and how the formerly blind man attempts to have a logical discussion with them –

And they reviled him, saying, “You are [Jesus’] disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

We must take the time to consider that the formerly blind man, using reason and common sense, made the well-respected religious expert opinions look like foolishness.  Instead of responding to the formerly blind man’s perfectly sound argument, they appealed to their high religious position and authority.  They drew attention to the man’s supposed sin, instead of coming up with a good response to his argument, and they used their religious clout to make sure he was no longer welcome in the synagogue.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

The Spiritual Implications Become More Significant

Let’s get this straight.  Jesus healed the man first, before the man knew Who He was or believed in Him.  As a result of being made whole, the man identified with Christ the only way he knew how.  Later on, Jesus followed up with him to give the man an opportunity to clearly express what had already taken place in his heart.  It was not the man’s testimony that healed him.  The man did not recognize his Savior, because he was ignorant, not stupid – he just lacked information.  By admitting his ignorance, he was then able to see the Savior, and his first response upon recognizing Jesus as the Messiah was to worship.  The religious leaders, by holding on to pride, to their own way of seeing things, were spiritually blind to everything that had taken place.  They continue in the old system, the old covenant that demands human participation and human success in order to be rid of guilt.

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.

Jesus gave the religious leaders an opportunity to admit that they did not see, but they had already demonstrated their currently unteachable state of mind and overwhelming pride in the way they had interrogated the formerly blind man.  They were so hung up on the fact that Jesus did not act according to their religious expectations that they completely missed out on the incredible miracle that had taken place.  They did not recognize their own Messiah.


Now let’s recap on the major lessons that have a renewed sense of meaning in light of the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, where He is Savior of all men, especially those who believe:

1. There is a major difference between religion’s approach to Jesus and Jesus’ approach to religion.

Jesus makes spit-and-dirt-magic-potion for the express purpose of breaking religious rules.  He purposely picks this spiritual fight to prove a point.  The point is that religion is about rules, but He intends to give sight to the blind regardless of those rules.

2. Jesus demonstrates a completely new and different understanding of Who God is and what God does – and the religious leaders disapprove.

Their idea of God is punisher, condemner, and rule giver.  Jesus dismisses the focus on sin and directs their attention to God’s glory.  He ignores their rules and does not conform to their expectations.

3. Even though we may not understand the purpose for suffering now, eventually God will demonstrate His glorious purpose behind allowing it.

4. Jesus heals blindness in a way that does not seem accurate or Biblically correct according to religious leaders.

He heals spiritual blindness in the same manner. First, he gives spiritual sight.  Then, after we have been overwhelmed with truth, we confess what we believe, not as an act of our own will, but as a testimony to what is undeniably obvious to us.  And if we still don’t totally get it, we are not condemned for it.  He gives us the understanding we need in His time and His way.  He finds us, meets us where we are, and reveals His identity to us after He has prepared us to recognize Him.

5. Jesus confuses the spiritual know-it-alls on purpose as part of His judgment.

This rings true today.  His judgment is that they will continue on the hamster wheel of religion, wearing themselves out trying to always look like they know what they are talking about and look like they have all the answers.  They kick people out of the institutional church, thinking they are doing their religious duty, when really they are just adding to the ugliness and bitterness that eats away at them little by little, day by day.  This is His judgment, to allow them to experience the consequences of their own actions and beliefs.

6. Those who the religious leaders condemn are actually closer to the truth than the religious leaders themselves.

For example, many people who are atheists name their reason for not believing in God as the idea of eternal torment.  They reason, if God is good, then He would not do that, so there must be no God.  They actually reject a false idea of God, which is one step closer to the truth than those who force themselves to accept the false idea.  In some cases, the atheists (spiritually blind) are closer to the truth of Who God is and what God does than those who claim to see.

7. The average church-goers still want the religious leaders to put their stamp of approval on exactly how the blind see.

The religious leaders still condemn the I-spit-on-your-rules Jesus and uphold the Sabbath abiding, perfectly safe and predictable Jesus.  Anyone who disagrees is manipulated with fear and pushed around by people with position and illegitimate authority in the institutional church.

The popular approach to the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ in most Christian circles is not to use common sense and have a lengthy discussion, it is still an appeal to illegitimate authority, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” an attempt to discredit the source by demonizing those who do not subscribe to traditional teachings, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” and of course the ever-popular approach – push them out of the church.  Hopefully anyone reading this will take Jesus’ warning seriously, as it, too, is still very relevant today, “”If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”  Back in the days Jesus walked this earth, the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” were found in the Mosaic Law.  Today the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” are found in the “turn or burn” doctrines, where salvation depends upon human decision and the consequences are irreversible, even by Jesus Christ, Himself, the One Who has authority over sin and death, Who holds the keys to Hades, and has purposed to subject all things to Himself.  Those who deny these things will subconsciously (or in some cases, consciously) hold on to their own guilt until God overpowers their blindness, and they see how ridiculously generous God’s grace really is.


  • Mary Vanderplas May 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    You make some good points, but in my view the story is not first about Jesus’ attitude toward religion but about the inevitable separation that occurs as a result of Jesus’ coming into the world. The end of the story, in which Jesus talks about his “coming into the world for judgment,” makes this clear. There are two responses to Jesus and the gospel: some receive the gift of sight he offers, while others, confident in themselves and claiming to be able to see, are blind.

    I agree that the blind man’s healing has symbolic significance, reflecting the fact that spiritual sight is a gift of grace freely given and not dependent on anything we do. However, I don’t agree that confessing our faith is not an act of our will. I think that one of the points of the story is to emphasize the need to confess our faith in Jesus the Christ, even when we run the risk of being persecuted for it; there is no such thing as a closet disciple, John is saying. The newly sighted man is a model for us of one who courageously confessed his faith in the face of tremendous opposition. I also think it’s significant, as you point out, that the newly sighted man grew in his understanding of Jesus’ identity, again reflecting the experience of becoming a Christian through an encounter with the living Lord and gradually growing in understanding of who he is and what he has done for us.

    I agree with what you have to say about the religious elite being completely blind to God’s gracious purposes in Jesus’ ministry because they were so focused on rules and on judging Jesus according to their standards. And I agree that there is much in how they responded to the newly sighted man that is seen also in the church today – tactics for silencing and discrediting those who are perceived as a threat to the status quo of power and/or supposed doctrinal correctness. I do think, though, that none of us is above being blinded to God’s gracious purposes by our commitment to certain practices or doctrines or expectations of the way things ought to be done – and that therefore there is a warning here for all of us.

    You say, “Jesus confuses the spiritual know-it-alls on purpose as part of His judgment.”
    I don’t see Jesus deliberately acting to confuse the leaders, thereby contributing to their blindness. I see their blindness as being solely the result of their own refusal to accept him on his terms and instead setting themselves up as the authorities when it came to deciding when and how God acts.

    The situation in the story of the newly sighted man being kicked out of the synagogue for confessing his faith in Jesus reflected the situation in John’s day, when Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah were being expelled from the synagogue. Thus, the story is an encouragement to those who are bold to confess Jesus as the Christ that they will not be abandoned by their Lord, even in the face of human rejection and persecution.

    You make the point that the Mosaic Law was the source of bondage and condemnation in Jesus’ day and that today it is false views of God/salvation that enslave and condemn. I continue to be challenged be your vision of a God whose grace is greater than every human defense and offense, while at the same time finding it hard to imagine being overpowered by love.

  • admin May 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Note to self: Think about this – Is there such thing as a “closet disciple”? Thanks, Mary.

  • […] Related: Those Who See May Become Blind, Ten Observations from Athiests (Part One), Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two), Five Final Observations from Atheists (Part Three) […]

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