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.”
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.”
There are several interesting aspects to the way in which John chooses to present this narrative. Notice in this section that he will acknowledge the man as he who had “formerly been blind,” which we would all expect. He then goes on, however, to refer to him once more as “the blind man” during his interaction with the Pharisees (v. 17). Why?
I propose a few different possibilities in interpretation here, which I don’t believe to be mutually exclusive; in fact, they all seem to be present in some form or fashion.
First, those who are meant to see are consulting the blind man. The fact that the religious leaders are asking this man what he thinks about Jesus in the midst of their own division may be something of a humorous textual moment. It certainly reads as, “Well, we can’t seem to make up our own minds, so… what do you think?”
Second, the man himself is still not without some measure of spiritual blindness. His own knowledge is limited. He does not have a strong understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth is. He hasn’t studied the biblical witness in depth and detail, knowing in full every prophetic word which was spoken of the Messiah. He himself can only state the obvious minimum: Jesus is clearly some sort of prophetic figure if He’s able to do what He did.
Third, the Pharisees appear to regard him as one who is blind even though he is clearly seeing. This very well could be a textual indicator that, although the Pharisees have a man with sight before them who is able to offer understanding with regard to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, they still regard him as one who is spiritually blind. The text will certainly go on to indicate that he is poorly regarded by the spiritual authorities, who say he has been “born in utter sin” (v. 34). No matter what this man claims nor what evidence he presents, he will always be regarded by those questioning him as blind.
Each of these seems to give a more thorough understanding of what is taking place textually in John’s revisiting of the term “blind man” to describe one formerly afflicted. But the text takes a sad turn when the man’s parents are brought in for questioning. What happens is quite clear: the parents allow fear and societal pressure to get in the way of their own sight.
What remains is the reality of this man’s sight. No one stands with him. No one believes him. But what’s new? He’s experienced these things all his life. What’s new is that he’s no longer the same as he once was. And Jesus made the difference.
Lord, when the entirety of the world stands against You, fill me with the passion and loyalty which disregards that which is uncomfortable or uncertain. Create in me a heart which stands firm in the face of adversity, which pursues You when it is most costly. May I be pleased to suffer shame for the sake of the Name of Jesus Christ. Whatever the world sees in me, may it all fade away compared to Your image made manifest. Thank You for making the difference in me.