A Test Case
This is the longest, most involved of the healing stories in the gospels. It is also, I believe, a test case—not a test case for Jesus, but a test case for the religious leaders who opposed him.
If a movie or TV drama were made of this story there would be several scene changes, unlike most of Jesus’ healing miracles, which happen in one setting. Let’s look at them.
Jesus encounters a man blind from birth, makes a poultice of mud and spittle, anoints the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.
The director has a choice here. He/she can let the camera stay on Jesus while the man leaves, watching Jesus healing someone else, or teaching. The camera can follow the man through the streets to the pool. The camera can make a quick cut to the man washing his eyes in the pool. The director may also choose to combine two or more of these settings.
The man, whose sight has now been restored, returns to his home, where his neighbors are confused. Is this the man who was blind all his life, or is it someone who looks like him? I believe John included this scene for its suspense value. Meanwhile, Jesus has disappeared from the story.
Friends and neighbors escort the man to the religious leaders who engage in their own disagreement. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. One party argues that the healing constitutes work and is therefore a violation of the Sabbath laws, making Jesus a sinner. Others say that’s impossible! Anyone who performs miracles like this cannot be a sinner. Both parties finally turn to the man and ask what he thinks. His response is simple: “He is a prophet.” This answer pleases one party and displeases the other, so corroborating evidence is sought. The man’s parents are called and questioned.
“Yes, this is our son. Yes, he was born blind. No, we don’t know anything about the healing or the man who performed it. Ask our son. He’s an adult. He can speak for himself.”
The religious leaders had declared that anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue—excommunicated, in Christian terms. The parents were afraid of losing access to their place of worship, and chose to avoid an answer rather than support their son. Interesting what fear can make one do.
The healed man is called in for more questioning, and here’s where the story becomes really interesting. The man says he doesn’t know whether Jesus is a sinner, then utters these famous words: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
In response to further questioning the man says, “I’ve already told you what happened. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples?” This answer does not please those who want to punish Jesus. They respond by reviling the man, and excluding him from the synagogue.
Jesus hears what has happened, and finds the man. We might imagine that Jesus utters words of comfort and care, helping to heal the man’s soul after healing his eyes. The religious leaders have come no closer to the kingdom of God because they persist in their ignorance. They have failed the test just as surely as they have failed to make their case.
Too often, I believe, we are guilty of the same mistake these religious leaders made. We try to make Jesus what we want him to be rather than take him as the gospels present him. It’s easy to do, but we must not fail this test. We must make ourselves live as Jesus lived rather than try to make him live as we want to live.