17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Jesus’ gift of sight to a man who has only ever known blindness points to an authority and power far beyond human medicine or knowledge. This healing must come from God. But it seems here that the man who was born blind is on trial for being healed. The Pharisees have determined that Jesus must be a sinner because he has not followed their Sabbath rules. Discrediting Jesus’ remarkable ‘sign’ is therefore a necessary step to demolishing all support for Jesus.
Throughout John’s gospel we notice that the Pharisees wield great religious power, creating fear among the people. We see this in their interrogation of Jesus’ sign. The blind man is initially cautious in his pronouncement concerning Jesus: “He is a prophet” (v17). The man’s parents are too scared to say anything other than owning the healed man as their son and verifying that he was indeed born blind. Verse 22 partly explains this fear– anyone who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah was to be put out of the synagogue.
Expulsion from the synagogue meant that a person was cut off from social life, from community life, from religious life, and ultimately from access to God. It felt like condemnation to isolation and hell. Choosing to follow Jesus or even acknowledging him as Messiah had significant consequences.
The incontrovertible fact of the man’s restored sight is a big problem for the Pharisees. The simple truth is that once the man was blind but now he can see. And the more the man is interrogated and pressured, the more courageous he becomes in standing up for Jesus. Eventually, he ‘returns serve’ and supposes the Pharisees are so interested in Jesus because they too want to become his disciples (v27).
An interesting window on the practice of discipleship then opens for us in v28-29. The Pharisees have set their hopes on Moses (see also Jn 5:45). They seek to precipitate the coming of the Messiah by scrupulous obedience to the Law of Moses. When they think of being a disciple they think of giving their absolute allegiance to their master, tolerating no rivals. Their master bears all their hopes. He is their authority (“We know God spoke to Moses…”). It is in this same world of discipleship that Jesus calls people to follow him. When Jesus calls us to be his disciples, this is the kind of relationship he has in mind. Discipleship is more than assent and affinity: it is conviction that leads to absolute devotion.
As the formerly-blind-man debates discipleship with the Pharisees, the issue of Jesus’ “origins” becomes central. Like a reference or a pedigree or a LinkedIn ‘recommendation’, origins establish credibility (see John 8:14). If Jesus really has been sent from God, the divine authority he bears means that he is worthy of following as his disciple. Reasoning back from the ‘sign’ of his healing to Jesus’ origins; the man concludes that Jesus must be from God.
The Pharisees are outraged. They slander the man, saying that he really was conceived in sin, which is why he was born blind. Further, they expel him from the synagogue for his association with Jesus. At this point, our sympathy rises for a man who has never actually seen Jesus but has already been maligned in his name.
Lord Jesus Christ, please enable me to truly live as your disciple. I want to follow you, regardless of the cost. Enable me to allow no rivals, to make no compromises. Thank you that you are more than worthy of following, more than worth of my complete commitment. Amen.