Summary: There is more to sight than seeing.
Was Blind but now I See: An Exposition of John 9
John 9 is a drama presented in several scenes. It is a literal story of a man who had been born blind. It is important to see this. However, even a real story can speak beyond itself. In this way, it speaks to us in symbolic language as well. There is more to this story than a man who was born blind is given the miracle of sight. There is more to seeing than seeing. So we need to look into this passage and find its rich and deep spiritual meaning to us as well.
Act 1: Setting the Context
Chapter 9 is set up by chapter 8 which precedes it. In 8:12, Jesus who is at the Feast of Tabernacles says: I AM the Light of the World.” This is one of the seven “I AM” statements in John. The theme of light and darkness is found throughout the Gospel. In John 1, John records this about Jesus: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it.” The present tense for shining shows that the light perpetually shines. This light is in the life of Jesus. In chapter 8, we see this lack of comprehension. The Jews simply could not understand who Jesus is. Jesus confounded their logic and their understanding. They could not accept Jesus’ claims about Himself. They could not believe that Jesus was the pre-existent Word come in human flesh. They only saw a man who could not even have been 50 years old. Even if Jesus was Methuselah, He could not have been old enough to have been alive in the days of Father Abraham. When Jesus answers their unbelief by saying “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This is the eighth I AM saying in John, this time without a predicate adjective. It was a naked claim to be Yahweh who introduces Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. “Tell them that I AM sent you,” The response of the Jews shows that they clearly understood what Jesus was claiming and utterly rejected it as blasphemy. They took up stones to stone Him. But Jesus hid Himself from their sight and went out of the Temple.
Even though John 8 emphasizes that they did not know Jesus more than their blindness to Him, the themes are quite similar. John in many ways is a commentary on the prophet Isaiah in which it is said in chapter 6: “See and do not perceive; Hear and do not understand.” John makes this connection explicit in chapter 12 of his gospel when Jesus Himself makes this connection. But sight is in this passage along with knowledge. Jesus mentions that: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, saw it, and was glad.” Sight and knowledge are connected
Act 2: Jesus Sees the Man Born Blind
Chapter 9 begins with the words” As He was going along.” This indicates a break between chapters 8 and 9. However, the chapters are logically connected. We do not know for certain that the events in chapter 9 follow temporally the event is chapter 8. The gospels in general follow a general chronological order, but the difference in placement of some of the events show that they do not follow chronological order all the time. Sometimes, passages which do not follow chronologically are placed near each other because the one event explains the other. For example, the anointing of Jesus for burial occurs the evening before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, whereas Matthew seems to place it in the middle of Holy Week. Unless one holds to two anointings, it is obvious that one has not followed chronological order. In John 12, John ties the betrayal of Judas to the anointing at Bethany. He mentions Judas by name as the one who was offended by the waste of money. In Matthew, it does not mention Judas grumbling explicitly. However, the passage which immediately follows talks about Judas going to the Jewish leaders for the purpose of betraying Jesus. Both gospels indicate the connection between the anointing and the betrayal but have different ways of bringing it out. Matthew uses logical order by placing the two events together. John may have used this same logical ordering in chapter 2 where the cleansing of the Temple occurs. If there was only one cleansing, then it is John who has chronologically dislocated the event for a reason. It would them be in juxtaposition to the first sign in Cana of Galilee in which the cleansing is the final sign.
The text then says: “He (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth.” It becomes obvious that the disciples saw the man also. But Jesus saw more than they did. How can one see a man and know that he was born blind? Sometimes, the blindness can be seen because one can see that there is something wrong with the eyes. At other times, we can perceive that one is blind because they are using a white-tipped cane or are being led. As we shall see though, there is more to being blind than being blind.