Sunday, Mar 10, 2002: “John 9: 1-38 (39-41); ‘The Light of the World'”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary

John 9:1-38 (39-41), “The Light of the World”

Sunday, March 10, 2002


This morning, Father Mike Kreutzer led us through John 9:1-38 (39-41), “The Light of the World” which is today’s Gospel reading.  Handouts were passed out at the meeting and were used as a guide for the lesson and are the basis for this summary. The discussion began by noting that it used to be considered a punishment from God if a child were born ill.  The infant was thought to have sinned in the womb.  This story highlights how Jesus does not look for blame for the past but focuses on the positive and good in people.


As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed 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.”  When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”  10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.  He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes.  Then I washed, and now I see.”  16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”  And they were divided.  17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him?  It was your eyes he opened.”  He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”  20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”  22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God!  We know that this man is a sinner.”  25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26 They said to him, “What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”  27 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?”  28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”  And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe.”  And he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”  41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

[The New Revised Standard Version]


8:59      The leaders of the Jews were trying to stone Jesus.  It seems extremely unlikely that the story of chapter 9, in which Jesus stands around talking, would have immediately followed this event.


9:2        “disciples”: The Twelve has not been mentioned as being with Jesus since chapter 6, when they were in Galilee.  “Disciples” might refer to the unidentified Judean disciples of 7:3.

            “Who sinned”?:  idea of  misfortune as punishment for sin still persists.


3          The rabbis spoke of God giving people “punishments of love”, which, if accepted generously, would bring long life and rewards.  Jesus seems to view sickness as an evil, and part of the work of darkness.  Rather than accepting the man’s blindness as a punishment for sin, Jesus chooses to see the potential in it for good.


4          “We”:   Jesus associates his disciples with him in his work.


6:          “He spat”:  appears in Mark (7:33, healing a deaf mute, and 8:23, healing a blind man), but not in Matthew or Luke; could have been considered magical (rejected by the rabbis along with uttering a spell over a wound


16         “This man is not from God”:  based on Deuteronomy 13:1-15 which says that a wonder-worker is not to be believed, and is to be put to death, if he leads people away from following the ways of God

            “he does not observe the sabbath”:  Since the affliction was not life-threatening, it was not permitted on the sabbath; kneading was not permitted on the sabbath; anointing an eye was not permitted on the sabbath.

            “they were divided”:  as was the crowd in 7:43


22         “put out of the synagogue”:  experience of the Johannine community, not during Jesus’ ministry


22-23    an attempt to “bring the story up to date”, viz. as an expression of what was going on with the Johannine community who had been expelled from the synagogues


24         “Give glory to God!” an oath formula, taken before giving testimony of a confession of guilt; here, another example of Johannine irony


24:        “We know”: contrasted with the man’s “I know” of verse 25


29         “we do not know where he comes from”:  Johannine irony; may also hint at rumors of illegitimacy


30         ““Here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.”:  The man’s sarcasm parallels that of Jesus toward Nicodemus in 3:10


31         “We know”:  continues the pattern of verses 24-25


32         “Never since the world began has it been heard”:  literally, “not heard from of old”, which is a phrase used by the Pharisees


34         attributes congenital blindness to prenatal sin


35         contrast between Pharisees (“had driven him out”) and Jesus (“he found him”);

            cf. John 6:37, “anyone who come to me I will never drive away”

            “Son of Man”:   a title that is often associated with judgment; it was possibly used here by John to prepare the way for verse 39


38         “he worshiped him.” Bowing down in worship was a usual Old Testament reaction to a theophany; people bow down and worship Jesus several times in the Synoptics (especially in Matthew), but this is the only place where this occurs in John


“The internal construction of the story shows consummate artistry; no other story in the Gospel is closely knit.  We have here Johannine dramatic skill at its best…   The story starts in vs. 1 with a blind man who will gain his sight; it ends in vs. 41 with the Pharisees who have become spiritually blind.” (Raymond E. Brown, John, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 29, pages 376-377)


There is a clear evolution in the blind man’s perception of Jesus:  “The man called Jesus” (11),

“He is a prophet” (17), “If this man were not from God” (33), full belief “worshiped him” (38)


3 times (vss. 12, 25, 36) the man confesses his ignorance, yet he is gaining sight

3 times (vss. 16, 24, 29) the Pharisees state confidently what they “know” of Jesus, and yet they are descending further into blindness


Baptismal Intent by the Evangelist / Redactor


Unlike the healing of the paralytic in chapter 5, this healing takes place only when the man has been washed in water.  The pool is “Siloam”, which John points out, means “Sent.”  In John Jesus is the one who has been “sent” by the Father (cf. 3:17, 34; 5:36, 38).  Siloam was the setting of the great water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles (and may have been the setting for this story, which occurs somewhere in between Tabernacles and Hanukkah).  In a prayer for the water needed for crops, and for life, a solemn procession went seven days in a row from the spring Gihon (from which water flows into the Pool Siloam) to the Temple.  A priest carried a golden pitcher filled with water, which he then poured on the altar.  On the seventh day, this pouring was preceded by a procession that continued seven times around the altar.  It was in this context that Jesus proclaimed, “ Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”  (7:37-39)  Jesus is the source of the true living water, and is himself the replacement for Tabernacles.


Baptismal Usage in the Early Church

This story appears several times in catacomb art, always in connection with baptism.  By at least the third century, the practice of three “scrutinies” for catechumens had developed.  At the conclusion of the last of these, the “great scrutiny”, once the candidate had been judged worthy of baptism, readings from the Old Testament, having to do with cleansing water, were proclaimed.  Then there was a solemn opening of the Gospel book, and this story was read to them.  Verse 38, “I believe,” was the climax of the reading, and was followed immediately with the candidates reciting the creed before the church for the first time.


As Jesus approaches his death, his healing power increases.  Life will triumph over death.  The light will shine even more brightly in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.