31 July 2017

John 9:24-41

“I have told you already and you would not listen.” (v. 27)

Psalm: Psalm 57


The story about the giving of vision to the man born blind is also a story about the Pharisees persistent refusal to 'see' who Jesus is. These verses (and the ones that precede them) could be dramatised as a comedy that plays around with the themes of light and sight; themes that have, so far, run through John's Gospel.

The Pharisees utilise all their skills in verbal argument (playing, if interpreted in this way, to the caricature of wily lawyers) as they try to categorise publicly the healing of the blind man in any way they can in order to avoid it being understood as an act of God. For to understand it as such is almost unthinkable, leading, as it would, to conclusions about Jesus' relationship with God that deeply challenge their religious understanding. Such is their focus on proving their point that their behaviour is rather unpleasant. They revile the man born blind (verse 28) and, when all their arguments and attempts to discredit him fail, they resort to driving him out physically.

Wrapped up in their own thoughts, ideas and beliefs, the Pharisees do not pause to consider what they might learn or whether there is something new to see in these events. They appear uninterested (or perhaps are fearful of) anything that is different from or challenges their understanding. In persistently trying (and failing) to explain the miracle within their own framework, they stubbornly 'turn a blind eye' to both God's revelation and God's grace. The irony is that it is the newly spiritually sighted, the man born blind, who has better spiritual perception than those with all the knowledge and experience. He has literally never set eyes on Jesus before and yet he can truly see who Jesus is.

In defending their position and trying to discredit a different experience, in refusing to acknowledge the limitations of their own perception and attempting to find fault in others, the Pharisees provide a cautionary tale about how easy it is to see flaws in the experiences, understanding and character of others but how difficult it is to see our own. Sometimes this is deliberately so because facing our own flaws, limitations and brokenness can be difficult, risky and painful. Yet in refusing to see who Jesus is, the Pharisees also failed to notice their own need of grace and thus were not open to receive it.

To Ponder

  • On reflection, when might have been the times that you have intentionally persisted in refusing to acknowledge an insight being offered to you (even if subconsciously)? What were you fearful of?
  • How do you feel when your understanding of God is challenged?

Bible notes author

The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

Nicola Price-Tebbutt is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has previously served in circuit in Sheffield and as a tutor at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.