Light and Darkness

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So 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 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” 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 how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” John 9:8-23 ESV

A man who lived his life as a beggar, due to having been born blind, happened to have a “chance” encounter with Jesus. Having lived his entire life trapped in a world of perpetual darkness, he had never seen the light of day or the face of another human being. But when the light of the world walked into his life, everything changed. Jesus, the Son of God, took plight on his condition, mercifully and miraculously providing him with sight. But according to Jesus, this man’s blindness, rather than a curse, had been intended as an opportunity to display God’s power and glory. He had been born blind so “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

And when the man had returned from the Pool of Siloam, having washed away the mud Jesus had placed on his eyes, he was no longer blind. And this amazing transformation was readily apparent to all who saw him. But, somewhat ironically, not everyone could believe what they were seeing. Some questioned whether it was really the same man or simply someone who looked like him. In other words, they couldn’t believe their own eyes. It was just too much to take in. It seems the only one who could see clearly was the formerly blind man. And he was relegated to standing among the scoffers insisting, “I am the man” (John 9:9 ESV).

It was difficult for his neighbors to deny that this was the same man they had seen begging on the streets for years. Now, they were left trying to explain how he had suddenly received his sight. So they asked him the obvious question: “Then how were your eyes opened?” (John 9:10 ESV). And the man responded by telling them about all that Jesus had said and done to him. When they asked the man where Jesus was, he had to admit that he had no idea. The “light” had vacated the premises and everyone was left in a state of darkness or ignorance, including the man who had just received his sight.

Unable to locate the one who had performed the miracle, the people took the beggar to the Pharisees. And this is where Jesus’ use of the metaphors of light and darkness, blindness and sight, comes into clearer focus. The Pharisees immediately demand to know what has happened, and the man tells his story yet again. But it becomes quickly apparent that these men are less interested in the miracle that has taken place than in what they believe to be a violation of the law. It is at this point in the story that John adds a vital piece of information.

Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. – John 9:14 ESV

And this seemingly minor detail begins to explain some of the rather bizarre steps Jesus took to heal the man’s eyes. Why had He spit in the dirt and made mud? Why had He bothered to apply the mud to the man’s eyes and then instructed him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash? It seems clear that none of this was necessary or required for Jesus to heal the man. But now, His actions take on a whole new light. Jesus had been fully aware that it was the Sabbath and yet, He had purposefully taken steps that appear in violation of the law against doing work on the Sabbath. And His enemies are quick to pick up on this point.

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” – John 9:16 ESV

They knew who Jesus was and they weren’t surprised by His actions. This was not the first time that Jesus had violated their Sabbath-keeping traditions. But some among them argued, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (John 9:16 ESV). Jesus was an enigma to them. They couldn’t argue with the miraculous nature of His works, but they couldn’t bring themselves to believe He was who He claimed to be. That is why they ended up attributing His miraculous powers to Satan. In their minds, Jesus was nothing more than a law-breaker, a violator of their code of conduct, and a menace to their way of life. But their continued inability to recognize Jesus as their Messiah is further proof of their spiritual blindness. They could not see the Son of God standing right in front of them. The light was shining in their sin-darkened world, but they were too blind to see it. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus, one of their own.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – John 3:19 ESV

Interestingly enough, these spiritual leaders of Israel ended up turning to the formerly blind man for insight. They asked him, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” (John 9:17 ESV). And the man, able to see but still blind to the reality of who Jesus was, simply responded, “He is a prophet.” He had progressed in his view of Jesus, having earlier referred to Him as “the man” and now declaring Him to be “a prophet.” All he knew was that Jesus was someone special. But the Pharisees rejected the man’s assessment Jesus and even denied the veracity of his story and the legitimacy of his claim to have been born blind. They were looking for proof to invalidate the whole affair. So, they sent for the man’s parents.

The Pharisees’ hatred for Jesus had grown so intense that they had threatened to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who claimed Jesus to be the Messiah. The beggar’s parents, aware of this edict, were extremely cautious in their response to the Pharisees, choosing to verify that their son had indeed been born blind. They had no information regarding his healing and recommended that the Pharisees take that matter up with him. In a sense, they were throwing their son to the dogs. Rather than face removal from the fellowship of the synagogue, they handed over their own son to the ire of the Pharisees. They fully realized that their son, who had spent his life as a beggar and an outcast, was running the risk of becoming a social pariah yet again.

The contrast between the light and the dark is readily apparent in this story. If you recall, the disciples had originally asked Jesus whose sins had resulted in the man’s condition of blindness.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – John 9:2 ESV

While Jesus absolved the man and his parents of responsibility, He did not deny that sin was involved. The very fact that blindness exists is a result of sin entering the world through the fall of Adam and Eve. Disease and disabilities are evidence of the curse that came upon the earth as a result of our first parents’ rebellion against God. With the fall, the entire creative order was plunged into the darkness of sin and relegated to wait for a future day when relief would come. The apostle Paul explains it this way:

…all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

Jesus had come to earth. God had taken on human flesh and entered into the world He had created and which He had been forced to curse. But the Son of God came to redeem and restore. The light came into the world in order to illuminate the darkness and eliminate the curse of sin and death. But in this story, we see that there were still those whose eyes were blind to the truth. There were those who preferred the darkness over the light. Jesus had performed a miracle, yet the Pharisees called Him a sinner. The parents were amazed that their son could suddenly see, but rather than give Jesus credit for what He had done, they chose the comfort and community of the synagogue. In this story, light and sight face off against darkness and blindness. And we begin to see what Jesus meant when He told His disciples:

“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.” – John 9:4-5 ESV

The light does not eliminate darkness. It simply illuminates it. But the words and works of Jesus reveal the pervasive nature of the darkness and the hopeless condition of mankind’s spiritual blindness. But He came to change all that. And He would – on the cross.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson