by miriam berg
Chapter IX

(John 9:1-12)
Continuing our close scrutiny of the gospel of John, we find that the next section relates the healing of a man who had been b1ind from birth, by spitting and touching the man's eyes with clay made of the spittle. This was reportedly done as a sign, "that the works of God should be made manifest in him". We will pass over this repeated contradiction of Jesus' statements in the Synoptics, that there should be no sign given unto that generation (Mark 8:12), and that "if people hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded even if someone were to rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). We will also pass over (although we have every right to raise the most strenuous objections) the questions this story raises about the ethical and compassionate nature of God, who would make an innocent man suffer blindness all his life just so that Jesus could work a miracle, which contrasts drastically with the Father Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, who knows what things his children have need of before they even ask!

Instead, we shall merely observe that the Synoptics report three occasions on which Jesus healed a specific blind person (as distinct from the times the narrator refers to how the "blind saw and the dumb spake", an obvious quotation from Isaiah): in Bethsaida, where he also heals a blind man by spitting and putting his hands on the man's eyes; in Jericho, where a blind man (Mark and Luke report one, Matthew reports two) pleads to be healed, and Jesus says again, Thy faith hath made thee whole; and one more reported by Matthew only, where Jesus touches the men's eyes and again says that it is the men's faith which has healed them and also tells them to tell no one. Obviously this last cannot be intended as a sign if no one is to know of it.

But in none of these events in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is it reported that the man was blind from birth, so that that looks like an exaggeration which grew with the retelling of the story; and none is reported as occurring in Jerusalem, nor is any reported as being done as a sign or even by miraculous power: the one being done by Jesus' washing the man's eyes, and the other through the man's faith. Now as ever, we must ask, which is the more probable, and which is the more likely to have been exaggerated? Which is the more consistent picture, both of Jesus as a moral and ethical teacher, and of Jesus in terms of our own experience? Do we believe, or merely wish to believe, that one man alone in all history could heal blindness by miraculous power (although even in John it is reported that Jesus used physical means)? Is it not a thousand times more likely that the man was healed by Jesus' medical skill, as actually reported, or by the man's awakening from some internal blindness, than that Jesus cured him magically? And how can we accept John when he tells us that Jesus' view of God was a being or power which would visit this affliction upon a man who, according to Jesus' own words, had not sinned?

(John 9:13-41)
Then John as usual reports a long theological debate over whether Jesus cured the man by God's power or by that of the devil, and whether he should have done it on the Sabbath. Now the Synoptics also tell us that the Pharisees accused Jesus of being allied with Satan, but there Jesus retorts, "How can Satan cast out Satan?" (not found in John), with no reference to special significance for himself; and also says, "If I by the FINGER OF GOD cast out devils, then is the kingdom of God come unto you" (Luke 11:20). But here in John, Jesus again claims special power for himself: "For judgment came I into the world..." followed by a curse upon unbelievers: "that they which see may become blind." Certainly in the Synoptics Jesus calls the Pharisees blind guides, but he also says, "Let them alone; if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:14); and his condemnation of the Pharisees is always very specific and temporal: for loving the chief seats at the synagogue, and proselytizing, and keeping the kingdom of God for themselves, and keeping money for themselves, and leaving justice and mercy undone, and for hypocrisy, and self-righteousness, and persecuting the prophets (Matt. 23:1-39). Now does not the emphasis in the Synoptics seem more realistic and down-to-earth compared with the theological explanation Jesus repeatedly proffers in John? And which man would we be more likely to follow today, if one came and spoke the same way?

(John 9:35-37)
We note yet again in these verses that Jesus is reported as claiming explicitly that he is the "Son of God". Now on the face of it such a claim deserves no more credence than if a man or woman today carne into a public meeting and said he or she had been to heaven and back; no one would be obligated to believe such a claim, merely on the basis of the making of the claim. It is consistent however with the beliefs of the author, whose whole thrust is to show that Jesus is such, as well as with those of the early Christians; but whether Jesus ever made such a claim is not supported by the Synoptics, where not once in the thousands of words there attributed to Jesus does he ever claim any special divinity, but rather and always refers to himself as a prophet, and to God as the Father of his hearers. Now in the light of the unanimous and consistent witness on the part of the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, even though they also probably believed in the divinity of Jesus, that he made no such explicit claim, and in fact repudiated it whenever the label was applied to him by others (Mark 1:25; Mark 3:11-12; Luke 9:20-21; Luke 11:27-28; Mark 10:17-18), what need have we to believe that Jesus actually made that claim, as John reports? Indeed, it is quite evident that the early Christians would have put these words in his mouth, since they believed it; but not that they could have reported that he denied it, as reported in the Synoptics, except that they did not perceive it as a denial.

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