In the eighth chapter of John, as we listen along with the audience that is participating in a communal sharing of the story of Jesus, we encounter what will be for us a very brief reminder of Jesus’ dealings with the Samaritan woman of chapter four. In verse forty-eight of this chapter, in response to an extended monologue by Jesus, we hear that “The Judeans replied, ‘Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed by a demon?’” Naturally, this mention of “Samaritan,” within a continuous narrative in which the listener or the reader will have read about the Samaritan woman and the response of a group of Samaritans that came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, is thought-provoking. The response from Jesus is “I am not possessed by a demon, but I honor my Father---and yet you dishonor Me” (8:49). Because of Jesus’ dealing with the Samaritan woman, we are not surprised to find Jesus completely dismissing the negative statement leveled against the Samaritans, and responding only to the accusation that He is possessed by a demon. The Judeans are here shown to be putting Samaritans and demons on the same level, but the hearer knows that this is ridiculous. This seems to be a subtle indicator of the nature of the love, modeled by Jesus through this Gospel presentation, that is to be practiced by the Johannine and indeed the believing community.
From there, we move on to Jesus’ healing of a man that had been born blind. In that story, Jesus, declaring Himself to be “the light of the world” (9:5b), which builds on a concept introduced in the first chapter and added to in the eighth chapter. With this, we hear Jesus adding to previous declarations about Himself where he refers to Himself as both bread and water. Because these statements about bread and water are Moses and exodus related statements, and though we certainly do not take a dogmatic stand in this area, it stands to reason that Jesus’ speaking of Himself as the light of the world might tie in to the same theme, calling to mind the pillar of fire that was said to have accompanied Israel in the wilderness post-exodus.
Jesus, apparently uninterested in this blind man’s background, and concerning Himself only with the fact that He must “perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime” (9:4a), took steps to deliver sight to this previously blind individual. The result of Jesus’ action seems to have generated confusion, along with a bit of anger, while also demonstrating that this man was well-known and that his condition was common knowledge. Questions were asked: “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (9:9a) Some confidently answered “yes,” while others said “no.” Eventually, the matter and the man was brought to the attention of the Pharisees, who offered up their own line of questioning, while the author inserts the previously unknown fact that Jesus had performed this act of healing on the Sabbath. Presumably, for the author, until those concerned with the matter of covenant markers (Sabbath-keeping, circumcision, and dietary/purity laws) were involved, healing on the Sabbath was not an issue. This, of course, becomes the primary concern for the Pharisees, as they say “This man, “ meaning Jesus, “is not from God, because He does not observe the Sabbath” (9:16b). Others disagreed. The formerly blind man, when queried, offers his own assessment, which is “He is a prophet” (9:17b). This, just as was the case with mentions of “Samaritan” in the eighth chapter, provides another connection with what we have previously heard as the story has been told. This use of “prophet” strikes the hearer again and inescapably links Jesus to Moses, which is an ongoing theme of this Gospel.
The man’s parents are brought into the matter, and, wanting nothing to do with this controversy because it will risk their standing in the synagogue (9:22), they insist that their son is more than capable of answering for himself. So yet another inquiry is made. He is told “Promise before God to tell the truth. We know that this man is a sinner” (9:24b). The man with sight responds to this assertion by saying “I do not know whether he is a sinner. I do know one thing---that although I was blind, now I can see” (9:25). When asked to again recount the story of what happened, he again proceeds to stir the pot by saying “I told you already and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You people don’t want to become His disciples too, do you?” (9:27). This produced an inflamed response of “You are His disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God has spoken to Moses!” (9:28b-29a) With this, Moses comes into play in this particular telling of the story of Jesus again, and we can hear this as a rather ironic statement, as it has clearly been a point of the author to connect Jesus to Moses. It also serves as an indication that part of the stories that had been circulating about Jesus in His day, as well as being an indication that part of the ongoing means, in the author’s day, by which Jesus was either being discredited or by which adherents to His cause were being won, was whether or not He fulfilled the role of the prophet to come that would be like Moses. This fits well within the overall sense that John serves in an apologetic function while also doing a form of historical rendering.
The man who had been given sight challenges the Pharisees. In response, they threw him out. In the thirty-fifth verse, after he is thrown out, Jesus is said to have come to him in order to confirm to the man His messianic identity. This “throwing out” is ironic, as the very beginning of this story presents us with a sense of the way that this man had been previously treated. Jesus’ disciples had asked Him “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” (9:2) By this, we can surmise that this man was ostracized from the community. He was treated as an outsider. He was treated as a sinner. He may as well have been a Samaritan or one possessed by a demon, but Jesus went to him. Yes, Jesus gave him sight, and this is love at work; but He also removed from him what was seen to be a curse and a source of shame (not just for him, but obviously for his parents as well), and this act of restoration to full humanity may just be an even greater act of love.