The gospel for this 4th Sunday in Lent is taken from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. It is important to note that in John 8 one of the key points is Jesus’ self-identification as the “light of the world.” Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world (8:12) is repeated in 9:5, and the healing miracle in John 9 stands as a demonstration of this claim. In addition, the Mishnah identifies Siloam, the water in which the blind man bathes (v.7), as the source of the water for the water libations of the Tabernacles feast, also mentioned in the previous chapter. John 8 also captures an on-going engagement with the religious authorities – an engagement which continues in conflict in John 9.
As many commentaries note, St. John uses a different word for miracle than the other sacred writers. The more typical words used include: thauma (wonder), dunamis (mighty work), and terata (portent). John does not use any of these words – he simply says sēmeia (sign). In the fourth gospel there are seven miracle accounts:
- water into wine (2:1–11) – unique to John
- healing of an official’s son (4:46–54) – see also Matt 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10
- healing of a paralytic at Bethesda (5:1–15) – similar to other gospel healing accounts
- feeding of a multitude (6:1–14) – see also Mark 6:32–44, Matt 14:13–21 and Luke 9:10–17
- walking on water (6:16–21) – see also Mark 6:45–52 and Matt 14:22–33
- healing of a blind man (9:1–41) – similar to other gospel healing accounts
- resurrection of Lazarus (11:1–44)
Though the number of miracles in John is fewer than in any of the Synoptic Gospels, their importance has long been recognized by scholars, even while their meaning, function, and source have been much discussed and disputed. But there is general agreement that the signs themselves are extraordinary and point beyond themselves to the divine – not just the divine as a vague power, but to a person. They identify Jesus as the light and life of the world, the bread of life from heaven, and the “Word of God” (logos) who, through the signs, reveals his own glory, which is also the glory of God his Father, since he and the Father are one and since he does the Father’s will and works.
Not surprisingly, these signs evoke a variety of responses. The responses can be generalized as follows:
- For some, Jesus’ wonderworking endorses him as a prophet sent by God. Jesus is critical of this type of response. When you consider what is being revealed, “prophet” is a cautious response at best. Jesus characterizes the response as untrustworthy (2:24) and wrongly motivated (6:26); ultimately, it fails (12:37). Those who give this tepid response are described as “the Jews.” A term which has a very mixed use in this gospel.
- There are many places in the gospel where “the Jews” is a negative term designating those Jews who are skeptical toward or reject the signs and/or the claims Jesus makes in connection with them. Sometimes those who reject the signs are specified further as “the Pharisees” or “the rulers.” The hostility between Jesus and Jewish authorities in his day is reflected in many passages. Many believe that it also reflects conflict between the evangelist’s community and the Jews of his day.
- But there are those who see Jesus’ miracles for what they are, signs identifying him as the life and light of the world, the bread from heaven, the one sent by the Father to do his works. Jesus can therefore invite belief in his works as a way of perceiving that he and the Father are one.
Image credit: Healing of the Man Born Blind, El Greco, 1567, Public Domain