Decision: Faith or Disbelief

This weekend we celebrate the 4th Sunday in Lent, the encounter of Jesus and the man born blind. In yesterday’s post we completed our inspection of the various interrogations. Today, we arrive at the “fish or cut bait” moment. The authorities drive the man away (v.34), then Jesus finds the man and asks: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Just as the Samaritan woman was confronted by Jesus with the possibility of the anticipated Messiah’s being already present (4:25-26), so also the healed man is confronted by Jesus with the possibility that the future judge is already present. To this point in John 9, the theme of the judgment evoked by the light of the world (9:5; cf. 3:17-21; 12:31-36) has largely been implicit. Jesus’ question makes this theme explicit as he asks the man whether he recognizes in his healer the one who brings salvation. As v.36 indicates, the man is ready.

Jesus’ words of self-identification in v. 37 (cf. 4:26) lead to the man’s confession of faith. This confession is the culmination of the man’s progression in faith that has run throughout chap. 9. He first acknowledged Jesus simply as the man who had healed him (v. 11), then identified him as a prophet (v. 17), then as a miracle worker from God (vv. 30-33). This progression marks a deepening of the man’s gift of sight, from the gift of physical sight to spiritual and theological sight. He now knows who and what he sees in Jesus. “Worship” (proskyneo) is used in John to speak of the worship of God (4:20-24; 12:20). When the man worships Jesus, then, he is acknowledging the presence of God in Jesus and thus ironically fulfills the authorities’ demand that he give glory to God (v. 24). With this act of worship, the man’s role in the story is completed and he disappears from the narrative.

In the final dialogue scene, the focus shifts from the healing miracle itself to the purpose of Jesus’ ministry as revealed in that miracle.  Jesus defines the eschatological purpose of his incarnation (“I came into this world for judgment, so that …”). As in 3:18-21, Jesus’ coming into the world as the light (9:5; cf. 1:9; 12:46) is the moment of judgment, the moment of division.

Jesus says his judgment both enlightens and blinds. He has not come for judgment in the sense of condemnation (3:17), but such condemnation does take place as he who is the light of the world is revealed. When the light shines, judgment takes place; however, salvation comes as well, for when the light of the world dawns, hearts are revealed and the truth about individuals’ relationships with God is brought into the open.

It is popular knowledge that the light of the sun melts wax and hardens clay. The opponents have hard hearts–they reject God’s offer of mercy and his call to repentance that come through his chastisement. Such hardness of heart darkens their minds and alienates them from the life of God (Eph 4:18). The sight they think they have must be taken from them if they are to receive true sight, which sees the true light (Jn 8:12).

Jesus’ response was not what they expected.  “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” If they, like the man born blind, had been prepared to acknowledge ignorance, they, like him, would not be guilty of sin. Because they claimed to know and were unwilling to learn, their guilt remained. Their presumption of knowledge kept them from seeing the truth. They were like the one described in Proverbs 26:12: Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

The Pharisees were guilty of unbelief, the cardinal sin in the Fourth Gospel

Image credit: Healing of the Man Born Blind, El Greco, 1567, Public Domain

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