Recently, Randy Spencer, one of the Sunday School teachers in my ward, taught our class a perspective for understanding John 9 and John 10. Randy suggested that John 9 conveys the theme of “seeing” while John 10 expresses the theme of “hearing.”
With those themes in mind, let’s take a moment to re-explore those two chapters to garner new insights. This article will review John 9. Another short article will review John 10.
John 9 preserves the story of a man born blind. This story provides an obvious thematic connection to seeing. Let’s listen further. The disciples question Jesus about why the man was born blind. Jesus answers, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). The underlying Greek term for “manifest” is "phanero’o" or “to make visible.” Jesus’ work is not just to make the blind man see, but also to make us see God through these marvelous works.
Jesus continues with more teaching related to seeing: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5).
After teaching principles of light and life, Jesus turns to heal the blind man. What is curious, however, is that Jesus sticks mud into the blind man’s eye. If I were asked for an effective way to stop people from seeing, my response would probably include the suggestion to fill up their eyes with dirt and mud.
So why does Jesus take this action? I see this as beautifully symbolic. Physical blindness is a material matter, a worldly problem. If we wish to truly see, particularly with spiritual eyes, we must remove the physical, dirty, messy worldliness from our eyes in order to see. This same symbolism appears in Moses 6 when God called Enoch as a prophet (Moses 6:35-36). After Enoch removes the worldly impediments from his view, symbolized by washing clay (dirt or earth) from his eyes, he sees a grand heavenly vision and is called a seer, literally “one who sees.”
The New Testament tells the story of the blind man so that we all recognize ourselves as blind. Only by heeding God’s voice to be washed clean of the things of this world will we truly be able to see.
The man fulfills Jesus’ command to wash in the Pool of Siloam, and he is immediately healed.
Contrasted with the seeing of the humble blind man, the Pharisees are depicted as blind in John 9. The Pharisees are so intent on everyone keeping each jot and tittle of Sabbath observance that instead of seeing Jesus for who he truly is, they are blind to truth.
In a series of increasingly comical interviews, the Pharisees demonstrate ongoing blindness about Jesus’ identity.
First they interview the blind man about the cause of his sight. Not willing to “see” the truth of his story, they require the man’s parents to testify. The parents shed no further light on the matter, leaving the Pharisees in their dark blindness.
Seeking to see, they ask the blind man once again to rehearse his story, probing how someone once blind now can see: “What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?” (John 9:26). The blind man (hinting at the theme of “hearing” found in John 10 and likely in exasperation) replies, “I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?” (John 9:27). In anger, the Pharisees mock the healed man, calling him a sinner. They then eject him from the fellowship of the synagogue.
Soon thereafter, Jesus finds the formerly blind man and asks him if he believes in the Son of God. To this question, the man responds, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him” (John 9:36-38). The physical healing of the blind man’s eyes now also makes possible the spiritual healing of his soul.
John 9 concludes with the chapter’s counterexample to seeing, the blind Pharisees. Jesus reinforces that because of their blindness they cannot be saved (John 9:39-41).
In another article, we’ll explore John 10 and the theme of hearing.
Bible Video: Jesus heals a man born blind
Taylor Halverson, who holds doctorates in biblical studies and instructional technology, is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.