Troublemaker Jesus: (Red Letter Year 11/7)

John 9.13-23

Healing the blind man by Edy-Legrand

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”

The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”


Part two of our story about the healing of the blind man begins with an anonymous “they” taking the healed man to see the religious leaders. We aren’t told why “they” do this, perhaps to convince the religious leaders that Jesus is the Messiah, or maybe because it was standard practice to have the religious leaders evaluate miraculous events like this. The Hebrew Scriptures have a lot to say about the problem of false prophets, people who claim to speak for God and perform miracles, but who are dangerous and lead people astray. A miracle alone doesn’t prove anything and evaluating such things – especially the teachings that go with them – is a legitimate responsibility of religious leaders. The religious leaders here aren’t wrong for wanting to make sure this is legit.

But we see immediately that they are less concerned with the legitimacy of the healing and more concerned that the healing violated the Sabbath rule. This is the first time we’re told that this happened on the Sabbath, but at this point in our Red Letter Year, we might expect as much. How many times have we read about Jesus healing on the Sabbath now? This man had been blind his whole life. Jesus could have said to him, “I’ll come find you tomorrow.” I think we have to conclude that Jesus is a troublemaker. He healed this man on purpose on the Sabbath, he intentionally broke the rules. And he still does. He wasn’t just picking on these Jewish religious leaders. Jesus comes after every rule that we use to distance ourselves from relationship with him and each other. You and I have our own pet rules and Jesus relentlessly comes after those rules and breaks them until we give them up. Because Jesus is a troublemaker.

I wrote yesterday that the healed man moves progressively toward trust in Jesus in this story. In today’s passage, he takes the first step. Yesterday, he said he didn’t even know who Jesus was. When the religious leaders press him, though, he makes the (bold) assertion that Jesus is a prophet. This is the same thing we saw with the Samaritan woman at the well. Responding to what Jesus has done for him, the man has to conclude that something from God is going on here. He doesn’t know exactly what, but he is ready to say that Jesus is legitimate, a man who speaks for and does the work of God. Not exactly a confession of faith and not enough to get him baptized in most churches today, but remember Jesus already had him baptize himself, because again – troublemaker.

And while the religious leaders had a duty to investigate this, they did not go about it very well. They were overly confrontational. The healed man was very careful in how he answered them. He left out the parts about Jesus making a spit-mud pie and telling him to go wash. The way he tells it, only he broke the Sabbath rule. The religious leaders don’t buy this, but it is telling that he felt the need to protect Jesus with a carefully worded response. Some leaders came in with their minds already made up, which means this wasn’t as much an investigation where people look for facts and then draw conclusions. Nothing the healed man or anyone said was going to move some of the leaders. But there were others among the leaders who were more open to what this might mean for who Jesus is. What we have here is a window into the debate John was dealing with when he wrote. Some early Christians had difficulty with troublemaker Jesus (don’t we all!) and weren’t all that comfortable with the freedom and responsibility that following Jesus entailed. We should be understanding, because those things make us uncomfortable as well (even if it is an exhilarating discomfort at times).

The last thing I want to point out today is the conversation between the leaders and the parents. Classic case of faith bullying (which I wrote about here a while back). The parents of the healed man were so afraid of the religious leaders that they would not even support the bold stand their son had taken. They don’t call Jesus a prophet. They don’t even acknowledge that someone has healed their son. They evaded the whole thing because they were afraid. Their fear is something John’s first readers personally identified with. Jewish Christians by the end of the 1st century faced the real possibility of being expelled from their synagogue and ostracized from their community and their family. This is hard to appreciate for those of us who grew up in families and cultures where Christianity is the norm, but for many people around the world, choosing to follow Jesus often involves the prospect of being rejected by family, community, and even one’s own country. Japanese Christians faced this in the 20th century. Christians in predominantly Muslim countries face this now. And in Christian-norm-land, this has reemerged as a real possibility.

Pentecostals faced this in the early 20th century as their newfound expression of faith led them toward gender equality and racial integration, both of which brought the ire of their communities and extended families. Like this healed man’s parents, most Pentecostals caved to the fear (you might too if people were shooting at your house). Later on in the last century, Christians who felt compelled by troublemaker Jesus to stand up for civil rights faced similar pressure. Many showed more courage than the early Pentecostals, but others still wilted under the pressure (you might too if people were bombing your church). And now, some Christians in our culture feel compelled by troublemaker Jesus to stand in love and solidarity with homosexuals, to give them the support this healed man’s parents couldn’t bring themselves to give him. In all these cases, the rules seem clear. Keep the Sabbath. Tongues have ceased. The races shouldn’t mix. Women must be silent in the church. Homosexuality is a sin. We sure like our rules. And Jesus likes breaking them.

Because Jesus is a troublemaker.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.