Red Letter Year: 11/8

John 9.24-34

Healing the blind man by Edy-Legrand

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”
25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”
27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”
30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”
34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.


Part three of our story is a second, more spirited conversation between the healed man and the religious leaders. His confidence and courage seem to grow as does their hostility. What stands out most to me here is just how sure of themselves the religious leaders are. Notice how often they say, “We know.” They know all about Jesus (except they’re wrong). They know all about the healed man (except they’re wrong there too). Not only are they quite sure they have everything figured out, the things they are most sure of are all negative. All their knowledge is condemning knowledge.

We’ve all encountered religious people who are like this, ready to send a lot of people to hell, quite sure they have the sin of everyone else figured out. They are likely as wrong as these religious leaders were and we would do well to avoid them. The temptation is to engage them in debate, but notice that for two days in a row now there have been no red letters. This doesn’t seem to be a debate Jesus was interested in having. He already told his followers that neither the man nor his parents sinned to cause his blindness. There really isn’t anymore to be said and no amount of debate will lead those who are so sure of their own righteousness to un-condemn the ones they have rejected.

But remember what I keep saying. Identifying the flaws of the bad characters in the Gospels with our present day opponents is only of limited value and poses considerable risk. I think what I wrote above is okay, but only when balanced out with a healthy dose of internal reflection. The flaw we see here is the religious leaders’ over-confidence in what they know. By contrast, the healed man sticks only to what he can verify is true. He refuses to deny or agree that Jesus has ever sinned – how could he know such a thing? At that point, he hadn’t even seen Jesus yet. The leaders are quite ready to declare their own speculations certain, even though they admit they don’t know where Jesus came from. The healed man is not willing to do that. He is both more rational and more honest than they were. All he knows is that this Jesus guy healed his blind eyes. He goes on to reason that restoring sight to the blind is not some regular faith healers do. This must be a genuine work of God and since when does God listen to such prayers from sinful people? Solid reasoning based on fact.

So how does this apply to us directly? I think we hold a lot of speculative ideas very certain, ideas that have little to no basis in our experience or in Scripture, but are just urban legends that have accrued over the centuries. We need something like a faith Snopes. Some of them stem from bad misreadings of Scripture (like complementarianism, penal substitution atonement, or a Left Behind view of the end times), others from superstition (like the high school runner who recently dropped out of a race because her bib number was 666, or saying bless you after someone sneezes). Some of these are rather harmless, but with enough certainty applied, some of them can be harmful.

More importantly, few of us have developed an adequate comfort level with “I don’t know” as a proper theological response. The very nature of revelation is such that more is always hidden than is uncovered. God only showed Moses his backside. Jesus only showed so much to his followers and they only wrote some of it down (see the last verse in John). Thomas Aquinas had a revelatory vision and stopped writing altogether because of it. We are dealing with mystery. We are talking about an infinite God. Most of the truths we have come in paradox form (e.g., Jesus as fully God/fully human) – mystery is the very shape of truth. We would do well to interrogate our own certainties. Though the leaders were offended by the idea, we can learn from the healed man’s method. Start with what we have experienced, what we can verify as true, then draw reasonable conclusions from that but don’t overreach, and learn to be okay saying, “I don’t know.” This method leads the healed man to truth, it leads him to Jesus. See how he’s a disciple now (even though he still hasn’t met a typical modern day standard yet)? The leaders think they know, but the healed man is the one moving closer to Jesus.

Our certainty doesn’t lead us to Jesus, our doubt and uncertainty lead us to Jesus.

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.