THE MAN BORN BLIND.
EITHER on His way from the Temple, after this attempted assault, or on the next ensuing Sabbath, Jesus, as He passed by, saw a man blind from his birth, who perhaps announced his miserable condition as he sat begging by the roadside, and at the Temple gate.
All the Jews were trained to regard special suffering as the necessary and immediate consequence of special sin. Perhaps the disciples supposed that the words of our Lord to the paralytic whom He had healed at the Pool of Bethesda, as well as to the paralytic at Capernaum, might seem to sanction such an impression. They asked, therefore, how this man came to be born blind. Could it be in consequence of the sins of his parents? If not, was there any way of supposing that it could have been for his own? The supposition in the former case seemed hard; in the latter, impossible. They were therefore perplexed.
Into the unprofitable regions of such barren speculation our Lord refused to follow them, and He declined, as always, the tendency to infer and to sit in judgment upon the sins of others. Neither the man's sins, He told them, nor those of his parents, had caused that lifelong affliction; but now, by means of it, the works of God should be made manifest. He, the Light of the world, must for a short time longer dispel its darkness. Then He spat on the ground, made clay with the spittle, and smearing it on the blind man's eyes, bade him "go wash in the pool of Siloam." The blind man went, washed, and was healed.
The saliva of one who had not recently broken his fast was believed among the ancients to have a healing efficacy in cases of weak eyes, and clay was occasionally used to repress tumours on the eyelids. But that these instruments in no way detracted from the splendour of the miracle is obvious; and we have no means of deciding in this, any more than in the parallel instances, why our Lord, who sometimes healed by a word, preferred at other times to adopt slow and more elaborate methods of giving effect to His supernatural power. In this matter He never revealed the principles of action which doubtless arose from His inner knowledge of the circumstances, and from His insight into the hearts of those on whom His cures were wrought. Possibly He had acted with the express view of teaching more than one eternal lesson by the incidents which followed.
At any rate, in this instance, His mode of action led to serious results. For the man had been well known in Jerusalem as one who had been a blind beggar all his life, and his appearance with the use of his eyesight caused a tumult of excitement. Scarcely could those who had known him best believe even his own testimony, that he was indeed the blind beggar with whom they had been so familiar. They were lost in amazement, and made him repeat again and again the story of his cure. But that story infused into their astonishment a fresh element of Pharisaic indignation; for this cure also had been wrought on a Sabbath day. The Rabbis had forbidden any man to smear even one of his eyes with spittle on the Sabbath, except in cases of mortal danger. Jesus had not only smeared both the man's eyes, but had actually mingled the saliva with clay! This, as an act of mercy, was in the deepest and most inward accordance with the very causes for which the Sabbath had been ordained, and the very lessons of which it was meant to be a perpetual witness. But the spirit of narrow literalism and slavish minuteness and quantitative obediencethe spirit that hoped to be saved by the algebraical sum of good and bad actionshad long degraded the Sabbath from the true idea of its institution into a pernicious superstition. The Sabbath of Rabbinism, with all its petty servility, was in no respect the Sabbath of God's loving and holy law. It had degenerated into that which St. Paul calls it, a ptochikòn stoicheîon, or "beggarly element" (Gal. iv. 9).
And these Jews were so imbued with this utter littleness, that a unique miracle of mercy awoke in them less of astonishment and gratitude than the horror kindled by a neglect of their Sabbatical superstition. Accordingly, in all the zeal of letter-worshipping religionism, they led off the man to the Pharisees in council. Then followed the scene which St. John has recorded in a manner so inimitably graphic in his ninth chapter. First came the repeated inquiry, "how the thing had been done?" followed by the repeated assertion of some of them that Jesus could not be from God, because He had not observed the Sabbath; and the reply of others that to press the Sabbath-breaking was to admit the miracle, and to admit the miracle was to establish the fact that He who performed it could not be the criminal whom the others described. Then, being completely at a standstill, they asked the blind man his opinion of his deliverer; and henot being involved in their vicious circle of reasoningreplied with fearless promptitude, "He is a Prophet."
By this time they saw the kind of nature with which they had to deal, and anxious for any loophole by which they could deny or set aside the miracle, they sent for the man's parents. "Was this their son? If they asserted that he had been born blind, how was it that he now saw?" Perhaps they hoped to browbeat or to bribe these parents into a denial of their relationship, or an admission of imposture; but the parents also clung to the plain truth, while, with a certain Judaic servility and cunning, they refused to draw any inferences which would lay them open to unpleasant consequences. "This is certainly our son, and he was certainly born blind; as to the rest, we know nothing. Ask him. He is quite capable of answering for himself."
Thenone almost pities their sheer perplexitythey turned to the blind man again. He, as well as his parents, knew that the Jewish authorities had agreed to pronounce the cherem, or ban of exclusion from the synagogue, on any one who should venture to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah; and the Pharisees probably hoped that he would be content to follow their advice, to give glory to God, i.e., deny or ignore the miracle, and to accept their dictum that Jesus was a sinner.
But the man was made of sturdier stuff than his parents. He was not to be overawed by their authority, or knocked down by their assertions. He breathed quite freely in the halo-atmosphere of their superior sanctity. "We know," the Pharisees had said, "that this man is a sinner." "Whether He is a sinner," the man replied, "I do not know; one thing I do know, that, being blind, now I see." Then they began again their weary and futile cross-examination. "What did He do to thee? how did He open thine eyes?" But the man had had enough of this. "I told you once, and ye did not attend. Why do ye wish to hear again? Is it possible that ye too wish to be His disciples?" Bold irony thisto ask these stately, ruffled, scrupulous Sanhedrists, whether he was really to regard them as anxious and sincere inquirers about the claims of the Nazarene Prophet! Clearly here was a man whose presumptuous honesty would neither be bullied into suppression nor corrupted into a lie. He was quite impracticable. So, since authority, threats, blandishments had all failed, they broke into abuse. "Thou art His disciple: we are the disciples of Moses; of this man we know nothing." "Strange," he replied, "that you should know nothing of a man who yet has wrought a miracle such as not even Moses ever wrought; and we know that neither He nor any one else could have done it, unless He were from God." What! shades of Hillel and of Shammai! was a mere blind beggar, a natural ignorant heretic, altogether born in sins, to be teaching them! Unable to control any longer their transport of indignation, they flung him out of the hall, and out of the synagogue.
But Jesus did not neglect his first confessor. He, too, in all probability had, either at this or some previous time, been placed under the ban of lesser excommunication, or exclusion from the synagogue; for we scarcely ever again read of His re-entering any of those synagogues which, during the early years of His ministry, had been His favourite places of teaching and resort. He sought out and found the man, and asked him, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" "Why, who is He, Lord," answered the man, "that I should believe on Him?"
"Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He who talketh with thee."
"Lord, I believe," he answered; and he did him reverence.
It must have been shortly after this time that our Lord pointed the contrast between the different effects of His teachingthey who saw not, made to see; and those who saw, made blind. The Pharisees, over restlessly and discontentedly hovering about Him, and in their morbid egotism always on the look-out for some reflection on themselves, asked "if they too were blind." The answer of Jesus was, that in natural blindness there would have been no guilt, but to those who only stumbled in the blindness of wilful error a claim to the possession of sight was a self-condemnation.
And when the leaders, the teachers, the guides were blind, how could the people see?
The thought naturally led Him to the nature of true and false teachers, which He expanded and illustrated in the beautiful apologuehalf parable, half allegoryof the True and the False Shepherds. He told them that He was the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep; while the hireling shepherds, flying from danger, betrayed their flocks. He, too, was that door of the sheepfold, by which all His true predecessors alone had entered, while all the falsefrom the first thief who had climbed into God's foldhad broken in some other way. And then He told them that of His own free will He would lay down His life for the sheep, both of this and of His other flocks, and that of His own power He would take it again. But all these divine mysteries were more than they could understand; and while some declared that they were the nonsense of one who had a devil and was mad, others could only plead that they were not like the words of one who had a devil, and that a devil could not have opened the eyes of the blind.
Thus, with but little fruit for them, save the bitter fruit of anger and hatred, ended the visit of Jesus to the Feast of Tabernacles. And since His very life was now in danger, He withdrew once more from Jerusalem to Galilee, for one brief visit before He bade to His old home His last farewell.