So Jesus heals a man, which is cool, but what strikes me most about this passage is that everyone has an agenda and uses the man to support their own goals:
- The disciples see him as a handy illustration for some teaching from Jesus.
- The Pharisees see him as an opportunity to trap Jesus.
- To his neighbours, he is a great afternoon’s entertainment for those with nothing better to do: (first they argue about whether he is really who they think he is, then they get the story about how he was healed. After the excitement of that gets a bit old, they take him to the Pharisees to see what they will say about it, and the Pharisees, of course, do not disappoint.)
- To his parents he is an unexpected embarrassment/awkward moment. They probably just want to whisk him off for a glass of wine somewhere and find out what happened, but somehow they’ve been called in front of the Pharisees to explain themselves for being the parents of someone who got himself healed.
At this point, I want to round everything up nicely by pointing out that Jesus was different, because he just saw a man in trouble, and healed him. Which will be a great point once I get there, and is what I believe, but first of all I have to get around verse 3: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Excuse me, Jesus, but could we have a little word about ‘things you’re not supposed to say’?)
At first reading, this implies to me, that the poor guy was born and lived his whole life until adulthood blind, so that he could be a handy prop one day to help Jesus to show how great God is, which is about as bad an example of using someone for your own agenda as you can get.
So what do I do with verses like this? Because there are lots of places in the bible, when it doesn’t say what I expect or want! For what it is worth, here’s what I find helpful:
1st – how does it compare with my understanding of Jesus or God, based on the whole of the bible? Does this fit with how I understand Jesus to operate? Is this in line with the character of God as He is revealed in the rest of the bible? (Choose for yourself, but my answer is ‘No’)
2nd – read the rest of the passage, so that I am not taking the verse outside of its context: as we continue reading, Jesus’ focus’ turns away from the disciples and towards the man: He heals him (with spit and mud) and gives him instructions. Later (after the commotion) Jesus seeks the man out, and spends time with him, recruits him as a follower and teaches him. In his interactions with the man he clearly treats him as more than a prop. He treats him as in individual that he cares about.
3rd – examine the word and phrase carefully. Does it really say what it seems to say. Check out other versions in the bible, or if you want to be really nerdy about it, check the meanings and translations of the original words used. (I didn’t go that far, but in this case I checked other translations. Most didn’t help much, but I did like the New King James – which shifts the focus of Jesus words a little. Almost like he is saying: ‘Neither this man or his parents sinned, but because this happened, the works of God can be revealed in Him, and I must be about my father’s work while it is day …’ (which is more like: ‘stop asking stupid questions and let me get on with healing this guy which is the important bit’ – I can imagine Jesus saying that!)
I hope some of you are still with me, after that detour. It’s a great passage, and I think Jesus shines in it. Verses like that bother me though, and distract me from the overall story – maybe they do to you too, and that’s what I try to do when I encounter them!