CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

June 21

Ad Hominem

“You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” ~John 9:27 I’m not certain if the freshly sighted man asked this in innocence or insouciance…or in some other way. It didn’t matter. The reaction was immediate and visceral: They reviled him ~John 9:28a  Seems a bit over the top for clerics to go around reviling people. The word in the Greek for reviled is: λοιδορέω (loi-do-re’-ō) and originates from a word meaning “mischief”.  But, it sounds rather odd to say that the preachers mischiefed him. We get a bit closer with the more modern word, abused. That works nicely. They abused him. It was a council full of priests swearing – in the old fashioned sense of the word (i.e. oaths and pejoratives) – at a solitary, young Jewish man who had just been given the gift of sight. Imagine that! You get healed and you get sworn at by a flock of frocks.
 
But it gets worse…they return to the whole “Who’s your daddy?” line of reasoning. It was their default go-to: They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” ~John 9: 28,29 The healed man asks a simple question. It is a justifiable question in respect to their overt nosiness. They remind him of their storied leader, Moses. They get out in the weeds once more regarding the geography of Jesus’ hometown. They’ve become predictable. And then, this lone figure resumes his stream of consciousness brilliance: The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” ~John 9:30-33
 
Professional lecturers are not used to being lectured. Totally ignoring the merits of the argument put forth, they threw a clergy hissy fit: They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out. ~John 9:34. The formerly blind man was summarily excommunicated. If you’ve not the wherewithal to counter the message, then destroy the messenger. In philosophy this is referred to as a logical fallacy or an ad hominem attack. It’s been around for ages. It’s still going strong today. Many are afraid to think or to be proven wrong. Absent a reply, the character of the opponent is assassinated. You were born entirely in sins…  They nailed the ad hominem.

June 20

The Why

Jesus evidently picked an excellent proxy. The formerly blind guy is about to go off on the religious nags with some brilliant banter. Perhaps having been blind since birth, our newly healed protagonist knew a thing or two about standing up for himself and calling out religious tomfoolery. He is brought in once more to have a go on the witness stand:  So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” John 9:24 The healed man didn’t give a fig about the accusation that Jesus was a sinner. During his blind pilgrimage his very disability had been associated with sin. He was quite used to the unjust accusations hurled about by both neighbor and clergy: He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” ~John 9:25 Empirical evidence baby. Blind. Not blind. Blind. Not blind. Got it? Kind of…you know…obvious. Embarrassed for you to be pointing it out.

The Pharisees try a re-direct: So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” ~John 9:26 The healed lad wants to get away from this tedious inquest. These guys must be daft. They’re asking the same “how” question over and over: He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” ~John 9:27 No. That is not at all want they want.

As I mentioned when we set out on this story a few days back, this is one of the more entertaining narrative pieces in the New Testament. The legalism of the Pharisees is no match for a humble, freshly healed man. But before we move on, note the question that is driving the preachers mad: “How did He open your eyes?” Prior to the healing Jesus didn’t address the how – he addressed the why. When his disciples asked about the origin of the man’s blindness, do you recall Jesus’ response: “…it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus had made the “how” so incredibly offbeat (spit, mud, stroll, wash, see) that it would seem irrational to repeat it as a method. Jesus was interested in the why. It wasn’t just the man’s healing that would bring glory to God, it was also his unexpected role as a missionary to a group of uppity, self-righteous, fuddy-duddies.

June 19

Intimidated

Ma and Pa were terrified. They’d been hauled to an inquisition without the luxury of having had a moment to celebrate their son’s recent miracle. It was all business with the religious litigators: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews…~ John 9:19-22

Authoritarian leadership leverages fear to gain its ends. It presumes the right to smite or to mete out rewards as measured against the conformity or lack thereof of its adherents. History tells us that authoritarian regimes, be they religious or political, tend to have a short shelf-life. However, they can be hell on earth while so ensconced. To a simple follower of the Jewish faith in that day there was little daylight between one’s social and religious life. If the latter were in any way compromised, every aspect of life would suffer. The parents rightly sensed a trap. They had not witnessed the miracle. Their son was old enough to vote, drink and date. Ask him. Their caution was well-founded: His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” ~John 9:22,23

Not a great moment in parenting. I’ve mused a number of times over individuals who managed to get some ink in the Bible that was less than flattering. It would be tough to have your name immortalized with a weak moment. When I try to place myself in the sandals of this mom and dad I wonder if I would have reacted any differently. I’d like to think so, but that might be a bit of self-flattery. I’ve been daunted before by legalism. However, one of the nice things about age advancement rituals (better known as birthdays) is that things get broken that need to get broken. It’s been a good long while since a legalist has caused me much concern. Miracles are to be celebrated, not litigated. I think that a graceful notion.

 

June 18

Call the Witness

The grilling continued. Contrary to their normal, know-it-all outlook, the men in black asked the opinion of the man who could now see. He gave it: So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.” ~John 9:17

I’m not sure what answer they were looking for. If you ask someone who has never seen the light of day, and who is now making eye contact with you, what he thinks of the man who performed the miracle, you’re likely to get a rather flattering reply. So, they proceed with what prosecutors are so good at doing – they attempt to discredit the witness: The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? ~John 9:18,19

These guys were good at what they did. They were efficient. They quickly located the parents to try and poke a hole in the story. They were predisposed to not believe in the supernatural abilities of the God they said they believed in. They could wax eloquent about His mighty works of old, but they didn’t want this ancient, historical God invading the present. They wanted a tame God. They wanted an escape clause. Seeing was not believing, with the exception of the man who could now see.

June 17

Self-Doubt

Jesus had recruited an unwilling co-conspirator. Instead of Jesus getting grilled for healing on the Sabbath, he thought it might be nice for the healed to have a go at it. Challenging a man who had just been given his sight – simply because it happened on the Sabbath – would make the Pharisees appear odious. Jesus was going for odious: They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” ~John 9:13-16

Astonishing…Odious. It was so odious that it caused a fissure within the normally reliable naysayer block: But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.” ~John 9:16 Game. Set. Match.

This brilliant move by Jesus had the Pharisees, for once, doubting themselves. The legalism of their religion had hardened their hearts to the point that they were, in effect, able to practice their rituals quite apart from God. They had the law. They didn’t appreciate God meddling in their affairs. Their religion worked flawlessly. Yet, self-doubt was their only hope of salvation. That’s true for you and me as well.

June 16

A Stick in the Eye

The neighbors are convinced. This is the blind lad they’ve known for years: “So they were saying to him, ‘How then were your eyes opened?’” ~ John 9:10  Their curiosity is both innocent and most likely, self-seeking. “Hmm…I have a trick knee. I’d like to meet this healer.”  “I wonder if he could fix my husband’s hearing?”  “Can he heal wrinkles?” “I miss my hair.”  “Hey, if a guy can heal blindness let’s form a queue. Me first! Where is he?”

A name is given: He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I went away and washed and I received sight.” ~John 9:11 The neighbors lean in. Oh, it’s that guy – the one with the mixed reviews. They’ve heard of him. Regardless of whether or not he’s “Pharisee Approved” they are all in. Even if you have no health issues, life in Palestine is rather drab. You think to yourself that if you can knock off work a bit early it might be nice to take the family to one of those healing shows. Netflix is yet to be invented. So, as they pull out their lambskin address scrolls, they ask for his contact information: They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I dunno.” ~John 9:12

Back to the Jesus method for just a moment. As we’ve mentioned, there is nothing monolithic in the technique, only in the outcome. Jesus has distanced himself from this miracle by both disappearing from the script and by sending the man away to the Pool of Siloam to complete and participate in the healing . It is one of the more intriguing miracles. And, it is one of the more entertaining as we shall soon see. The crowd didn’t know how to find Jesus but they did know how to find the pious apparatchiks. After the disappointing news of Jesus’ whereabouts the crowd herds the newly sighted chap off to Pharisee headquarters for a once over: They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. ~John 9:13  And guess what comes next? Now it was on the Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. ~John 9:14  Jesus could have healed the blind lad any day of the week but he chose the Sabbath. And, he included the fellow in the work prohibition revolt. As Jesus healed one set of eyes he was poking a stick in the eyes of others.

June 15

Iridescent 

Under the heading, “Don’t try this at home!” Jesus has spit in the mud, made a nice little poultice and smeared it all over the eyes of a man born blind. He is told then to hunt and peck his way to the Pool of Siloam and wash up. Siloam means “sent.” The blind man is sent to Sent. The story continues: “So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.”  ~ John 9:7 

As difficult as it is for the sighted, it is worth the effort to try and imagine this from the blind man’s perspective. Your entire life up to this point has been marginalized because of the handicap you’ve had since infancy. You’ve never known the face of your mother and father. In a pre-braille culture your educational opportunities have been abridged. Your life’s vocation, by default, is that of a beggar. In addition to that you’ve overheard the religious bigotry associated with your condition. Aspersions are cast upon you, your parents, your grandparents. You hear the Old Testament saying about the sins of the father being visited upon the children to the second and third generation. Although you’re unaware of any scandal that your pop might have indulged in, you can’t help but wonder. Your father knows that you wonder. There is an awkwardness to your relationship. Religion is barren, rigid and joyless.

And then…a torrent of colors. You have no name for the collision of iridescent brilliance overloading your brain. And what are these? These are people. That must be a donkey. There’s a tree, a young woman with an infant, a bird. You stare a million directions in a flash – sensory excess. And then you look back down in the Pool of Siloam and you see a quivering reflection of yourself. For the first time ever you see you.

It caused a commotion: Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.” ~John 9:8,9  He says this not in a defensive tone or a panic, but with something that borders on frenzied excitement. “It’s me! Yes! It’s me! I once was blind – but now I see!” It had the makings for a first-rate song.

June 14

Mud
Jesus now turns his attention to the lead protagonist of chapter 9. He is a man who was born blind. In that day and time it carried a stigma. Somebody, somewhere, at sometime must have committed some sin which resulted in one of those: “Blind that child!” memos from heaven. Or so the thinking went. The blind man in our story carried out the same profession as the former paralytic of chapter 4 – he was a beggar by vocation.

The healing itself is thought-provoking. Let’s pick up the story: We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). ~John 9:4-7

When Jesus healed the paralytic he simply said, “Get up.” There were no props. We can assume that He was capable of doing the same with the blind man. But there seems to be a sort of customization to his healing method. With the passage we’re looking at, Jesus mixed mud and spit. In Mark 8, it is spit without the mud. Moreover, with the mud-less spit healing it only gets the job half-baked. Jesus completes that one with the laying on of hands. In Mark 10, a chap by the name of Bartimaeus runs up to Jesus and asks to be healed and Jesus sort of just waves him through by saying, “Go on…you’re healed.”

I have two thoughts on all of this. First of all, I believe Jesus knew of mankind’s incurable urge to codify everything. My experience in ministry has found the church to be no less enamored of such. I can well imagine that if Jesus had just used mud and spit exclusively we would now have seminars instructing us on how to spit, how much spit to use, the type of mud that works best with spit and so on. We would even be importing mud from the holy land and recruiting professional spitters (most likely from the South) to show us how it’s done. My second thought is that Jesus knew that faith, for some, needed training wheels. They could believe Jesus a little bit, but when they were able to participate in the healing; viz a viz, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.it rallied their faith.

June 13

Who’s to blame?

The beauty of the Gospel of John lies with the personal encounters between Jesus and the individuals who’ve been the hapless or the willing victims of a fallen world. The stories are representative, with each carrying a subplot beyond the obvious need of the moment. Nicodemus, one of the rulers of Israel needed further revelation. Was Jesus just a talented stump preacher? There had been a number of those. They came and they went. The colleagues of Nicodemus were efficient at dispatching such upstarts. The Samaritan woman needed a man to notice her for something beyond her obvious physical attractions. She needed to hear truth. The paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda needed his body restored but he also had need of spiritual focus and purpose. The woman caught in adultery needed protection, forgiveness and restoration.

But beyond the need of the individual, the stories have an effect on the audience as well. The religious shopkeepers are reminded that the mercy of God is not limited to a six-day work week. Jesus heals in the moment regardless of religious protocol. The gathered crowds witness the emerging Christian notion of grace through the kind words to the sobbing adulterous. Again, the stories are multi-layered. There is something in them for everyone.

Chapter nine is given entirely to a man born blind. It begins with a presupposition by the disciples in respect to cause. Their question comes across as theologically clinical. They’ve already diagnosed the origin of the man’s blindness, they just need their brilliant insight refined: As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” ~John 9:1,2

“Which is it Jesus? Ma, Pa or the boy himself? Everyone knows that blindness is caused by doing something to annoy God! Am I right, or am I right?” I can just imagine the hopeful, knowing, collegial look on the face of the disciple who asked that question. He may have even been scratching his chin for scholarly effect. “Hmm…blindness…SIN would be my diagnosis. But which sin? Who sinned? What think ye Jesus?” Jesus’ response puts a spear through their theologizing: Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man who sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” ~ John 9:3

To those outliers of the Christian faith who still, to this day, associate any illness, misfortune or setback to one’s sin, these are important words to consider. Jesus is not at all saying that bad behavior doesn’t have its consequences. He said as much to the man healed of paralysis, “Go and sin no more less something worse befalls you.”  What he is saying though is that sin is not always causal. These things are not monolithic. It is important therefore not to read more into this response than is merited. This man had been placed before Jesus for a purpose. His blindness was about to be used to help others see.

June 12


Who’s Your Daddy?

The crisis was averted. The religious leaders dropped their stones and backed away, but they didn’t go far. They had spent a great deal of time looking for Jesus and they were not about to let him out of their sight. What comes next is a rather lengthy exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders. A lot of the back and forth can be summed up with the colloquial question: “Who’s your daddy?”

Let’s look at just a sampling of verses that represent the familiarity Jesus demonstrates toward the God of Israel alongside the heated response of his antagonists: So they were saying to Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

As I mentioned, this is a mere representation of a protracted back and forth between Jesus and the religious leaders. The attacks become very personal. They believe him a demon possessed child of a fornicating Samaritan!  Jesus tells them that their daddy is the devil!  It is some first-rate name calling worthy of the hood. The gathered crowd has certainly gotten their money’s worth on this day.

The religious leaders finally pull the ultimate paternity card by mentioning that they are the sons of the founder of Israel: “Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham?” Jesus’ responds: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” That made them incredulous:  “You are not yet fifty years old, and you’ve seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

Uh-oh. Jesus has just invoked the holy name…for himself. Going all the way back to Moses, when that wandering Bedouin asked who the heck it was that was speaking to him from the bush, God responded with, “I am.” If we have any doubts that Jesus understood himself to be God incarnate, we need look no further than the furious response of his opponents: Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him…  They didn’t have to go far to find a few stones. They had just dropped them to the ground a few minutes ago.

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