[This is public blogpost #1000. In this post, I'm going to attempt to merge concisely some very significant areas--exegesis, religious challenge and reform, and worship. And then I'm going to take somewhat of a break. This is a longish blog, but I hope you'll take the time, because there won't be any more blogs coming from me anytime soon!]
Digging In: John 9
One of the Marvelous Happenings in the Life of Jesus
Exegetical Interpretation, Focusing on Christian Challenge/Reform and Worship
With a Timely, Eulogistic Postscript
John 9 has long been a favorite chapter, and it’s not because I memorized it as a child or because it was read at a family funeral. This chapter is of deep impact on me because the story highlights Jesus in a way that simply won’t let me go.
While it would have been nice, I suppose, to have a true essay worked out, I would need more time for that, “living with” the text for a period of weeks or even months. I trust that it will be beneficial to see the process of asking questions of the text, not only the reaching of conclusions.
Method Ideally, I would start with two or more readings of the entire gospel, in different versions — perhaps one with more of a sentence-for-sentence orientation, and another, more of an expansive paraphrase. Initially, my method was simple: to read/refresh myself on the whole of chapter 9, and jotting questions I had while reading. The “first pass” through chapter 9 resulted in the need for a second pass. Within about an hour and a half total, I had approximately two pages of notes/questions. (An irresistible 3rd pass is yielding almost as many additional questions and brought tears to my eyes, but the new material will have to wait.) For sake of brevity — ha! — I am selecting only a portion of these questions to blogshare (to coin a term).
Bypassing for the moment the typical, academic, background questions that are important but are more stock-in-trade (author, date and place of writing, audience, etc.), I ask such things as these, from a perspective that is mostly “zoomed out” on the entire gospel of John:
- What special features can be found in John’s vocabulary and literary style?
- Within the whole gospel, does chapter 9 constitute a bona fide pericope? Does John use pericopes as, say, Matthew does?
- What is the relationship of blindness and sin for John?
- How does God the Father relate to Jesus in the narrative? Is Jesus called “Son of Man” earlier? later? throughout? often?
- How does John’s stated purpose (20:30-31) relate, or not, to key aspects found in this passage, such as spiritual blindness, sin, coming to faith, and worship? How might belief in 9:35-36 be tied to the overall, stated purpose?
Now zooming in more to the immediate context:
- Where are we in the progression of John’s narrative when we reach the events of chapter 9? What occurs immediately before, and immediately after? (The answer to these questions may be singularly significant.)
- Check 9:1-2 for chiastic structure. (Note the three mentions of blindness.)
- Note the various portrayals in this chapter: disciples, Jews, neighbors, Pharisees, and the man. (Larger question: how is each group painted in John overall, as compared to Mark?)
- What is the relationship of blindness and sin for each of the above people/groups?
- Could there be a larger inclusio from 9:1-34 (“the Jews’” idea of sin as bookends)?
- Note the relationship between eyesight and light and works, as in verse 4.
- Is “Siloam” Aramaic? Translation relationship to Greek “apostle”? Any significance to be found in Jewish background there — either with the Siloam pool or with the use of the word in OT texts? What is John saying by inserting the definition of the word?
- Chiasm in 9:13-16 vicinity (Pharisees, had been blind, Jesus, mud ==> Sabbath, Pharisees <== mud, Jesus, see, Pharisees/Sabbath). Yes? Investigate.
- Examine the use of “disciples” in 9:27-28 vs. its use in John overall.
- How does the Father God figure in to this story?
- What do “the Jews” and the Pharisees think of Him? How do they “use” Him? (vv. 16, 24, 29)
- What does the blind man think of Him? (9:31, 33)
- What could be made out of the fact that Jesus mentions God early in the story but not later?
- Hermeneutically speaking, are questions (such as the above group) significant from both John’s and the first readers’ points of view? Does John show any bias or agenda that his first-century readers would naturally share, or naturally be resistant to? How is God potentially working through John to say what needs to be said? And how do these answers affect my own point of view?
- What is the significance of the label “Son of Man” in this particular text? (It seems significant for John in the ultimate responsiveness of the [formerly] blind man.) (9:35)
- There appears to be a mirroring mini-chiasm in 9:39: blind ==> see; see <== blind? Do “judgment” and “guilt” complete this mini-structure?
- Note some striking, possibly unusual, recurring, or significant vocabulary words and phrases in NASB: blind, works of God, displayed, Light of the world, spit, seeing, eyes opened/opened my eyes (vv. 10, 13, 17, 30, 32), mud, miraculous signs, prophet, put out of the synagogue, “give glory to God,” disciples.
Musings Some musings and commentary stem from these types of questions!
I. In terms of challenge to the status quo and religious power structures … it seems to me that there are battles presented in this chapter — a battle of people and cliques, a battle of systems, and ultimately, a battle of and for the Kingdom. Clearly, the Jews and the Pharisees are the “conservatives” here, resisting challenge and change — while the simple facts of the blind man’s story necessitate, on the other hand, that traditional viewpoints are challenged.
Although the connection of blindness and sin might be an easy target for preachers of sermons, one should not dive into a topical sermon that uses a snippet of John 9 without first knowing a good deal about the context(s) here. We could not, in other words, legitimately draw any conclusions about the equation of spiritual blindness and sin without knowing more of how John the inspired writer uses and develops those ideas (or doesn’t) within the literary context. Just as significant would be some cultural insights — related, for example, to blindness, begging, synagogue norms, Pharisees, and more. This area, like so many others, requires more investigation.
It has long seemed to me that the parents in this story are presented as weak and sniveling. (Textual clues gained in further investigation could bolster or counter this impression.) Out of fear, they deflect attention and responsibility. On the other hand, the “Pharisees” and “Jews” groups are not “weak,” but they are in some sense blind and foolish. Note, for example, that they pronounce a cloudy half-truth regarding Jesus and the Sabbath in v. 16, and they resort to name-calling in v. 34. The Jews in power are more interested in protecting their system than in avowing the obvious wonder that has just occurred at the hands of Jesus. From their standpoint, 1) Jesus is a threat, and 2) the now-seeing man — although formerly negligible — may now be a threat, too.
Something that struck me 25 years ago, and still strikes me today (and here, I hope I’m not just coddling my earlier reading) is this: the Pharisees could not even see, much less accept, the God-glorifying miracle that had obviously occurred because they were too invested in protecting their empire. John presents unadorned facts in v. 7 (that the man “returned seeing”) and in v. 9 (that he kept saying “I am the one”). Waxing prophetic, I would assert that the implications of the Pharisees’ stubbornness here are momentous for institutional Christendom, and for various cliques and sects. Could the Pharisees legitimately be seen to represent some of the entrenched “clergy” of later eras? The implicit warning echoes through the centuries: Watch out that you’re not building your own structures, and pay attention to the work of God, or else you may be found blindly rejecting Him.
In contrast to the Pharisees and the parents stands the blind man. I would imagine that a Jewish person reading or hearing John’s gospel would find intense irony here: the blind man appears as largely a positive example, although he would previously have been a worthless drain on society — a mere opportunity to be seen giving alms! Initially, the man is trusting and obedient. He also makes an ostensibly false assumption: that “God does not hear sinners.” No, he doesn’t quite “get” everything about Jesus yet (no one could), but he is open, and he is coming to faith. (Who wouldn’t be experiencing new things after having been given sight?!) Not only can he see the ground in front of him for the first time in his life, but he is beginning to see who and what Jesus is. An encouraging message surfaces: that one can travel the road of discipleship, progressively coming to see more truth.
II. In terms of worship … the response seems so beautifully unfeigned and unaffected — the man simply worships, when confronted with the truths that Jesus is 1) from God and 2) able to work miracles. (Let alone, for now, the question of the meaning of “Son of Man.”) The antecedent worship word here is proskuneo, which
- is not inherently a “religious” thing to do
- means “kissing toward” as an act of homage, and implies bowing down
- has nothing directly to do with so-called whole-life worship
- is rather the simple act of response — by one who recognizes greatness far beyond oneself
Letting alone the so-called worship wars of our times, and jettisoning any historical connections related to liturgy/”services,” or checking off items on a list on Sunday mornings, or any other corruptions of biblical worship ideals, we see worship, pure and simple, in this text. We see that an unconstrained person, when he observes the reality of Jesus, worships.
And that is a beautiful precedent that both instructs and compels. Lord, may we.
~ ~ ~
It worked out to honor my grandfather, Andy T. Ritchie Jr., by publishing my blogpost #1000 on this, the 104th anniversary of his birth. (I even set the posting time as 19:09 CDT, the year of his birth, but this part is useless trivia.)
Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr., son of Andy T., Sr. and Fannie Mae Cobb Ritchie, was born and raised in the Nashville, Tenn., area. He married Kathryn Delma Cullum in 1933; the pair had four children — Andy T. III, Edward, Bettye, and Joan. I am #7 of 10 grandchildren, and there are 29 great-grandchildren.
Granddaddy taught music at David Lipscomb College and Bible and music at Harding College. (Both later become universities.) He was a concert singer who recorded an album in addition to his performing on stage and on radio. He influenced thousands through his
- personal conversations and correspondence
- leadership of personal evangelism meetings and “lily pool” hymn sings on the Harding campus
- direction of the Harding Chorus for several years
- much-remembered classroom teaching (see here for an external mention)
- inimitable, compelling leadership of worship in song, and preaching — in his own congregation, and in other states
- manner of living life
I think Granddaddy would have appreciated a good deal of what I’ve written on this blog to date, although certainly not all. He himself wasn’t known for his writing as much as for his leadership in other veins, but he did publish articles in multiple periodicals and wrote a full-length book on worship. I imagine that, were he alive today, he would also have expressed being inspired by John 9, and would have appreciated my exegetical efforts, along with the highlighting of the challenge of the (Jewish) status quo. (Therein, certain goals of the Restoration Movement which influenced both of us are also highlighted.) Granddaddy probably would have appreciated most the emphasis on the worship of God the Son, as seen in this compelling story.
Believe it or not, one of the more memorable aspects of Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., almost eluded mention until the fourth draft of this postscript. He was severely sight-impaired for the last 20 years of his adult life, having suffered detached retinas related to diabetes, and later became legally blind. This mention of his blindness, written after the main portion of this post, leads me to include, here, a prayer song I wrote for a family reunion some years ago. Please take a moment to read at least the words of Lord, I Want To See. (A sound file may be downloaded by clicking this link.)
Granddaddy entered the land of the eternally living and seeing in 1983.