Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”
(John 9:16a NRSV)
The Season of Lent reminds us that Jesus was tested when he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tempted by the devil. But this wasn’t the only time that Jesus was tested. Throughout his ministry Jesus was tested by the Pharisees and other Jewish religious and political leaders. The gospel reading for Sunday 22 March (John 9:1–41) details one such occasion.
In this specific situation Jesus encountered a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples of Jesus asked him who was responsible for the sin that resulted in the man’s blindness–was it the man himself, or his parents? Jesus answered that the man’s blindness was not the result of anyone’s sin, rather it was so that God’s might be revealed in the man. In other words, the man was born blind so that Jesus could heal him, and in that act of restoring the man’s sight, the power and glory of God working through Jesus was revealed.
After the man has been healed by Jesus, he is brought before the Pharisees, who question him about how he received his sight. When the man explains how Jesus healed him, rather than being amazed by that fact, several of the Pharisees seek to play down any possible involvement from God in this miracle when they say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” So once more they question the man about Jesus, and the man claims that Jesus is a prophet.
Then the Pharisees and others present do not even believe that the man was blind, and they have the man’s parents brought in to testify that he was in fact blind, and that he had been blind from birth. The man’s parents confirm that he is their son, and they also confirm that he was born blind, but as for how the man regained his sight that, they tell the Pharisees, you will have to ask him yourselves. So the Pharisees do ask the man once again, and once again they don’t like the answer he gives them, and they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus could possibly be from God. The man then says to the Pharisees, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it 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 NRSV) But still the Pharisees refuse to concede that Jesus could in anyway be connected with God.
Then Jesus himself said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” (John 9:39 NRSV) Some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus say this and they asked him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Jesus did not come into the world to judge, but judgment takes place as a result of his presence in the world. Before he receives his sight from Jesus the blind man cannot physically see. But even though he can’t see, he recognises that God must be at work in Jesus, because only God could restore his sight. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are blinded by their own arrogance. As disciples of Moses, they believe they alone have knowledge and understanding of God. They cannot see the work of God in Jesus even though it is staring them in the face. They continue to display their arrogance when they question why Jesus even dares to suggest that they are blind.
Just as Jesus was tested, the current Coronavirus crisis is testing people all over the world. Life as we know it is changing daily, even hourly, as our normal habits and routines are being turned upside down as a result of the crisis. We are all being forced to think and act differently about things that we have probably been doing automatically for years, and that can be both uncomfortable and upsetting for us.
This might be a difficult adjustment for us to make, but hopefully we are not “blinded” by habit and routine, and we can “see” the need to accept the changes that are being forced upon us by this crisis, knowing that ultimately they are in the best interest of all people.