Just tell me what I want to hear

Let’s face it: we’re not always very good at listening. We practice a kind of selective hearing. We’ve already made up our minds about what is or isn’t true, and filter out anything that doesn’t fit.

We’ve already seen how Jesus’ opponents refused to listen to him. He wasn’t speaking in riddles. Whether they were aware of it or not, they simply didn’t want to understand, because they didn’t like what he was saying (e.g., John 8:43).

Something similar happens again when the blind man healed by Jesus is brought before the Pharisees:

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” (John 9:15-17, NRSV)

Naturally enough, the Pharisees ask the man to tell them what happened. In response, they get the briefest of accounts (is that John paring the story down, or was the man getting tired of being asked?).

But as happens so often in John’s gospel, the miracle provokes division. Some Pharisees react in the same way as happened with the miracle of Bethesda. Then, instead of being struck with wonder at the spectacle of a man who had been lame for 38 years suddenly walking about, all they saw was a Sabbath-breaker carrying his mat. This time, they ignore the even more astounding miracle of giving sight to a man who had never had it, again, under the guise of their concern to honor the Sabbath.

Their statement is interesting: “This man is not from God.” Who said he was? Perhaps some of the people were murmuring it. Perhaps the formerly blind man’s tone of voice said it. Certainly Jesus was already gaining that reputation in the gossip around Jerusalem. And from John’s perspective, the sign itself loudly and clearly proclaims Jesus’ origin.

But they don’t want to hear that. To them, Jesus is a Sabbath-breaker, plain and simple.

Other Pharisees, as if in response to the first group, raise the obvious objection: how can you call someone a terrible sinner when they’re capable of doing such signs? What they don’t say, but only imply, is, “Who could do such a thing but God, or at least someone with God’s favor and power?”

One group starts with the perceived sin; the other starts from the sign. They reason from different premises, and are talking past each other. So they do something unusual. The Pharisees, the religious experts, turn to the man whose blindness had once defined him as a sinner or the child of sinners, and they ask his opinion.

They must have been pretty desperate for an answer to their confusion.

And the man has an answer: “He’s a prophet.” In all likelihood, that’s the highest compliment he knew to pay. But as we’ll see shortly, the Pharisees didn’t want to hear that either.