Throw him under the bus!

To be “thrown under a bus”: nobody is really sure where the expression came from. But everyone knows what it means. We may even have experienced it. Someone let us take the blame for something in order to save themselves — someone who was supposed to be our friend, our confidante, someone we could count on.

It can even happen in families.  Imagine if it were your own parents who did that to you. Unthinkable? But that’s exactly what happens in a story from the gospel of John. It’s the next act in the drama of the blind man healed by Jesus:

The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?” His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.” (John 9:18-23, CEB)

As we saw in a previous post, the Pharisees were divided over whether to consider Jesus a sinner or a man from God. But from this point forward in the story, the latter group seems to fade into the background, and the opposition increases.

The healed man had declared Jesus to be a prophet, which surely must have irritated Jesus’ opponents. Grasping at straws, they pursue another possibility: Maybe it’s all a mistake, even a hoax. There was no miracle, because this man was never really blind. Let’s call for the man’s parents. Then we’ll straighten this all out.

The parents are brought, and asked three questions: Is this your son? Was he really born blind? And if so, how is it that he can see now? The first two questions they answer straightforwardly. How could they do otherwise, especially if their neighbors were present?

They rightly perceive, however, that the third question is booby-trapped. They probably weren’t there when the healing happened, but could simply have given the same answer their son did: “The man called Jesus put mud on his eyes, and after he washed it off, he could see. That’s all we know.”

But they couldn’t even do that. I hardly find it plausible that they didn’t know who had healed their son. Are we supposed to believe that their son came home seeing for the first time in his life, and they didn’t ask how it happened? And surely, by that time, pretty much everyone else in the village would have known.

Fortunately for them, lie detectors hadn’t been invented yet.

John makes their motivation clear: they were afraid. Anyone who claimed Jesus to be the Messiah was to be kicked out of the synagogue. That’s not like having to leave one church and going to another one down the street; that’s like being cut off from the center of your social life.

It’s not that they were ready to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Not even their son was ready to do that. But the threat was serious and real, and they weren’t about to take any chances. So they threw their son under the bus: “He’s old enough — ask him yourself.” (For them, “old enough” means 13; I wonder if parents would let a 13-year-old speak for himself today?)

The sign that Jesus performed didn’t just divide the Pharisees; it divided a family. The formerly blind man would henceforth need a new family. And as we’ll see, he would find one.