My daughter recently had a problem with her utility company. For no reason, they had taken $100 out of her bank account. When she noticed this on the statement, she called to get it straightened out, figuring this would be an obvious and easy problem to fix.
Not so much.
When she explained the situation to the customer service representative, the person on the other end of the line dismissed the complaint out of hand. “We wouldn’t do something like that,” the woman said frostily, despite the fact that my daughter had the black-and-white evidence right in front of her. Back and forth the argument went, until the utility representative finally saw the error with her own two eyes, and in embarrassment, started backpedaling as quickly as she could.
At least she was able to recognize the truth when she saw it. That’s more than we can say for the Pharisees in John 9.
We come now to the testiest and most ironic part of the episode of Jesus healing a man born blind. The Pharisees refuse to accept the miracle at face value, for the sign that it is. They’ve already interrogated the man once. That conversation ended with the man declaring Jesus to be a prophet. Then they tried interrogating the parents, hoping to uncover a hoax; no luck there either. So, grasping at straws, they bring the man in a second time.
“Give glory to God,” they command him. “We know this man is a sinner,” they add, referring to Jesus (John 9:24, CEB). In the Greek, the “we” in that last phrase is emphatic: in other words, We, the religious experts, already know the truth about this guy. They are asserting their superiority.
Their order to give glory to God may be their way of reminding him to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as if he’s been holding back some crucial piece of information. Are they hoping that there still might be a way of discrediting the miracle?
Alternatively, if they must accept that a miracle happened (which they could hardly deny after talking to the parents), then Jesus could not be allowed to receive any credit for it — because obviously, he’s a Sabbath-breaking sinner.
Thus, they lay the burden on the man: Say something that’s going to fix the problem. God’s watching, and so are we.
Despite being alone and abandoned by his own parents, the man doesn’t seem to be intimidated in the least. He deftly sidesteps the tension and shows himself to be a staunch empiricist: “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see” (vs. 25, CEB).
I love this guy.
That’s surely not the answer the Pharisees want or need. So they press him to tell them again how it all happened. The man’s response is classic: “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” (vs. 27).
Ouch. The words find their target, puncturing the Pharisees’ posturing and pretense. How do we know that he’s hit a nerve? Because just as we might do if someone backed us into a corner, the Pharisees retreat further into their arrogance and resort to verbal abuse. More on that in the next post.