The Pharisees Interrogate the Man (9:13-17)

The neighbors bring the man to the Pharisees, presumably because something unusual has taken place and they are the recognized experts on the things of God. There does not seem to be anything sinister in their going to the Pharisees, unlike the contact between the Jewish opponents and the man at the pool of Bethesda (5:15).

The fact that this healing took place on the sabbath is mentioned in dramatic fashion midway in the story (v. 14; so also 5:9). In healing the blind man Jesus broke the sabbath rules in several ways, at least as they appear in later texts. Healing was permitted on the sabbath since "whenever there is doubt whether life is in danger this overrides the Sabbath" (m. Yoma 8:6; cf. b. Yoma 84b-85b; Lohse 1971:14-15). But, as in the case of the man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus again heals what is not a life-threatening condition. Furthermore, just as his command to the man to carry his mat violated sabbath rules (5:11), so now Jesus' own activity of making mud violated the prohibition of kneading on the sabbath (m. shabbat 7:2). It is possible that his use of spittle also violated sabbath rules, since later at least "painting" the eye, that is, anointing it for healing, was clearly prohibited (b. 'Aboda Zara 28b), and some included the use of spittle in this prohibition (y. 'Aboda Zara 14d; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:156-57). Finally, it was unlawful to take a journey of more than 2,000 cubits (1,000 yards) on the sabbath (cf. m. 'Erubin 4-5). A trip to Siloam and back from the nearest wall of the temple, for example, would be about 1,300 yards. It is perhaps likely that the trip to and from Siloam was further than was allowed, though we cannot be sure since we do not know where the healing took place. Jesus may be not just breaking the sabbath, but trampling on it, at least according to the views of these Jewish opponents!

The former blind man has to tell the story a second time, this time speaking to a new audience and adding the dramatic note that it was the sabbath. The crowd had wanted to know how the healing had happened out of understandable curiosity. The Pharisees now ask the same question but with different intent, for they want to determine whether any sabbath laws have been broken. The man recounts his healing with great brevity (v. 15). Many scholars see in this brevity an exasperation with having to retell his story, but this is only the first time he has told it to these people. Perhaps he senses their displeasure and sticks to the bare facts, as peasants have a tendency to do when interrogated by the junta—not an inappropriate image for this story, as we will see.

The Pharisees are divided over the man's witness (v. 16), a common occurrence when the light shines (cf. 7:43). The division among his opponents bears witness to Jesus' identity as the light of the world (cf. Lohse 1971:28). But here the light is shining through this man's testimony, providing an example of what all disciples are to do in the future (20:21).

The Pharisees face a dilemma for Jesus' sabbath breaking suggests he is not of God whereas his extraordinary power to heal suggests he is of God. Some of the Pharisees ask, How can a sinner do such miraculous signs? (v. 16). The plural, signs, indicates a larger familiarity with Jesus' activity. Perhaps we may assume that we are hearing the voice of Nicodemus, who has already said the same thing to Jesus himself (3:2). If so, then the one who came to Jesus at night is now sticking up for him once again (7:50-51) while it is day.

Divided amongst themselves, the Pharisees ask the blind man for his opinion of Jesus, given that it was his eyes Jesus had opened (v. 17). It is ironic that these Jewish leaders, who are so proud of their possession of the law and their ability to evaluate religious claims, are asking this man for his opinion on a religious matter. The Christians in John's own day would have loved this verse, since they were being persecuted by these same authorities for their loyalty to Jesus. This scene is like an underground political cartoon that deflates the self-important persecuting officials.The man responds that Jesus is a prophet. This is true as far as it goes, though it is not in itself adequate. He clearly thinks Jesus is on the side of God, despite such supposed abuse of the sabbath. The crowd has also viewed Jesus as a prophet (7:40), as have those so misguided as to want to make Jesus king (6:14). But the Samaritan woman also held this view (4:19), and Jesus went on to lead her into a deeper understanding of himself. Jesus will lead this man in the same way.

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