This chapter contains a sign and discourse that reveal the consequence of the light (God's revelation in Christ) shining in the world. It follows on from Jesus' visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles where he is revealed as the light of the world, a light that brings life. This light shines in the darkness, and some begin to see and find life. Others reject the light and inevitably face judgment. The chapter moves forward in seven stages, during which we witness the blind man, not only seeing, but growing in his understanding of the one who gave him sight, while on the other hand, we witness the confirmation of the state of loss for those who reject the light.
v1-7. First, the sign. Jesus is the light of the world (the divine life-giving revelation from God, 8:12) and he enacts this reality with a man born blind. The disciples assume that either the man's sin, or his parents' sin, has caused the blindness, but for Jesus, the man's condition serves as an opportunity to give sight to someone lost in darkness, both physical and spiritual. Jesus purposely defies ritual-purity laws with the use of saliva and dirt in a healing on the Sabbath, and so declares himself as a light that transcends that of Moses. Like Elisha with Naaman, Jesus calls for an act of faith on the man's part, and so begins this man's journey to life.
v8-12. The man born blind is questioned by his neighbors. The blind man's neighbors have seen him begging, probably at the same spot for a very long time. Now that he sees, they are unsure if this is the same man. The questioning serves to identify the source of the miracle, namely, "the man called Jesus."
v13-17. The man born blind is then questioned by the Pharisees. The neighbors obviously feel that the religious authorities should witness this amazing event, but the Pharisees are divided on whether this is an evil, or good omen. As far as the man is concerned, Jesus is obviously a very special person under God ("prophet" - used in the sense of "a man of God").
v18-23. The Pharisees then question the man's parent's. The parents recognize that the miracle is causing some agitation among the religious authorities and so affirm nothing more than that the man is their son and that he was born blind.
v24-34. The man is further questioned by the Pharisees. Given that the Pharisees are unsure of Jesus' religious qualifications (this is the purpose of the oblique reference to his origin, v29), although quite sure of his neglect of Mosaic law (he is a sinner, v24), they demand that the man born blind tell them by what deceitful means Jesus stage-managed this event ("give glory to God" = tell the truth). In response, the man observes that only a God-fearing man who does God's will could undertake the healing of a person born blind. The truth always hurts and so for his troubles the man is excommunicated.
v35-38. Jesus leads the man born blind to full faith. Jesus reveals himself as the divine revelation from God; he is the Son of Man, the one who gives the light of life to those who seek it, but confirms a state of loss upon those who don't. In response, the man born blind believes and bows before his Lord.
v39-41. The consequence of Jesus' light shining in the world is that some come to see while others remain in the dark. The purpose of Jesus' coming is not to bring division, but the consequence is indeed division. In the radiance of Christ, the divine revelation of life-giving truth, the blind see and live, while those who claim to see remain in the dark - lost in their sins.
All of us have probably attended more funerals than we would care to remember. Of course, there is value in still being able to remember - alive to remember! Consider for a moment the expectations of those who attend, along with the expectations of the person who is leading the service.
The conductor, celebrant, minister, priest, .... so often uses the occasion as an evangelistic opportunity: to put forward the Christian message, or to encourage people back to church. And while they are undertaking this mission, there is always the temptation to slip into a parsonic mode that passes for identification with those who have lost their dear friend. Have you ever sat in a funeral cringing, hoping that the celebrant will stop talking so you can get outside into the fresh air?
Those who attend funerals these days will so often say that they don't want too much religion, but in the end they always want Psalm 23 and the Lord's Prayer. What they don't want is to be preached at. They just want to affirm their friend and say goodby.
Confronted by the blindness of the world, a blindness encapsulated in the man born blind, Jesus said to his disciples, "we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day." By using "we", Jesus includes us in this work. The work is the work of shining light into the darkness and leading those who seek the light of divine truth into the presence of the Son of Man. It is there, through faith, that they will find life eternal.
So, if we are in the light-shining business, how do we best do this at the moment when our world is at its darkest, at a funeral, at that moment when we are faced with our mortality? Thankfully, secular humanity still likes the trappings of Christianity, albeit without the preaching. Obviously a funeral should be an affirmation, even a celebration of a person's life, along with a concluding farewell. And what of the light? Where the funeral is conducted by a believer, let the celebration be framed in the eternal story - of the man from Nazareth who came to bring the light of life to a dark world.
1. Identify the growth in faith of the man born blind.
2. What is the divine light and what happens when it shines?
3. How would you radiate a funeral with Christ while respecting the occasion?