Chapters 9 and 10 of John record yet another of Jesus’ powerful discourses: The Shepherd and His Flock. In order to completely understand the discourse itself, however, we must first take a look at the miracle that preceded it: The healing of a blind man (See John 9:1-34), and that will be the subject of today’s lessons.
It is interesting that the first we hear of this particular blind man is through a question from the disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). They didn’t have compassion on the man and say, “Here Rabbi, heal this blind man!” Rather, he was simply the object of their curiosity!
The question itself also seems strange to us as well, but it wasn’t strange for people to think this way in Jesus’ day. The rabbis of the era taught that if a person suffered from a physical ailment from birth, this must have been either because the person’s parents or grandparents had committed sin, or because the sick person sinned before birth.
Sound like strange theology? It comes straight from the Bible, from the second commandment: “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex 30:5 NKJV)! It’s the Word of God! Sin has consequences, sometimes into the third and fourth generation!
But the rabbis didn’t have a complete interpretation of this passage, and Jesus wants us to understand completely. His response?
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3 NIV)
Wait a minute. Isn’t what Jesus is saying here in direct contradiction to Exodus 20:5?
Not at all. Our sin does affect our children and grandchildren! Take alcohol addictions, for example. Our alcohol addictions emotionally mar our families, often leading, by example, to ongoing addictions in our children. And on a more physical level, we pass on our addictive personalities to our children and grandchildren.
But not all sin is caused by our parents. Some sin just happens. When my grandfather died of lung cancer, it wasn’t because his parents had taught him to smoke or given him the genetic pattern for addiction. It was because all his life he had worked with chemicals that carried the same warning as cigarettes, without using proper safety precautions!
Science now teaches that about 50% of the cases of congenital blindness are related to a genetic predisposition for blindness. But the other 50% are related to things like congenital infections, cataracts or glaucoma, or may be caused by damage to the brain as a result of lack of oxygen during birth. All of these things are indirectly a response to sin in the world, but they aren’t specifically a result of the sin of the parent.
Jesus’ beautiful response to His disciples in this passage helps us to fully understand the reason why there is suffering in the world. In a world where sin has so clouded our vision that many don’t even believe in God, much less in His healing power, God is able to use the consequences of sin to reveal Himself to us, for Jesus then proceeded to heal the blind man.
Unfortunately, the fact that it was Sabbath gave the Pharisees what they considered just grounds to go after Jesus. They asked the man, and then his parents, who had healed him. Still not getting the answer they desired, they accused the formerly-blind man of lying: “Give glory to God…We know this man is a sinner.” (John 9:24 NIV)
The healed man’s response is beautiful: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25 NIV)
Friends, Jesus doesn’t need us to justify His actions! His miracles speak for themselves!
Naturally, the Pharisees become even more angry: “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.” (John 9:28,29 NIV)
And in the response of the healed man, we can learn our second lesson of the day: “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does His will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:31-33 NIV)
The man was taking a risk. He knew full well that a “bad” response would result in excommunication from the synagogue. Since the synagogue was the centre for Jewish community life, excommunication meant he would be cut off from many social relationships. But he didn’t care. The man risked all to stand up for Jesus, and in the end, his reward was to be thrown out of the synogogue (see John 9:34).
But the story doesn’t end here, and what transpires next is perhaps one of the most beautiful things in Scripture: “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him…Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 NIV).
Jesus went looking for the man who was so severely punished for standing up for what was right, and then He personally offered Him a chance to believe!
Friends, we don’t need to be afraid of what the world can do to us. This man so much more than being allowed into the synagogue! When we are forced to lose things for the sake of Christ, we can take heart! Jesus will be there for us! And what He has to offer is so much more worthy than what the world has to offer!
And this is the backdrop for Jesus’ beautiful discourse: The Shepherd and His Flock. Join us next week for Part 2: Not by Works.
In His love,
Lyn Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries.
(To access the entire “The Shepherd and His Flock” mini-series, please click here.)