On occasion we see the authors of Sacred Scripture reveal a sense of humor. The story of the man born blind in John’s Gospel is one of my favorites, because the man who regains his vision is both non-chalant and humorous when speaking to the Pharisees. This account is of one of the seven signs in John’s Gospel, and in this account the author of the fourth gospel shows us the tension building between Jesus and the religious leadership. This tension will begin to boil after Jesus performs the seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus, and it will boil over as the Paschal Holy Week approaches.
The author begins the story with Jesus teaching the disciples a valuable lesson. When the disciples ask, in a manner rather insensitive by contemporary standards, whether the man is blind due to his own sins or the sins of his father, Jesus replies, neither. Jesus does not merely reject awkward prejudices regarding those who are physically challenged. He affirms the human dignity of the person by asserting that the individual’s apparent disability is actually a grace – an opportunity for the works of God to be made visible through him.
The story becomes far more interesting as different members of the community respond to the realization that this man, who was once vision-impaired, can now see. Some members of the community believe that the man had his vision restored, while others believe that the blind man was someone entirely different. When asked how his vision was restored, the man born blind responds rather glibly, I don’t know. Eventually the man is summoned before the Pharisees. They too ask how his vision was restored, and they are incredulous – they do not believe he was once blind.
Doubting the truth of the story, the Pharisees summon the parents of the man. Yet the parents are reluctant to engage the Pharisees in a debate. The author of the fourth Gospel, demonstrating a keen and rather dry sense of humor, tell us that the parents avoid the question and tell the Pharisees, ask him, he is of age, he can speak for himself. The Pharisees, who are good teachers of the law, wisely insist that the man born blind give God the praise. In so doing, the Pharisees affirm Jewish law – that all good things come from God (for example, psalm 16:2). They also unintentionally suggest that if the man indeed had his vision restored, then Jesus works with the extraordinary power of God.
However the Pharisees are convinced that Jesus is not of God. They pre-emptively say of him, we know this man is a sinner. The blind man is completely unimpressed with their skepticism. He states flatly, one thing I do know is that once I was blind and now I see. After the Pharisees grow impatient, the man retorts with perhaps the most humorous line in the Gospels. Why do you want to hear my testimony again? Do you want to become his disciples too? With this line, John captures the defiant and unwavering faith of the man born blind. He cares not what anyone thinks – he simply testifies to the truth.
John’s Gospel highlights the role of the believer and he contrasts the experience of the believer with those who doubt or do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. The man born blind and those who believe accept Jesus as being of God. For example, when Jesus asks whether the man has faith in Jesus the Christ, the man born blind says, I do believe, Lord. On the other hand, John’s Gospel contrasts those who believe with doubters – those who reject the work of Jesus. For example, Jesus delivers the final coup-de-grace to the Pharisees. He tells them, If you were blind, you would have no sin, but now you say, “we see,” therefore your sin remains.