John 9:1-5, 39-41 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins? “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” … Then Jesus told him [the man who had been born blind], “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”
Before I go back to the judge and judgment verses in chapter 5, I want to look at this one in 9:39. This story of the blind man Jesus healed is one of my favorites in the Bible, and John takes a whole chapter to tell it. When Karis was born with a defect in her intestines, some people asked Dave and me to examine our lives to repent of whatever sin in us had caused this. So that question, which Jesus responds to so clearly, is as relevant in our time as it was two thousand years ago. Karis believed her entire life was meant as a showcase of God’s power and love. Reading that in her journals is what motivated me to write Karis, All I See Is Grace.
The story shows the blind man growing in his understanding of Jesus, from calling him “the man they call Jesus” in v. 11, to “he must be a prophet” in v. 17, to rejection of the Pharisees’ conclusion that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath (v. 24). Verse 25 rings with courage, in contrast to the man’s parent’s trepidation: “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” I can only begin to imagine how thrilling it was for a man who had never seen anything in his life to see colors, and people’s faces (even the Pharisees’ frowning faces), and his own parents!
When the Pharisees ask the man to tell them AGAIN how Jesus healed him, he asks “Do you want to become his disciples too?” (v. 27). I think the “too” refers to himself: He wants to know the man who healed him. In verse 33 he explains to the Pharisees why Jesus must be from God. In verse 36, he exclaims, “Who is the Son of Man? I want to believe in him.” Jesus responds, “You have seen him!” And in verse 38 the man worships Jesus and calls him Lord.
That’s when we have verse 39, which the NLT translates “I entered this world to render judgment.” I think this can be translated differently, “I entered the world to be judged” or to be the object of judgment. (This is one time I disagree with the NLT, which I love—most translations say, “for judgment,” leaving unclear who is doing the judging.) Those doing the judging in this story are the man and his parents, and the Pharisees. The issue is, who is Jesus? Just a man? A sinner? A prophet? A true miracle-worker, by God’s power? Son of Man? Lord? How will the people who encounter Jesus respond to him?
That’s the central question of John’s gospel. He introduces it in chapter one and asks it again and again. No one can be neutral regarding Jesus. Is he who he says he is, or is he the biggest fraud ever? Each of us must judge him. Each of us must decide. Jesus is the light, John says (1:9). Can we see his glory, or are we blind? (1:10-14).
Hang in here with me for a moment. I have a reason for reaching this conclusion about the meaning of the word judgment in 9:39. John uses three words for judge or judgment in his gospel: krino (verb), krisis (noun), and krima (noun). He chooses the word krima only here, in 9:39. Krima is the result of a judgment that has been rendered, a decision made for or against. The man who was blind started choosing for Jesus from the beginning and grew into the clear vision he celebrated in worship. The Pharisees who thought they could see have been choosing against him since their first contact with Jesus. By their judgments, the people in this story revealed their hearts. They revealed what they could see, given their prior decisions. The difference between who Jesus was to the man who could now see and to the Pharisees could not be more dramatic. And John capitalizes on this in his delightful word plays.
One more grace note in this story: Isn’t it cool that Jesus let the blind man participate, have a role, be a partner in his healing? “I went and washed, and now I can see!” (v. 11). All his life, he’d been the object: of people’s pity, of their scorn, of their judgment of him and his family (“Who sinned…?”). Jesus gives him agency, makes him an actor, setting him up for a brand-new experience of life. How is Jesus empowering you today?