“Blindness and Sin”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

John 9:39-41 contains one of the more enigmatic exchanges in the Bible.  In the rest of the Bible, blindness (either literal or metaphorical) is a bad thing.  When Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides” in Matthew 23:16, He is not complimenting them!  However, in John 9, blindness (at least initially) is a good thing.

The conversation begins in v. 39, when Jesus reveals that one of His works is vision transformation.  Through Him, those who are blind will see, spiritual versions of the blind man He just physically healed, but, provocatively, those who can see will become blind.

The Pharisees who are with Him don’t like the sound of this.  They believe that, spiritually speaking, they are among the people who can see.  They’ve got it all figured out.  However, Jesus’ words predict an ominous fate for them.  They don’t like that idea, so they press Jesus for a less offensive clarification.  When You said that people who see will become blind, Jesus, You weren’t talking about us, right???

However, Jesus doubles down with a paradox.  He tells them that if they were blind—clueless, lost in darkness—they would have no sin.  However, because they claim to be spiritually sighted, their sin remains.

Man!  What’s a poor self-confident spiritual elitist to do?

Jesus’ implied answer is “Repent!”  The Pharisees thought they had it all figured out, but they didn’t.  They thought they were righteous, but they weren’t.  The kind of sight they had wasn’t true spiritual vision.  It was self-delusion. 

What’s more, their form of spiritual blindness was even more dangerous than the blindness of the tax collector or the prostitute.  The latter at least could come to an awareness that they needed help from Jesus.  They didn’t think they saw.  The Pharisees, however, believed that they saw already, so they never would seek help for a problem they refused to acknowledge

It's easy for us to think of outsiders we know who have this problem.  The self-assured member of a denomination who refuses baptism for the forgiveness of sins because he already “got saved” certainly is present in this passage.  If you think you see already, your sin remains.

However, it is much more difficult for us to consider ourselves in the mirror that Jesus holds up.  We know what the Bible says.  We know and follow the truth ourselves.  We see, right?

Of course, the Pharisees gave the same answer for the same reason.  They knew Torah.  They devoted themselves to keeping the Law.  The problem wasn’t the things they saw.  It was the things they didn’t—their hypocrisy, their greed, their arrogance, and their hard-heartedness.

The same is true for us.  The most dangerous sins in our lives aren’t the ones we see.  They are the ones we don’t see, the Scriptures we gloss over, the evil actions we excuse in our hearts.  The problem is the dark corners of our lives where we are blind.

Rather than priding ourselves on our vision, we continually must humble ourselves before the Lord because of our blindness.  We must seek ever greater clarity of vision, but most of all, we must seek mercy from the God who helps us when we cannot help ourselves.  Our hope never can be in our own clear sight.  It must be that He sees us clearly yet loves us regardless.