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He who follows me . . . will have the light of life

The prologue of According to John concludes by presenting the basis of the whole gospel: “No one has ever seen God” (1: 18). The Old Testament tells us that Adam and Eve saw and conversed with God in Eden, and Ex. 24: 9 – 11 says that Moses, Nadab, Abihu and seventy Israelites saw and ate with God on the top of Mount Sinai. Here these reports are set aside and the only way for any one ever to see God is established: the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father makes Him visible.”[i] The mission of the Logos on earth is not necessarily to die in order to redeem. His purpose is to reveal the God no one has ever seen.

The prologue has already told us that “in him was life, and the life was the light of human beings. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not apprehended it” (1: 4 – 5). Here we have the plot of this gospel in a nutshell, and the first of its many double entendres. In Greek just one verb says both to comprehend and to apprehend. Whether the thing is grabbed by the mind or by the hand is to be determined by the context.

It is a physical reality that the light of the weakest of matches triumphs over the darkness surrounding it; they cannot extinguish or hide it. Light always triumphs over darkness. What is true in the physical world is also true in the spiritual world. Those who are of the darkness neither comprehend nor apprehend the Logos. This is the drama of the Fourth Gospel. Several times we read that his listeners do not comprehend what Jesus says to them (10: 6, 39; 16:18), and when the authorities send their agents to apprehend him, they return empty handed (7: 44; 8: 20; 10: 31; 11: 57). At the garden on the other side of the Kidron brook the soldiers who come to take him prisoner fall back on their backs to the ground when Jesus takes the initiative and identifies himself saying “I am he.” Judas has no chance to give him a kiss (18: 1 – 8). On one occasion, when all those around him take up stones, Jesus simply walks through them and leaves the city while no one throws a single stone (8: 59).

Finding a man who was born blind, Jesus declares: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Nothing can prevent the effectiveness of the presence of the Light. The Light reveals the God no one has ever seen, but to see Him it is necessary to believe. To see and to believe in the Johannine language are synonyms. Thus, as the prologue has already announced, the benefit of the Light to those who believe is the reception of the life in it. In other words, the revelation of God made possible by the incarnation does not bring to the world information about God, the world or the future. It brings something incommensurably more valuable: eternal life.

The Jesus of According to John distinguishes himself by demanding faith without offering the information that could serve as reasons for faith. His proclamation consists of “I am . . .” Among these sayings we find: “I am the light of the world” (8: 12). The Light that brings life and facilitates seeing must be received with the faith that recognizes God. To believe in the Light, to be children of Light (12: 36), is to recognize the One Sent by the Father. Said in a different way, to believe in Him is to believe in “The One Who Sent Me.”

Those confronted by the Light find themselves in an inevitable crisis. They must make a judgment about the Light. Those who see and believe that the Light is the One Sent by the Father receive eternal life. Those who do not see the connection between the One Sent and the One Sending are immediately condemned. The coming of the Light to the world provokes a division among those confronted by the Light (9: 16).

In Greek, nouns are characterized by their endings. Changing the ending of a verbal root changes its meaning. In this case, the root kri may take the ending sis and mean “the act of judging, the carrying out of a judgment.” If it is given the ending ma it means “the result of a judgment, a sentence,” being understood that the sentence is negative, a condemnation. Having to judge, having to make a decision creates an internal crisis (that is how the Greek word came to English).

In more than one occasion Jesus explains that he did not come to condemn, but to save the world. No doubt, that was his purpose. But the reality is that his very presence in the world results in the judgment of the world. While some are benefiting from the Light, seeing, believing and receiving eternal life, others do not see, do not believe and are condemned.

            More tragic than the condition of those do not see is that of those who believe that they see but do not believe. This is the condition of the Jews who use the Scriptures as the source of light and who on this basis judge Jesus and condemn him as a sinner who is anything but one sent by the Father. This is the theme of the healing of the man born blind. The story says that Jesus made mud and anointed the eyes of the blind with it. Then he sent him to the pool of Siloam. The name of the pool comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, peace. The narrator twists the etymology of the word and explains to the reader that the name comes from the Hebrew Shalach, meaning “Sent”. After washing his eyes with the water of The One Sent, the man born blind now sees. This is a never-before-heard-of miracle; as the blind man informs the Pharisees, it has never been done before (9: 32).

As an afterthought, after we have read the story, the narrator informs us that the miracle took place on a Sabbath. Basing themselves on Torah the Pharisees condemn Jesus in absentia as a sinner. Since it was not an emergency case, he could well have waited until the following day to make the mud and anoint the eyes of the blind.

The readers are emphatically informed that the Pharisees judge Jesus a sinner on the basis of their knowledge. “We know that this man is a sinner” (9: 24). “We know that God has spoken to Moses” (9: 29). On the contrary, both the parents and the man born blind confess that they do not know (9: 12, 21, 25).

Actually, the man born blind confesses that he knows one thing: he was blind and now he sees (9: 25). What he knows he knows from experience. What the Pharisees know they know from authority. They are proud disciples of Moses, and according to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law of Moses any one who makes mud and anoints another with it on a Sabbath has broken the law and is a sinner. By experience the ex blind testifies that the Light of the Sent One facilitates seeing and gives life. Those who think they find life in the Scriptures of Moses, on the other hand, are blinded by their own self sufficiency. In this context Jesus says: “For condemnation (krima) I came into this world; as a result those who do not see, see, but those who see become blind” (9:39).

This story has been put together by those who knew what they were doing. They built its plot to highlight the irony of the situation – irony being a characteristic of most Johannine stories. Those who think themselves to be well informed and able judges end up judged and condemned. Those who know and feel secure in their beliefs are declared to be blind sinners. In the meantime, the one who was born blind has his eyes open to see, and without becoming an idolater adores the Sent One who gave him Light.

The shine in the half closed eyes and the intelligent smile of the narrator is visible to readers through the ages. The blinding certainty of those who pretend to see is exposed for what it is when confronted by the Light of the world. 

The presence of Jesus gives light to the one born blind and blinds those who think they see. As the headlights of a car that allow the driver to see the road ahead but blinds those who travel in the opposite direction, so also the presence of the Light of the world illumines those who believe and blinds those who reject His claims.

In this gospel the message of Jesus is not centered on the establishment of the Kingdom of God. What Jesus reveals is the source of life. The one born blind, as the Pharisees say, is a disciple of the One who gave him sight. Actually, for the Johannine community he is the prototype of the true disciple. Once able to see he worships the only begotten God who gave him light and life. His eyes were washed in the fountain of The One Sent by God. This is how the Logos makes visible the God no one as ever seen As the Sent One insists, he did not come to condemn the world but to save it, but at the same time, unavoidably, he blinds and condemns those who pretend to see, especially the disciples of Moses.

The coming of the Light divides the world between those who abide in darkness and those who walk in the Light (3: 19; 11: 9-10; 12: 35, 46). According to John distinguishes itself by a radical dualism, but its dualism has lost the temporal tension characteristic of apocalypticism. In According to John we have the repetition of the first day of creation, in the beginning. Once again the light that brings about life displaces the darkness and imposes its dominion.

[i] Late manuscripts read “the only begotten Son”. The best translations follow the best MSS: P66, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc. The Greek verb Exegésato has the root that came into English as exegesis. Literally it says “to take, or to guide out,” that is, to show what is inside.

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