The Issue of "Sin" for the Pharisees
John 9:35-41, Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2023
In the Gospels, various types of people appear. There are those who are friendly to Jesus and those who are hostile. There are ignorant people and educated people. There are poor people and rich people. There are people with chronic illnesses or disabilities and those who are healthy. The group of people who showed the most hostile attitude towards Jesus were the Pharisees. The original meaning of the word Pharisee (Phariseeism) is "separated one". It is a good meaning. The Pharisee movement became a major force from the time of the Maccabean War between the Jews and the Seleucid Dynasty from 167 to 142 BC. Their religious elite group is characterized by their commitment to upholding the law. Politically, they rejected Roman rule and dreamed of a new reformation. The Sadducees, who competed with them, were wealthy and politically conservative, maintaining good relations with the Roman authorities. Paul was originally a Pharisee. Following the Jewish War of AD 70, the Pharisees became the dominant force in Judaism. The canon of the Old Testament was decided by the Jamnia religious council (AD 90) led by them, consisting of 39 books. Judaism, armed with the law, began to demand more stringent compliance from the Christians, who until then had maintained loose relationships with them. At that time, Christians had to decide whether to accept the demands of the law-oriented Judaism or to refuse and go a completely different path. Against this overall background, the relationship between Jesus and the PharThe Sabbath Controversy
John chapter 9 deals with the Pharisees' objections to Jesus' healing of a blind man and Jesus' response to their objections. As Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they met a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replied that it was not because of sin that the man was blind, but so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus then healed the man's blindness. This caused a commotion because the day on which the man's sight was restored happened to be the Sabbath. The Pharisees had different opinions about what had happened. Some of them said that Jesus could not be from God because he did not keep the Sabbath, while others said that Jesus must be from God because he had performed such a miraculous sign. The Pharisees pressured the formerly blind man and his parents to denounce Jesus, even going so far as to invoke the authority of Moses. But the man who had been blind refused to renounce Jesus, despite their efforts.
The narrative takes a new turn in verse 35, which is the focus of today's sermon. Jesus encountered the man who had been subjected to the Pharisees' attacks and threats. Jesus asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" (The Son of Man is called the Son of God in other versions of the text.) The man replied that he wanted to believe. Jesus told him, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." The man then declared, "Lord, I believe," and worshiped Jesus. In response, Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." This statement contains the most fundamental confession of faith in early Christianity.isees had to be sharply contrasted because of the way the Gospel of John was recorded.
Here are two types of humans here, those who cannot see and those who can. The ones who cannot see are congenitally visually impaired, and the ones who can see are Pharisees. Is it valid to say that Jesus Christ's judgment is to make the visually impaired see and the Pharisees not see? Isn't it desirable to make the visually impaired see without the need to make the Pharisees unable to see? The Pharisees present there must have felt bad. They might have asked, "Are we also blind?" like Nicodemus, who asked if he had to go back into his mother's womb and come out again in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). They took Jesus' spiritual words and interpreted them as physical words. Jesus answered in verse 41. It is a more explicit expression than verse 39.
"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."
In this passage, Jesus brought up the issue of sin. The reason he said this was that traditional Jews, including the Pharisees, believed that visual impairment was due to sin. As mentioned earlier, the disciples also asked, "Whose sin caused this man to be born blind?" The story of Adam and Eve's fall is told in Genesis 3. The snake tempted Eve, saying that even if she ate the fruit of the tree that made her know good and evil, she would not die. Rather, her eyes would be opened like God's. When she heard that her eyes would be opened, she found the fruit "desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it" (Genesis 3:6). The first humans, Adam and Eve, ate the fruit and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The intense desire to have eyes like God, to be able to distinguish between good and evil, is the essence of sin. After mentioning the story of creation in chapters 1 and 2, Genesis immediately talks about human fall in chapter 3, and the story of Cain, who killed his brother Abel, is dealt with in chapter 4. The structure of the story seems to immediately negate the beautiful creation that was pleasing to God. The book of Genesis emphasizes that sin operates at a profound existential level that destroys human life. From a theological perspective, this is the original sin, and from a philosophical perspective, it is the 'banality of evil' (Hannah Arendt)
Law and Sin
The problem with the Pharisees is that they looked for sin and evil in the law. Living a life without sin meant keeping the law, and living a life with sin meant breaking the law. The standard for the righteous and the sinner was the law. In today's passage, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. The concept of the Sabbath itself is important. The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy means making God's creation and the exodus spirit the center of personal and social life. The problem is that in Jewish history, especially in Pharisaic tradition, the Sabbath system functioned as an absolute norm. The fundamental spirit of creation and liberation, which is the essence of the Sabbath concept, disappeared, and only Sabbath regulations came to dominate human life. Seen in that light, Jesus, who healed the blind on the Sabbath, is also a sinner. The Pharisees who remained faithful to the Sabbath regulations were the righteous ones, the ones who knew God's will correctly, and the ones who had opened their eyes. We must acknowledge their sincerity and passion for the law.
Jesus saw the Pharisees' thinking as the fundamental problem that distorts our lives. By judging the world only by the categories of the law they know, they miss the essence. They were knowledgeable and religiously respected people of their time, but because they were trapped in the category of the law, they could not judge what was absolutely important and what was relatively important. They missed the fact that the incident of healing the blind was actually an event of creation and liberation, which is the essence of the Sabbath. The Pharisees, who were religious experts and blocked God's creation and liberation, were the ones bound by the power of sin. As clearly revealed in the prosecution organization in Korea, essential distortions frequently occur in those who claim to be professionals. In the Korean church, there are also Christians and leaders who treat the Bible as the Pharisees did, with distorted essence.
Last year, at the end of the year, I saw news on an online newspaper about pastors who participated in a one-person protest against the "Anti-Discrimination Law" next to the National Assembly building. Most of them were pastors of large churches. I was surprised to see Pastor Lee Chan-soo, who advocated for reform-oriented ministry that was different from other pastors of large churches, participating in the relay one-person protest. The core of the opposition to the Anti-Discrimination Law is the issue of homosexuality. They distinguish between homosexual acts and homosexuals, but it is difficult to understand if they are truly distinguished. Homosexuals love, but homosexual acts are sin. The pastors seem to think that it is okay to discriminate against homosexuals as long as they do not discriminate against them as people. But this thinking itself is a distortion of the essence. Discrimination against homosexuals is also discrimination against people. The Bible teaches us that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other differences.
Jesus said to his disciples regarding the fate of this man, "It is not because of his sin, but rather to show the works of God in him." The disciples probably did not understand what he meant. The Pharisees also did not understand Jesus' statement that "those who claim to see become blind." They believed that strictly observing the Sabbath was doing God's work, but Jesus thought that helping people live like humans was doing God's work. When theological perspectives differ, thoughts and responses to human life will inevitably differ. As I mentioned before, the Pharisees threatened and ignored the blind man, and on the other hand, they acted hypocritically, pretending to be righteous. According to John 9:34, they drove him out. That was a kind of excommunication, and they were confident that it was God's work. What is the sin if not this attitude of judging and dividing others within their religious and political norms?
In 21st century Korea, Christians generally live like Pharisees with only differences in intensity. The church raises them up as pastors, ordained deacons, and elders. If Jesus came to the Korean church today, would he not give the same warning to the Pharisees in today's text? I will read verse 41 from the New International Version: "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."