John presents us with many a compelling story, but none so well crafted as the story of the blind man receiving sight in chapter 9. There is enough here to occupy us the remainder of Lent, but here is a brief summary.
Jesus sees a man born blind and is asked whether the blindness is the result of his or his parent’s sin. What is not at issue is whether sin is the cause. Jesus does what he always does with such situations, he changes the assumption of the question. It is not sin at all, Jesus says, but an opportunity for revelation.
With that Jesus orchestrates the man’s return of sight. This leads the man into new, perilous adventures, this time with the leaders of the local synagogue. They are displeased with this healing and challenge the man to give glory to God rather than Jesus, not understanding the irony of this request.
One thing leads to another involving angry Pharisees, this man’s parents, Jesus… its a whole thing. The episode ends with the man whose sight has been restored being cast out of the synagogue but finding eternal life through belief in Jesus.
The part of the story that struck me on this reading is the part where Moses comes in. Moses has been featured before in the gospel, as the synagogue leaders dispute with Jesus about the role Moses should play. Clearly, the Pharisees consider themselves “disciples of Moses” while Jesus maintains that Moses was writing about him in the scriptures. One of their many impasses.
For the religious leaders of John’s gospel, Moses is God’s representative. “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man (Jesus) we do not know where he comes from.
God did indeed speak to Moses. Out of the burning bush God spoke to Moses about the people’s plight in bondage and of Moses role in their release. When Moses asked God who was sending him to Pharaoh, the bush answered “ I am that I am. Tell them I AM has sent you.”
I Am is also important to Jesus in John’s gospel. I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world. Seven times Jesus says “I Am" one thing or another until we get to the garden scene at the time of his arrest where Jesus simply identifies himself as “I Am”.
And here is the irony of the Pharisee’s plight, and why Jesus offends them so much. As they are portrayed, they believe God to be transcendent, available through scripture and the law provider Moses. They are offended that Jesus would presume to forgive sin, replace the temple, speak as if he was God. But his is God. And when the Pharisees claim Moses as their leader they believe that Jesus is competing with Moses for prime representative. But Jesus is not trying to be Moses. Jesus is the bush. Jesus has a healthy respect for Moses, as did the bush before him. “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
He is the bush. He is the "I AM" He is the Word. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Pharisees are defending Moses against the bush itself. This is classic John irony.