Discipleship and Division
Jesus and Division
Jesus divided men. His message continues to divide them. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we face the same reaction to Jesus’ words and deeds in our day.
In the Apostle John’s account of the healing of the blind man, he opens the story abruptly. “As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And the disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:1-2)
This is the language of division. The disciples could see only one reason for the man’s blindness, and it involves judgment from God, the ultimate form of division.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples is designed to plant harmony into the disciples’ thinking. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
John writes that Jesus spit on the ground and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Then he told him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash off the mud. When the man did, he could see. What could be more heartening after the disciples’ dismal interpretation of his circumstances? Jesus has brought indescribable joy to a man who never dreamed he would be able to do something as simple as watch a sunrise.
From a Crack to a Fissure
Even so, division follows the event as certainly as Saturday follows Friday. The crack begins with the neighbors.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.”
He kept saying, “I am the man.”
So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”
He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
They said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I do not know.”
John concludes the paragraph with a stalemate. The people ask the formerly blind man, “Where is he?” but the man does not know.
Perhaps we need to give the people a break. After all, Jesus’ actions are unprecedented. No one in history has given sight to a blind man. We cannot fault them if they have a hard time accepting what they see.
From a Fissure to a Chasm
But the issue involves more than novelty. The miracle has religious overtones, and the people take the man to the religious experts, the Pharisees. The division grows. John writes,
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight.
And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.
Ultimately, the Pharisees reach an impasse among themselves, and they turn to the man. “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” (John 9:17).
The man’s answer could not have caused more fallout if it had been an atomic bomb. “He is a prophet.”
The man’s words could not have been more divisive. In the Jewish world, a prophet spoke to God and communicated his word with absolute authority. Since the days of Moses, the prophets had been God’s mouthpieces.
Just before Moses the Prophet passed his leadership office to Joshua, he told the people what God had said concerning prophets and their authority. “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
The Pharisees revered Moses and the prophets, because they all spoke God’s words. What the prophet said came from God.
So, when the man concludes that Jesus is a prophet, the message that goes to the Pharisees is, “You need to listen to him, because he speaks God’s words to you.”
Where does a beggar gather the nerve to tell the religious elite what they ought to do?
The beginnings of Discipleship
The answer is simple. He has been with Jesus, and his life is forever transformed.
Disciples are not special people. The day before, everyone ignored the man. In the closed religious system of the day, he was walking judgment. Now that Jesus has touched him, he becomes unstoppable.
The first mark of true discipleship is evidence that a man has seen Jesus.