After this signal discomfiture of his enemies, our Lord appears to have been allowed to pursue his course undisturbed for a time, until one memorable occasion, when a direct attempt was made upon his life.
There was a place in the temple corridors, called “the treasury,” because a large chest, with a hole in the lid, was deposited there to receive the voluntary offerings of the people. This seems to have been a favorite place with Jesus, as we more than once read of his teaching there. He was here on the occasion to which we refer. His language in speaking became more bold and authoritative than ever, while it also appeared mysterious to those whose eyes were blinded by so many preconceived notions and egotisms. He distinctly declared himself the Messiah, and said that his claim had been already well authenticated; and He told them that all who believed not in Him, and refused Him as their Redeemer, must die in their sins. The first part of his address was, with some carping interruptions from the Pharisees, well received by the auditors, many of whom believed in Him. But proceeding, he began to say that the truth would make them free; and they took up these words warmly, declaring that they were Abraham’s seed, and never yet in bondage to any—a monstrous fiction, dear to the national vanity, but which might have been sufficiently disproved by the helmets of the Roman soldiers in the adjoining tower of Antonia. He then pointed out how little their conduct substantiated their claim to be regarded as the true children of Abraham. They showed themselves rather the children of the father of lies than of the father of the faithful, since they sought the life of One who offered them the truth; and their state of mind and heart was the reverse of his, seeing they wished to destroy Him, in whom Abraham had rejoiced. He meant, as formerly explained, Note: Morning Series: Ninth Week—Tuesday. that Abraham had been permitted to realize a distinct conception of the Savior and his work, and had rejoiced in the prospects which it opened. In short, that Abraham was one of those who, in old times, “all died in faith, not having received [the fulfillment of] the promises, but were persuaded of them, and embraced them.”
If they had seen fit to listen with attention, and to bestow some thought on what they heard, the Jews must have perceived that He spoke of deep matters; but they, in their careless ignorance or sinful perversity, chose to understand Him as speaking of some earthly intercourse with Abraham, and they cried out with affected astonishment, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?” Jesus did not think it needful to correct their misconception, but accepting their question as it stood, answered it in the grand words “Before Abraham was, I Am.” The present tense is used, though the past is meant. This is proper only to God, with whom, as of himself, there is no past nor future, and to whom all time is now. Hence in the Old Testament, He takes the names of I am, and I am that i am; and the term used by our Lord, coupled with the involved assertion, that He had lived before Abraham, could not but suggest that He claimed to be God—the Son of God, in a higher sense than those, whose minds were filled with carnal notions of the Messiah, were prepared to allow. That they so understood the claim, is clear from their treatment of it. They treated it as blasphemy, and snatching up the stones that lay about from the repairs of the temple, which were still in progress, they were about to hurl them at Him. But He disappeared from among them, whether by mingling with the crowd, or by rendering himself miraculously invisible for the moment, is open to question.
We have heard nothing as yet of the Sabbath question which made so great a stir at our Lord’s previous visit to Jerusalem, unless from an allusion to it in one of his discourses, as furnishing ground for the persecution to which He was subjected. But soon this question was to be revived with renewed intensity of bitterness.
As Jesus was passing along with his disciples, his attention was called to a man sitting as a beggar by the wayside, who was well known to have been blind from his birth. Respecting him, some one of the disciples asked his Lord the curious question, for whose sins the man was thus visited—for his own, or for those of his parents. We have explained more than once, that the Jews believed signal bodily calamities to be the punishment of individual sin. But a man born blind manifestly could not be under punishment for his own sins in this present life. Hence arose the question—was he punished for the sins of his parents, or for the sins committed by himself in an anterior existence?—for it has been shown that many Jews in this age believed in the transmigration of souls, and consequently that the sins of a former life might be punished in this. Jesus in his reply set aside this connection between special calamities and special guilt, and declared that the man had been thus afflicted, that his privations might subserve the higher objects of God’s love to himself and to others through him. He then anointed the man’s eyes with clay, tempered with saliva, and directed him to go and wash them in the somewhat distant pool of Siloam. The purpose of this seems twofold, partly to try the man’s faith, as we have more than once explained, and partly to display the miracle; for it is clear that our Lord, being now away from Galilee, was no longer desirous of keeping his mighty deeds private. This well-known man, moving along with his clay-daubed eyes, could not fail to attract attention, and he was probably attended by a crowd by the time he reached the pool. He washed his eyes, and it seemed as if his blindness fell off with the clay—the sight came to his eyes; and he returned into the city, seeing perfectly well.
This happened upon the Sabbath-day; and the man was questioned by the neighbors, who had so often seen him as a blind beggar, that they almost doubted his identity with the person they now saw. But he affirmed it; and at their request, told them how he had been cured “by a man named Jesus.” Some of the spies, whom the Sanhedrin had set to watch the proceedings of Jesus, seem to have heard this explanation, and thinking it might avail their employers, took the man to them. He was closely pressed with questions, from which it may be seen that the Pharisees regarded the making of the clay on the Sabbath as worthy of notice, in addition to the healing; in fact they regarded such things as a species of work, equivalent to mixing mortar, or molding clay for bricks, and therefore in itself an infraction of the Sabbath. The Sanhedrin strove to make the man denounce and disown his healer; but they found him of a resolutely honest temper, and that he stood up valiantly for the person who had wrought so great a benefit for him, and could not be made to see that He had committed a great sin, and must needs be a scandalous sinner. Finding him so intractable, they affected to disbelieve that he had been cured, or that he had been born blind, and sent for his parents to question them. They were timid old people, and having heard that the Sanhedrin had already decreed that any who acknowledged Jesus, should be excommunicated, they evaded the responsibility. The man was, they said, their son, and certainly he was born blind, but as for the cure, they knew nothing of it—their son was old enough to furnish all requisite information himself. So the questioners tried the man again, but found his reasoning so cogent, and his resolution so firm, that they became violent and abusive; and when he said boldly, “If this man were not of God, He could do nothing,” they answered, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost then teach us?” What a world of emphatically Pharisaic arrogance there is in this—thou and us. The end was that they did “cast him out”—that is, excommunicated him—which was a most serious penalty among the Jews. So Jesus found one more who was worthy to suffer shame for his name.
The proceedings of the council came to the ears of Jesus, who after that looked for the man, to comfort and re-assure him. When He had found him, He said, “Dost then believe in the Son of God?” The man asked who it was that claimed this high title, and when Jesus replied: “Thou hast both seen Him, and He it is who talketh with thee;” he, recognizing his Benefactor, for whom he had already witnessed a good confession, hesitated not a moment, but said, “Lord, I believe.” Now then he is healed indeed—body and soul both are healed.
This man, in the course of his argument, had urged that “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.” No instance of this is recorded in the Old Testament, whether by miracle or by natural means; nor does any example of the cure of congenital blindness by natural means, occur in the Greek and Roman writers, who, indeed, as well as those of more modern date, pronounce such blindness incurable. Since the beginning of the last century, a common form of blindness has been rendered curable by a surgical operation, called couching, first performed in England by Mr. Cheselden in 1728; and by this means, persons who became blind too early in life to remember the use and objects of sight, have been healed; but there is still no instance on record of a person absolutely born blind, obtaining the use of sight.