13. They bring to the Pharisees him who formerly had been blind.14. Now it was the Sabbath when Jesus had made the clay, and opened his eyes.15. The Pharisees also, therefore, asked him again, how he had received his sight. And he said to them, He put clay on mine eyes, and I washed, and I see.16. Wherefore some of the Pharisees said, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath. Others said, How can a man who is a sinner do these signs? And there was a division among them.17. They say to him who had been formerly blind, What sayest thou of him, for having opened thine eyes? And he said, He is a Prophet.
13. They bring to the Pharisees. The following narrative shows that wicked men are so far from profiting by the works of God, that, the more they are urged by their power, so much the more are they constrained to pour out the venom which dwells within their breasts. The restoration of sight to the blind man ought undoubtedly to have softened even hearts of stone; or, at least, the Pharisees ought to have been struck with the novelty and greatness of the miracle, so as to remain in doubt for a short time, until they inquired if it were a divine work; but their hatred of Christ drives them to such stupidity, that they instantly condemn what they are told that he has done.
The Evangelist mentions the Pharisees; not that other sects were favorable to Christ, but because this sect was more zealous than the rest in maintaining the present condition. Hypocrisy is always proud and cruel. Being swelled with a false opinion of their holiness, they were chiefly wounded by the doctrine of the Gospel, which condemned all their counterfeit righteousnesses; and above all, they fought for their power and kingdom, under the pretense of endeavoring to maintain the Law.
When the Evangelist says that the multitude brought the blind man to the Pharisees, it is difficult to determine with what disposition or with what intention they did so. Scarcely an individual among them could then be ignorant of the inveterate hostility of the Pharisees to Christ; and therefore it is possible that many flatterers, in order to obtain their favor, purposely attempted to conceal the glory of the miracle. Yet I think it is probable that the greater part of the people, suspending their judgment, as usually happens, determined to refer to the arbitration and decision of those who held the government. But wilfully shutting their eyes, while the sun is shining, they bring darkness on themselves to obscure its light. It is a foolish superstition of the common people that, under the pretense of honoring God, they adore the wicked tyrants of the Church, and despise God himself, both in his word and in his works, or, at least, do not deign to look at him.
14. Now it was the Sabbath. Christ purposely selected the Sabbath-day, which must have given ground of offense to the Jews. He had already found, in the case of the paralytic, that this work was liable to slander. Why then does he not avoid the offense -- which he could easily have done -- but because the defense malignantly undertaken by men would tend to magnify the power of God? The Sabbath-day serves as a whetstone to sharpen them, to inquire more eagerly into the whole matter. And yet what advantage do they reap from a careful and earnest examination of the question but this, that the truth of the Gospel shines more brightly? We are taught by this example that, if we would follow Christ, we must excite the wrath of the enemies of the Gospel; and that they who endeavor to effect a compromise between the world and Christ, so as to condemn every kind of offenses, are altogether mad, since Christ, on the contrary, knowingly and deliberately provoked wicked men. We ought to attend, therefore, to the rule which he lays down, that they who are blind, and leaders of the blind, (Matthew 15:14,) ought to be disregarded.
15. The Pharisees also asked him. The people had already heard this confession from the mouth of the blind man; and now the Pharisees also are made witnesses of it, who might have objected that a report had been groundlessly circulated by the common people, and had been as groundlessly believed. And, first, leaving out of view the question as to the fact, they dispute only about the law of the case; for they do not deny that Christ restored sight to the blind man, but they find a crime in the circumstance of the time when it was done, and assert that it is not a work of God, because it violated the Sabbath. But we ought first to inquire if a work of God was a violation of the Sabbath. And what hinders them from seeing this, but that, in consequence of having been blinded by sinful motives and by malice, they see nothing? Besides, they had already been abundantly instructed by Christ, that the benefits which God bestows on men are not more inconsistent with the Sabbath than circumcision; and the words of the Law enjoin men to abstain from their own works only, and not from the works of God, (Exodus 20:8; 23:12.) When they take for granted an error which has been so frequently refuted, it must be imputed to obstinate malice; or at least there is no other reason why they go wrong but because they choose to go wrong.
Thus the Palmists do not cease to bring forward, with hardened effrontery, their idle and foolish slanders, which have been answered a hundred times. What, then, must we do with them? When an opportunity occurs, we must endeavor, as far as lies in our power, to oppose the wicked attempts of those who, actuated by false zeal, reproach and slander the gospel. If no defense, however just, shut their mouth, we have no reason to be discouraged, but ought to trample under foot, with boldness and magnanimity, that eagerness to slander by which they wish to oppress us. They take up maxims which we readily grant to them, that we ought not to listen to those who revolt from the Church, and break up the unity of the faith. But they pass by, and pretend not to have observed -- that which ought to form the principal subject of inquiry, and which we have explained clearly in many passages -- that nothing can be farther removed from the Church than the Pope with all his band; that a medley composed of lies and impositions, and stained by so many superstitious inventions, is widely distant from the purity of faith. But with all their furious arrogance, they will never hinder the truth, which has been so frequently and so firmly maintained by us, from being at length successful. In like manner, the Pharisees brought against Christ a plausible maxim, That he who does not keep the Sabbath is not from God; but they unjustly and falsely asserted that the work of God is a violation of the Sabbath.
16. How can a man who is a sinner do these things? The word sinner is employed here, as in many other passages, to denote a person of immoral conduct and a despiser of God.
Why doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners? (Mark 2:16.)
That is, |Why doth your Master eat with men of ungodly and wicked lives, whose baseness is stamped with universal infamy?| For from the violation of the Sabbath the enemies of Christ inferred that he was a profane person, and destitute of all religion. Those who stand neutral and judge more candidly, on the other hand, conclude that he is a good and religious man, because God has endued him with remarkable power to work miracles. And yet the argument does not appear to be quite conclusive; for God sometimes permits false prophets to perform some miracles, and we know that Satan, like an ape, counterfeits the works of God so as to deceive the incautious.
Suetonius relates that, when Vespasian was in Alexandria, and was seated on his tribunal to dispense justice in the open court, a blind man requested him to anoint his eyes with spittle, and said that one Serapis had pointed out to him that cure in a dream; that Vespasian, being unwilling to expose himself to contempt without any good reason, was slow and reluctant to comply; but that, when his friends urged him on all sides, he granted to the blind man what he asked, and that in this way his eyes were instantly opened. Who would reckon Vespasian among the servants of God on that account, or adorn him with the applause of piety? I reply, among good men and those who fear God, miracles are undoubted pledges of the power of the Holy Spirit; but it happens by a just judgment of God, that Satan deceives unbelievers by false miracles, as by enchantments. What I have just now quoted from Suetonius I do not reckon to be fabulous; but I rather ascribe it to the righteous vengeance of God, that the Jews, having despised so many and so illustrious miracles of Christ, were at length -- as they deserved to be -- sent away to Satan. For they ought to have profited in the pure worship of God by the miracles of Christ; they ought to have been confirmed by them in the doctrine of the Law, and to have risen to the Messiah himself, who was the end of the Law. And undoubtedly Christ, by giving sight to the blind man, had clearly proved that he was the Messiah.
They who refuse to acknowledge God in his works make this refusal, not only through indifference, but through malicious contempt; and do they not deserve that God should give them up to the delusions of Satan? Let us then remember that we ought to seek God with a sincere disposition of heart, that he may reveal himself to us by the power of his Spirit; and that we ought to lend our ears submissively to his word, that he may clearly point out true prophets by miracles that are not delusive. Thus shall we profit, as we ought to do, by miracles, and not be exposed to the frauds of Satan.
As to the men themselves, though they act commendably in this respect, that they speak with reverence about the miracles in which the power of God is displayed, still they do not bring forward a sufficiently strong argument, to prove that Christ ought to be reckoned a Prophet of God. And even the Evangelist did not intend that their answer should be regarded as an oracle. He only exhibits the wicked obstinacy of the enemies of Christ, who maliciously pick a quarrel with what they cannot but acknowledge to be the works of God, and, when warned, do not even attend to them for a short time.
And there was a division among them. A schism is a highly pernicious and destructive evil in the Church of God; and how comes it then that Christ sows the occasion of discord among the very teachers of the Church? The answer is easy. Christ had no other object in view than to bring all men to God the Father, by stretching out his hand to them. The division arose from the obstinate malice of those who had no disposition to go to God. All who do not yield obedience to the truth of God, therefore, rend the Church by schism. Yet it is better that men should differ among themselves, than that they should all, with one consent, revolt from the true religion. Wherefore, whenever differences arise, we ought always to consider their source.
17. They say to him who had been blind. The more diligently they inquire, the more impressively does the truth of God appear; for they act as if one were endeavoring to extinguish a strong flame by his breath. Thus, when we see wicked men contrive all that they can to crush the truth of God, we have no reason to be afraid, or to be excessively anxious about the result, for all that they can gain in this way will be to cause its light to burn with greater brightness.
What sayest thou of him? When they ask the blind man what is his opinion, they do so, not because they wish to abide by his judgment, or set any value on it, but because they hope that the man, struck with fear, will reply according to their wish. In this respect the Lord disappoints them; for when a poor man disregards their threatenings, and boldly maintains that Christ is a Prophet, we ought justly to ascribe it to the grace of God; so that this boldness is another miracle. And if he so boldly and freely acknowledged Christ to be a Prophet, though he did not as yet know that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, how shameful is the treachery of those who, subdued by fear, either deny him, or are silent respecting him, though they know that he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and that he will come thence to be the Judge of the whole world! Since this blind man did not quench a small spark of knowledge, we ought to endeavor that an open and full confession may blaze forth from the full brightness which has shone into our hearts.