Light and Darkness
Not long after the Feast of Tabernacles and probably before the Feast of Dedication, Jesus walked in Jerusalem with his disciples. As they walked, they noticed a man begging in the streets who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked whose fault it was that the man was blind: the man or his parents. Jewish tradition suggested that those born with defects were obviously cursed of God for some reason.
For Latter-day Saints, this suggests an understanding of the premortal existence. How else could the man have sinned at or before birth to merit such condemnation from God? And if it was the parents’ sins that caused the curse, why did it fall upon the child and not on them?
Jesus explained that many are born with disabilities so that God’s work and power could be shown forth. In this instance, Jesus was able to heal the man, showing God’s mercy and power, as well as demonstrating that Jesus had the power of his Father. In other instances, such physical challenges allow individuals to rise above them and do marvelous things in their lives. While not born with disabilities, Helen Keller became blind and deaf at the age of 19 months of either scarlet fever or meningitis. For most children in her situation they normally were put away where no one would see them. But through the hard work of Anne Sullivan and Helen’s own efforts, she learned sign language and to speak. She was the first blind-deaf person to receive a college degree. She became an author and a sought-after speaker.
Neither the man nor his parents had sinned. Such things happen so that great miracles may occur to help people believe in God. Jesus used a pagan magic healing method to heal the man. Using clay and spittle to create a paste, he placed it on his eyes. He then sent the man to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes, whereupon he received his eyesight. The pool of Siloam is where the priests obtained water for use as a holy libation or sacrifice during the Feast of Tabernacles, which ended just days before. The water was considered sacred and blessed. Jesus compared himself to the living waters during the feast. Symbolically, the man was healed by the living waters of Christ, who is the true water libation.
As he healed the man, Jesus explained:
“4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
“5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Again, Jesus referred back to the events of the Feast of Tabernacles, where giant menorah (candelabra) were placed on the temple walls, seen throughout the city. Throughout the 8 day festival, the priests would perform dances with torches every night. In the darkness of night, the torches, the menorah, and Jesus shone for the world to see. But did they comprehend that light? (see John 1:4-5 for the answer).
The man went about praising his healer. The Pharisees brought him in for questioning. How dare he praise Jesus for healing him! They brought in his parents to verify the event. Terrified that they would be excommunicated (literally cast out or exiled from Jerusalem), they answered that it was their son, but that he was old enough to answer for himself. The Pharisees explained that Jesus was a devil and healed by that evil power, especially since it was done on the Sabbath. However, the man insisted that Jesus was a prophet of God:
“32 [the man said] Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
“33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
“34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.”
So the traditions of the Pharisees won out. No one was allowed to heal on the Sabbath unless it was by the power of the devil. People born blind were born in sin, and therefore were liars. They insisted on their theological ties to Moses were greater than the miracles Jesus performed. The man was cast out. Later, upon meeting Jesus, the man would learn that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and would worship him.
“39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
“40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
“41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”
The Pharisees did not realize they were showing themselves as the darkness, represented by blindness and ignorance. However, they were neither blind nor ignorant, but chose the darkness purposely. They chose the torches of the dancing priests over him whose temple and festival truly belonged.
The Good Shepherd
In John 9:39-41, Jesus gave a segue into his next discussion. There are those who are shepherds, and those who are hirelings. Anciently, shepherds took their flocks out by day and pastured them together in a corral at night. One shepherd would watch over the sheep fold or corral, while the others slept. In the morning, the shepherds would come again to the corral and call out. Their sheep would recognize the voice of their particular shepherd, who showed fondness and kindness to the flock. They would willingly follow him anywhere.
However, some of the religious leaders of the Jews were more like hirelings. They did the job as long as it paid well, and there were no major obstacles. If a bear or lion came to attack the flock, while a shepherd would defend the sheep with his life, the hireling would run off and leave the defenseless sheep to fend for themselves. Many Jewish leaders were glad to lead the people, and collect their alms and offerings, until it was no longer convenient, or worth the money and risk. They spent their time focusing on protecting the Jews from good works on the Sabbath, rather than protect them from the enemies of God or pointing them to the living waters, the refreshing meadows, the true light, the Living Christ.
Other religious leaders were like those who sought access to the corral at night, but not by the main entrance. The corral was guarded, and only true shepherds were given access to the sheep from the entrance. Others would have to climb the back side of the fence to steal away sheep. Some tried to gain converts to their version of the Jewish faith by force, such as what happened to the blind man in John 9. If he wouldn’t quickly agree with the Pharisees, they would threaten him and his parents with excommunication and other dangers.
But the True Shepherd is heard by his flock when he calls them in the morning to take them to the meadows of grass for grazing. He calls and they come. They recognize his voice. They will not follow other shepherds or anyone else. Those who truly embrace Jesus are his sheep. Some sheep are totally dedicated to his voice and will follow him wherever he will lead them. Other sheep are not as dedicated, and will occasionally follow the voice of another shepherd. These are believers that should follow Jesus completely, but instead waver and are not dedicated to the true shepherd. Some find that they are instead following a Pharisee or Satan, disguised as a shepherd. But if they will listen to the voice, they can and will recognize Him.
Jesus explains that he will lay down his life for his sheep. He foresaw his destiny. His sheep needed rescue from death and hell, and only the true shepherd could do so. In the atonement and resurrection, Jesus broke the chains of death and hell for those who will listen to the shepherd’s voice, repent of their sins, and follow him.
Jesus, the Son of God
Around the winter equinox, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication. This celebrated the rededication of the temple in the times of the Maccabees (165 BC), who rescued Israel and the temple from desecration by Antiochus Epiphanius. This gentile ruler sought to destroy the Jewish religion, burning pigs on the temple altars, and setting up a statue of Zeus inside the temple. To reconsecrate and cleanse the temple became an important festival.
Jesus again stood in the temple and was asked about his sermon concerning the sheep, and whether he truly was the Messiah. He told them they had seen signs enough and were told enough that they should believe. Yet they did not. They were angered when he explained, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), meaning that they were united in all things. This also meant that Jesus placed himself on the same level as God. The Jews began again to grab stones to throw at him, but he quickly explained scripture to them:
“34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
“35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
“36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
“37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
“38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
“39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,”
He explained that the Jews were the children of God and were heirs of God. They were supposed to become gods under Heavenly Father. This was a difficult concept for Jews who had changed the rites of Solomon’s temple, rejecting the concepts of ministering angels, the Tree of Life, and other liturgy believed before the days of King Josiah.
But Jesus’ miracles and teachings testified that he truly was the Messiah, the son of God. He sought to guide his sheep to become what they were truly meant to be: Christ-like and the true children of God. Sadly, many of the sheep were led astray by those teaching other doctrines that lower mankind’s prospects on the marvelous things God has in store for us, if we just listen to the Shepherd’s voice.
Helen Keller - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller
Feast of Tabernacles in Lesson 15 - water libation, menorah and torches: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-15.html
Commentary on John 10: http://bible.org/seriespage/exegetical-commentary-john-9
Feast of Dedication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedication#Feast_of_Dedication
Josiah’s Reforms to the Temple: