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As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud  and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
13 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.  So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”John 9:1-3, 6-7, 13-17 ESV
Someone is controversial when they cause or are likely to cause disagreement. I was surprised when I read this dictionary definition for controversial, because I assumed it would be more negative. The fact is a cause, message, person, or group becomes controversial when it forces people to make a choice or decision.
In this sense, Jesus and anyone who chooses to live like him will be controversial, and that isn’t a negative thing. Unless we decide to live in a society where everyone believes and thinks the same thing controversies will abound.
What is interesting and unique is that Jesus was not controversial for the sake of being controversial. In fact, one might say he went out of his way to avoid controversy. An example of this can be found in Matthew 5:17 where he states his position on the Jewish law by saying, “I have not come to abolish but to fulfill them.” Even though he would introduce a covenant that would make Judaism obsolete, as a Jew he was going to obey every element of that law (Hebrews 8:13).
This conservatism was not on display in his teaching in John 9:1-3, where he counters the traditional view that a man born blind was the consequence of someone’s sin. He turns the law and tradition on its head and teaches that disability is an opportunity for God to be glorified. To make matters worse Jesus performs the miracle healing of the blind man on a Sabbath, which upsets the Pharisees.
Why were the Pharisees upset? Personally, I believe this had more to do with their conventionality, lack of innovative instinct, and inability to understand God never intended the Sabbath to be a day free from doing good. The Pharisees valued control and conventionality. They wanted things approved by them and done their way. The law wasn’t the issue, and since Jesus knew this, he took a stand with the goal of wresting the power from the hands of men and returning it to God and his Word.
The controversy wasn’t a blind man being healed, but the spiritually blind Pharisees losing their influence, and the focus of the people returning to God.
- Read John 9-10.
- Read Matthew 15:1-20. What controversy exists in this passage and why?
- Read Matthew 23:1-36. Why does Jesus experience controversy with the Pharisees?
- Read Matthew 22:15-22. Why did Jesus experience little controversy with the Romans?
- Read I Thessalonians 4:9-12. How does this passage imply controversy should be rare?
- Read Titus 3:9 and explain the type of controversies we should avoid.
Jesus was not controversial unless a person or people were conventional. By conventional I mean an attachment to human tradition, rules, or ways of doing things not rooted completely in Scripture. He did not spend his time in rebellion against government be it Roman or Jewish.
Jesus was controversial in the name of spiritually innovating ways for people to see the truth about God, so he healed, helped, and preached against human rules and conventions. He led breakthroughs in faith and the understanding of God.
There is no question that when the faith he taught spread, it grew from changing people’s faith to changing the world. Once the world began to change, controversy increased with the secular, but this was still in the name of making God known.
In short, we must embrace the reality that Jesus was controversial to the conventional, which means if we truly live our faith we will be disturbers of convention, and this isn’t a bad thing. Just ask the hundreds of companies in Silicon Valley who have been controversial as they push the world willingly and sometimes unwillingly into the future.
*Definitions in “The 12 Days of Jesus” studies are based on the Cambridge Dictionary
Explore the series:
- Feature: The 12 Days of Jesus
- Day 1: Conqueror of Darkness
- Day 2: Courage in the Temple
- Day 3: Compassion for the Disabled
- Day 4: Confidence Turns the Tide
- Day 5: Captivating the Crowds
- Day 6: Cagey and Colorful in Conflict
- Day 7: Controversial to the Conventional
- Day 8: Convincing the Confused
- Day 9: Comforting the Cautious
- Day 10: Clarity for the Complicated
- Day 11: Calm for the Chronically Contentious
- Day 12: Concerned about the Cynical