“A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’” - John 10:19-21
What were the words of Jesus that divided people on this occasion? These were the words of His parable concerning the good shepherd (John 10:1-18). In it He compared Himself to a shepherd who cares for the sheep and lays down His life for them, contrasting Himself to shepherds who work only for their pay and so flee whenever the wolf comes, leaving the sheep to be scattered and devoured. Why would these words cause a division among the Jews who heard them? Why did these words lead some to say, “He has a demon and is insane!” Today, we who are Christians read this parable and are charmed, comforted and profoundly moved. Even those who are not believers in Jesus find nothing obviously offensive in them. But that is because we lack the perspective of the Jews of Jesus’ day. They knew their Bibles a lot better than most people today, even better than most Christians!
They knew the 23rd Psalm that begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” They knew Psalm 80, a prayer to God that begins with “Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock…” They knew Isaiah’s words of comfort, “Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” (40:10-11) They also knew God’s words through the prophet Jeremiah, “Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: ‘You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,’ declares the Lord. ‘Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.’” (23:2-4; see also 31:10 and 50:6) And finally, they knew God’s words through the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord… Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.’ For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.’” (34:7-12; see also Zechariah 11:17; 13:7) What is clear from this prophecy and from the other references is that God is the true shepherd of His people and that while the previously appointed human shepherds had abused and neglected the flock God Himself would one day personally take charge and deliver His people from their enemies.
That is why the Jews who heard Jesus say the words that seem innocuous enough to us saw in them an implicit claim to deity. It is therefore not strange that some of them, at least, drew the conclusion that Jesus was either operating as a tool of the devil or had taken leave of His senses. Here He was, a man with every appearance of human mortality and frailty, claiming the nature and roles of God! Jesus was saying that He was the fulfillment of these sacred passages written by such prophets as David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah. How could they view Jesus as anyone but a rogue or a madman?
Nevertheless, there were those who doubted their doubts. They observed Jesus as He spoke these words and they did not appear to be the ravings of a demoniac or a lunatic. There was a sober matter-of-factness about Jesus’ delivery of this parable and His other teachings that made such charges against Him seem not to stick. The matter was indeed provocative but the manner of their delivery had the ring of truth. And there was something more. A miracle had occurred among them. Jesus had just given the power of sight to a man who had been blind from his birth. Many had known the man: “Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, ‘Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?’” Of course, to some, this was such a stupendous miracle that they thought the only explanation was that this was another man and not the one who was born blind. People back then were not so gullible and easily fooled as people today tend to think. As some were saying, “This is he! (that is, the man born blind) others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” They could see he looked like the man but that man was blind and this man wasn't. The only explanation to them was that a substitution had been made. But the man himself kept saying, “I am the one!”
To end the controversy, the parents of the man born blind were summoned before the religious authorities and questioned. They confirmed that this was indeed their son who had been born blind. This did not, however, end the controversy. The last resort was to ask the man to give the glory to God for his healing and not this heretical Galilean: “’Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.’” But the man answered, “‘Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see!’” When pressed further as to how this miracle had taken place, he replied, “’I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?’ They reviled him and said, ‘You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.’ The man answered and said to them, ‘Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.’” (For the full story read all of John 9.)
If Jesus had indeed given sight to a man born blind, something not even Moses or any the prophets had done, He could only have done it with Divine approval and, since God would not so powerfully endorse a sinner, Jesus must be who He claimed to be, despite the immensity of that claim: I am God, the Good Shepherd of His people, a claim Jesus would soon make even more explicit: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) Those who still disbelieved His claim of course “picked up stones again to stone Him.” But those who could not believe Him to be a liar or a lunatic were led by logic to receive Him as Lord.
And now we are soon to celebrate a far greater miracle than opening the eyes of one born blind. That miracle is one absolutely without precedent: Jesus’ victory over death. While you and I were not there to witness it, and we should be as demanding of sufficient proof as those people were that a man born blind was healed, we have in front of us the equivalent of the parents of that man: the written records of those who knew Jesus and witnessed His death, his burial and His resurrection. Not only did they bear witness to these events, they sealed their witness with their life’s blood. Now you do the logic.