For four hundred years the people of Israel had yearned for relief from oppression. The oppressors had changed over the centuries, and the circumstances looked different at different times, but one thing remained: Israel wanted someone to lead them into a place of hope and optimism about their lives and the future of their nation. At the beginning of the first century, the climate had gone from bad to worse and the oppression of the people had become bleaker than ever. Worst of all, it had become apparent that the religious leaders of the Jewish people were not competent, nor powerful enough, to bring change for the people. Hope was low, relief was allusive, and there was really nothing for the people of this once great nation to hang onto. There was however one thing that could make the necessary change for this oppressed people. There was one thing that could turn the tide and make the impact significant enough to introduce hope and faith once again. For centuries, the people of Israel had longed for and hoped for the arrival of the Messiah. The Messiah would bring relief from the four hundred years of oppression the Israelites had endured, and he would establish a new kingdom that would usurp the awful Roman Empire they were currently under. Despite their bleak circumstances, despite their lack of hope and purpose, and despite the fact they were marginalized, they held out hope for their cosmic trump card to arrive and bring relief and deliverance for them.
The Gospel of John has one central purpose throughout its chapters and that is to present Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament. (Kim, 2010, p. 305) John’s primary means of establishing Jesus as the Messiah is through miracles and conflict with the Pharisees, both demonstrated in the healing of the blind man in John 9. Using Vernon Robbins’ model of Socio-Rhetorical Analysis, looking particularly at the Social and Cultural Texture, it is clear the leadership climate was ideal for Jesus to present himself as the Messiah to the Jewish people with the healing of the blind man in John 9.
Socio-rhetorical analysis is an approach to biblical interpretation that moves away from the story of a biblical text as the focus, but rather chooses to study in depth the values, convictions, and beliefs within a given text and the world the text, writer, and reader live within. (Robbins, 1996, p. 1) Socio-rhetorical analysis looks at various textures of a text and peels back the layers for deeper understanding. One texture that is considered by Robbins is the Social and Cultural Texture. This analysis focuses on the sociological and anthropological theory of human behavior (Robbins, 1996, p. 71), seeking to understand why individuals in a text act and react the way they do.
One area to consider when discussing the contrast of leadership styles between Jesus and the Pharisees is the common social and cultural topic of limited, insufficient, and overabundant goods. This topic is rooted deeply in the peasant history of the Jewish people. Having been under oppressive rule by various kingdoms throughout their history, the Jewish people had the perspective that all good things come in limited quantities. Such things as food, land, and honor, to name a few, were in fixed quantities and short supply. (Robbins, 1996, p.84) This perspective of scarcity permeated all areas of life, including leadership.
In John 9 there is an overarching theme of scarcity verses abundance present, though not explicitly expressed. The scarcity perspective believes that if any one person has abundance, then those around them will experience shortage. (Robbins, 1996, p.84) The Jewish leaders believe strongly this way, particularly when it comes to their leadership. With Jesus on the scene, and the growing influence he had with the people, the leadership and social status of the religious leaders was being threatened. This growing influence Jesus was experiencing meant, according to their scarcity mentality, that there would be less influence for them. The result of their scarcity perspective bred insecurity and a lack of confidence among the leaders, which created blindness for them toward opportunities of hope and optimism, such as the healing of a blind man. (Northouse, 2012, Kindle Location 5010)
In contrast, Jesus displays an abundance mentality. “This approach presumes there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody” (Covey, 1989, p. 220). This perspective results in a “deep inner sense of personal worth and security” (Covey, 1989, p. 220), which Jesus displays time and time again throughout his ministry. Even in this moment with the healing of the blind man, he gives freely and with enthusiasm, which is a sharp contrast for the people to see from a leader since they are accustomed to the climate of scarcity perpetuated by the religious leaders. This contrast Jesus presents to these oppressed Israelites is refreshing, optimistic, and brings hope to the lives of these hopeless people. Jesus’ presentation of authentic leadership is inspiration to others to trust him and follow him in his perspective of abundance. (Covey, 1990) This presentation of abundance gives rise to hope and optimism among the people, and prepares their hearts to understand the Messiah they had longed for had arrived.
Another Common Social and Cultural Topic found in John 9 is challenge-response. Challenge-response is a back and forth tug-of-war between two parties. (Robbins, 1996, p. 80) John 9 is actually a moment of climax in the gospel in this back and forth between the Jesus and the Pharisees. Previous to this event, Jesus had challenged the Pharisees about their relationship with Abraham and assured them they were the sons of Satan by telling them “you belong to your father, the devil”. (vs. 44) Their response was to attempt to stone him, but he eluded them. Jesus’ authentic leadership style afforded him the confidence necessary to make him persistent in the face of obstacles and even welcome the challenge from the Pharisees. (Bandura, 1997) The next action Jesus takes in the struggle of leadership between him and the Pharisees is to publicly heal this blind man that was known to all who frequented the temple. This is important because a challenge-response is always in a public setting and the public nature of the challenge guarantees the receiving individual will respond since even a nonresponse will be considered a response due to the public nature of the situation. (Robbins, 1996, p.80) This indirect, but public, challenge of healing the blind man is a significant moment in this leadership battle, because it demonstrates Jesus as an benevolent, authentic leader in contrast to coercive leadership the Pharisees possessed. The Pharisees used force to effect change and often influenced others to do something they did not want to do using manipulation, penalties, and rewards. (Northouse, 2012, Kindle Locations 586-588) This coercive leadership often uses threats and punishments because the leader is not interested in the wants and needs of subordinates, but in the advancement of their own goals, such as securing their own influence levels. (Northouse, 2012, Kindle Locations 588, 593-595)
In contrast, authentic leadership displayed by Jesus is concerned with the collective good transcending their own interests for the sake of others. (Howell & Avolio, 1993) Jesus freely heals the man at great risk to himself, knowing the Pharisees were seeking to kill him since the last time he healed someone on the Sabbath. (John 5:1-17) This display of authentic leadership also proclaims Jesus’ Messiahship, transcending the authority of the Pharisees. Throughout the ministry of Jesus there is a back and forth struggle, but in this challenge-response moment Jesus steps out in his authentic leadership to challenge the coercive style of the Pharisees, and require a response from them, which results in essentially no action, revealing their lack of authority.
The final Common Social and Cultural Topic to observe in John 9 is the dyadic and individualistic personalities. Those with a dyadic personality need another person continually in order to know who he or she really is. (Robbins, 1996, p. 77) The Jewish culture had been an interwoven community of people who served Yahweh, relied on him collectively, and shared value in the familial structure of the community. In modern times, particularly in Western culture, individualism is common and often times celebrated, but in the Jewish community the individualistic mindset was not common within their culture, and those who sought individuality were considered outcasts of society. Old Testament examples such as Achan (Jos. 7), the ritual of kinsman redeemer (Lev 25:25), and the Jubilee year (Lev. 25: 10-11) point to a cultural standard that everyone is taken care of by everyone else and the advancement of one individual should not be at the cost of another within the community,
This is yet another point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees that comes to a head with the healing of the blind man. Being a part of the dyadic community caused the leaders of the nation to allow the public opinion of their social status dictate how they made decisions and led the people. It also provided the opportunity for the religious leaders to manipulate and control the people through their dyadic personalities. This is apparent in the interrogation of the blind man’s parents. His parents were aware their social acceptance into the temple was at stake in their testimony of their son’s healing. If they professed Jesus healed the man, then they would be proclaiming Jesus was the Messiah, because it was well understood among the Jews from Isa. 42 that the Messiah would give sight to the blind when he came. (Kim, 2010, p. 316) This fear of the parents shows they are operating from a dyadic personality just as the religious leaders expected them to.
Again, Jesus contrasts this coercive, manipulative leadership style with a refreshing authentic leadership approach. Jesus acts out of an individualistic personality secure in his mission, his identity, and the actions that he decides to take. Though he is in danger for his life, and the Pharisees are already offended by him looking to discredit him in the eyes of the people, he operates out of his authentic leadership style that is highly individualistic. First, he understands his purpose given to him by God, which allows him to make clear definitive decisions with authority. Second, he has strong values that allows him to make the right choices regardless of what others think of him and whether or not there are consequences. Third, he establishes trusting relationships with others, which is demonstrated by the blind man’s response to Jesus after the healing occurs. Next, authentic leaders demonstrate self-discipline and act on their values, which in John 9 Jesus heals a blind man despite the fact it is the Sabbath because he values people over rules. Finally, the last characteristic of an authentic leader is that they are passionate about their mission. (Northouse, 2012, Kindle Locations 4876-4879) In John 9, Jesus displays his passion for the mission he is on because he throws all caution to the wind in healing the blind man, while also revealing his deity. (Kim, 2010, p.316)
Another telling element of John 9 in regards to the dyadic versus individualistic personality is that the blind man, after being healed, shows a similar individualistic personality. This is what the Pharisees fear the most. Jesus’ action of insubordination has resulted in another individual to deviate from the dyadic personality model displayed throughout the Jewish community, and needed by the religious leaders in order to control the population with fear. This is evident in the interrogation of the blind man, and his matter-of-fact responses to the Pharisees who are not used to being challenged. (vs. 25-30) The once-blind man confessed, not to doctrine of Jesus, but what Jesus did for him, which is a contrast to his parents’ cautious answers to the Pharisees. (Muderhwa, 2012, p.3) This shows the contrast between his individualistic and their dyadic personalities. Jesus’ leadership of confidence stemming from his individualistic personality produces yet another disciple who breaks free from the tyranny of the dyadic religious leaders of the dyadic Jewish culture.
The presence of Jesus within the Jewish community in the first century was more than just an influential figure, he was an awakening for his Israeli countrymen to take hold of and accept. Just as he offered sight to the blind man and freed him from oppression and hopelessness, Jesus offered spiritual sight and hope to a people who had lost hope. The only hope the Jews held onto was the arrival of the Messiah. He would bring with him hope, deliverance, healing, and freedom. In John 9, Jesus uses the healing of the blind man to declare he is the Messiah come to offer the hope the people were looking for. Unfortunately, not everyone was open to what Jesus was offering, and stood in opposition of him. The Pharisees were lost in their own form of blindness, cut off from God yet believing they were doing his will. Their blindness stemmed from ineffective, positional leadership that was coercive and oppressive. The Jewish people, with a long history of being oppressed by other nations, needed leaders who would offer hope, peace, and freedom, but instead received manipulation through fear. This climate created by the distant hope for the Messiah, as well as the tyrannical leadership style of the Pharisees, created a perfect opportunity for an authentic leader like Jesus to gain influence and make a difference. A man who was blind from birth received his sight and changed his life forever, yet, others missed the opportunity because they couldn’t break out of the social and cultural comfort they had come to enjoy enough to see the Messiah who offered freedom and hope.
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