52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #16. Healing the Blind Man (Part 1)

by Travis Bookout

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“Why do bad things happens to good people?” This is a huge question. It’s been asked over and over and over by people all around the world. Why? Because we find ourselves in a world full of injustice and suffering.  Some have attempted to answer this perplexing question by assuming that it’s just incorrect. All bad things are deserved because all people have done bad things. So, if a man loses his health and job and family, it must be because he did something awful to deserve it. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar shared this type of worldview and it did not help their spiritual journeys. In fact, they offended God by it, saying things about Him which were not correct (Job 42:7-8).

There are, however, entire religious structures predicated on this idea. If you see someone with a disability, it must be because some sin in their life or possibly it’s punishment for a grievous sin committed in a previous life. Even at a non-spiritual level, many people assume this to be the infallible standard of life. When a homeless man is sitting on the ground, in dirty clothes, missing teeth, thin and hungry, many (without knowing him, his experiences, or his story) will immediately assume the worst about his character: “He’s just lazy and needs to get a job!” “If you give him money, he’ll just spend it on drugs and alcohol.” “I heard about someone who just faked poverty to rip you off, then got in their Mercedes and drove home afterwards.”

This is the type of setting which introduces the next great sign of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they see a man who had been born blind. Rather than feeling compassion, seeing his humanity, or trying to find any small way to help, the disciples turn to Jesus and ask about whose fault it is: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2). That’s just kind of a heartless question to ask when you see a person in need. “Is this guy awful or is he just from an awful family?” Notice the logic though. If someone is experiencing suffering, there must have been some grave sin committed. In order for God to be just, there must be some sort of just explanation for this suffering.

Jesus rejects this idea. His answer is, “he neither sinned nor his parents” (John 9:3). Jesus in fact wants to change the way His disciples think about those in need. He wants to change the way we think about those in need. Rather than seeing the pain in others as evidence of their sin, try instead to see it as an opportunity to glorify God. See it as an opportunity to display and “work the works of God” (John 9:3-4). Perhaps the disciples would have been content to walk right passed this man as they debated the theology of individual VS inherited sin. Jesus won’t have that. When you see someone in need, it’s not the time to judge and it’s not the time to theologize, it’s the time to work.

Jesus then stresses the need for them to be busy working. It’s because day is here and night is coming. It’s really hard to work when the lights go out. In John there is a constant contrast between Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Seeing and Blindness. While Jesus is on earth He is bringing light to the world. He is the Sight and the Day and the Light. Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world” (John 9:5). This is how Jesus was first introduced in John 1:4-9: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” So from the beginning we’ve known this about Jesus. Now, in John 9, we’re about to get some evidence as to what it really means.

Darkness pretends not to see the man. Darkness walks right passed him. Darkness judges and wags its head. Darkness treats this man the way the passerby’s treated Jesus on the cross. They look, they see suffering, and they immediately blame. Jesus will put an end to the darkness. He will shine the light right on this man, and many will see it. Jesus will enlighten this man. Jesus will change the definitions of “light” and “dark” and “blind” and “sight.”

At the beginning of this story, the blind man is the one without sight and the one assumed to be a sinner. At the end of the story, the blind man sees and those who see are truly blind. At the end of the story the blind man believes and worships (John 9:38) and the spiritual leaders are called sinners. Jesus explains, “‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains’” (John 9:39-41).

In the next reflection we’ll look a little deeper into how this reversal actually happens. But for now, just consider a possible change of mind. When you see a stranger on the street, what is your first thought? When you see someone in prison, are you quick to judge? How many were guilty of passing by this blind man assuming the worst? How many were guilty of passing by Jesus as He was executed by the Romans and assuming guilt? Would you have been one? What if we saw these as opportunities to be lights in a dark situation? To show the love and glory of God instead of the darkness and neglect of the world? I want to suggest we just hold our judgment a little bit longer. I want to suggest we proceed with caution before we say “We see clearly, but you are blind.” Sometimes the one who “sees” is indeed the one in darkness and Light is coming to the one who is blind.