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 would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. 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?” Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.” So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” They said to him, “Where is He?” He *said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “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.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out. Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that 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)
There are many characters and players in the story. There’s the blind man, the disciples, Jesus, of course, the neighbors, the parents, and at least two groups of Pharisees with differing opinions on what was going on. One way to look at this story is to ask the question, What did each of these players see? What did they see initially? And what did they see as the story progresses? What is the progression of sight or insight that occurs throughout the story? What is it that the blind man sees?—initially and then later? What do the disciples see in Jesus Himself? What does He see? How about the neighbors and the parents and the Pharisees, the two groups of parents, the Pharisees? What did Jesus want each group to see? What was he trying to shed light upon?
Jesus addresses both kinds of blindness that we’ve been looking at over the last several weeks. That is the intrinsic spiritual blindness, whatever that is, and then the darkness that we’ve also studied as a kind of blindness where the intrinsic ability to see is not altered. But since there is no light, there’s this results in a kind of blindness.
In verse 4, Jesus says:
“We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
Jesus’s message and mission is to heal intrinsic blindness, and then to throw a light on everything else. He has come to shed light on suffering and disability, as we see here. He has come to shed light on ignorance and unprejudiced and bad theology. He has come to shine a light on misconceptions and faulty views about God, and erroneous conclusions about God. We see all of these in this story. Indeed, there is much to see in the story, no pun intended. But in verse 1, it begins with the fact that as Jesus passes by, he sees a man blind from birth. Note that Jesus sees him as a man, of course, but he was born blind. He was blind as a youth and blind as a teenager. In the past, his parents could apparently no longer care for him. (We discover in verse 8 that he is now a beggar.) Note that there are no words exchanged between Jesus and the blind man. This is in stark contrast to the story of another blind man born from birth, named Bartimaeus, whom we have not studied yet, but we will and I just wanted to introduce him to you because the context is utterly different, and maybe important:
Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. (Mark 10:46-52)
Here you can see a completely different context. Here we have Bartimaeus, screaming at the top of his lungs to the point where people are trying to hush him up in order to to let Jesus pass by. The first blind man says nothing, asks for nothing. Jesus simply sees the man, after His attention is drawn to him. Notice that the disciples express no feelings of empathy for the blind man, no concern of or compassion in the face of great human tragedy and need. They just want to discuss theology. They were of course asking questions based on the understanding of the day that a disability must be the result of sin. Whose sin then is it? For the disciples, God is a God of cause and effect. They see the effect of his blindness but what is the cause? But the central theme of the message and the mission of Jesus is that God is not a God of cause and effect. Grace, which we see as a bountiful gift from God, is the best example of the fact that we don’t get what we deserve, that God is not a God of cause and effect.
While Jesus doesn’t deny here that sin in general is the cause of blindness and disability in a broken world, he is quick to unlink specific sin with outcome. While the natural sinful condition of mankind results in heartache, disability, and loss, most of the time the connection of disability and heartache and loss is circumstantial, unrelated to some kind of cause and effect. God is a God of purpose. In verse 3 Jesus answers:
“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Don: While our sinful condition results in suffering, any specific suffering is not very often likely to be a result of a specific sin. It means that in this case, the blindness is not a result of a specific sin of either the man or his parents. It is related not to past causes but to the future purposes of God. God intends to use the result of this sinful world, and this man’s blindness, to teach all of us and all the players in this story an important lesson which we’ll uncover as we as we unfold it, and to teach you and me something about God, about spiritual blindness and about God’s immeasurable grace. Without the blind man’s request or even his permission, Jesus heals him by mixing dirt and spittle. What does all this mean? We have the conversations and the controversies and the contribution at each play in this to discover over the next few weeks. I’d like you to ask yourself the question, what is it that this story says about spiritual blindness? What is it that we should come to understand about spiritual blindness from listening and thinking about the story? What is it that we should understand about grace? What is it that stands out to you concerning what we’ve been discussing, based on this very replete and complete story that Jesus is sharing with us here.
Jay: This is one of my favorite Bible stories. It has got so many layers and so many different characters. One of the key pieces of insight I see is Jesus’s first response to the disciples, who immediately move into a question of judgment. The story kicks off with judgment: “Whose sin, parents or person?” They want discernment. They want judgment. And Jesus answers them that it’s neither; it’s actually God’s will that this person is what he is, which seems very disturbing on the face of it. God wants him to be this way for some purpose. But we have a warped view of what God should and should not do, so we believe that God should act in very specific ways at very specific time. But He wants His wondrous mighty power to be displayed, turning on its head our idea of why something is happening.
Donald: We quickly move right into: “This person is this way, so what did they do wrong?” It is an effect or responsibility for what transpired. You’re holding the responsibility for something you or your parent did wrong. A long, long time ago, I was very ill. And I was too young to be as ill as I was, and in the rear view mirror you try to ask yourself: Why did that transpire? And then you say, Okay, this happened, and this happened, and this happened. And these were all miracles. Ultimately, why did it happen? Why? Why was that put upon me? It’s just a human response. Am I responsible for a person who is doing drugs while they’re pregnant? Do they take responsibility for something? Or do we just live in a world where it is what it is? And you make the best of bad situations because we live in a sinful world.
Jay: These kinds of questions and this story is a classic example of the slippery slope of judgment, of claiming the ability to discern, to tell right from wrong, good from evil, and God’s will. It becomes a question of salvation. The story leads into people being kept in the group or being put out of the group,. So the parents of the blind man are concerned about being in the group or being put out of the group because if this in this case, the Pharisees have all the spiritual discernment power. They claim all the power of spiritual discernment. So to disagree with the people who hold that power means that now you’re no longer part of the group. So the parents are extraordinarily vague in their answers. They choose not to offend or contradict the spiritual discernment of the ruling class or the people who (supposedly) have the knowledge. That is what’s so exciting about this story. You get a man who’s blind from birth, who’s really happy to just kind of mess around with them a little bit and bait them a little bit. And you really see in some very simple responses from this blind man, how this claim of spiritual discernment of the Pharisees, really starts to come apart pretty quickly.
David: I take this passage as being fundamentally about the Pharisees and their proselytizing, their belief that you get people to switch to your belief, to the way you believe in doing things by doing what they say. What they say is “Look back to Moses, follow the Law. But Jesus was saying “No, open your own eyes and look at the will of God. That’s all it takes. When you do the will of God, you see God. But when you merely follow the Law and scriptures, you are blind.” The Pharisees did not like that at all.
Adora: The question of the disciples is how a spiritual cause, sin, can have a physical effect and cause this man to be born blind. The line between physical and spiritual cause and effect happening simultaneously is interesting. We think we need to be able to see a physical manifestation of sin and do not think about the spiritual effect of sin or the spiritual manifestation of sin.
Jay: I think the point that all this person ever knew was blindness is important. Being blind, he has zero ability to discern, zero ability to cast judgment on people’s actions. If somebody gives him money, he can’t tell who gives him money. He can’t look at their clothes and say, “You’re obviously rich and you only gave me that much?” Or “You’re obviously poor and you gave me that much?” He has very little ability to make any kind of discernment whatsoever, which leads to the conclusion that those who can see need to be blind.
David: But lack of discernment is exactly what God wants. It’s what Adam and Eve had in the garden until they committed the Original Sin and acquired the ability to discern. So, in fact, you could say that in healing the blind man, Jesus wasn’t doing him any favors, spiritually!
Jay: This is about God’s will, not about the individual. Sometimes God’s will does not involve prosperity or health for the individual. That’s not something we want to hear, or think about. We transition onto the slippery slope of discernment when we do that. This can be looked at as a progressive story about discernment. The Pharisees are all over this story, trying to figure out how the miracle happened. They grab and interrogate every witness. Why? Because they’re trying to discern and understand what happened, and they’re split down the middle. One faction says: “This can only come from from God.” while the other faction says: “Nonsense.” So some people get thrown out of the group. It’s not that they—or we—shouldn’t be seeking understanding. That’s different from discernment and judgment.
Kiran: The problem between the Pharisees and Jesus is like a problem between a classical physicist and a quantum physicist. Classical physicists think they know the whole of physics and to them it is predictable and reliable. But quantum physics says you can’t know everything so you can’t control it. Perhaps Eve ate the fruit because she didn’t trust God and wanted Him to be predictable. The Pharisees too wanted a God who is predictable, who can be controlled in certain ways by appealing to cause and effect. So when Jesus told the disciples that what He did bore no relationship to their idea of morality, it was troubling. It meant they did not understand God and therefore could not trust Him not to do something they would judge to be bad. The Pharisees, the disciples, and we ourselves behave today as if there is a doubt that if we let God be God, he might not do a good job for us. It is a matter of trust.
David: It seems to me that what the Pharisees could discern was the law of Moses and whether it was broken in specific instances or not. What they could not discern was God. They were blind to God. It took a blind man to see God.
Donald: I think what we’re talking about here is my relationship to God and who I perceive God to be and what God expects of me. And there are stages of that apparently. So does God want what’s best for me? What is “best”? I do think God cares for me. And I think we could all agree probably on that, but what’s “best” for me? We read that heaven is paved in gold, that this is what He wants for me. Many of us would feel like God really wants peace in our lives. He’s a great comforter, too. So what’s best for me?
Jay: I would say that God wants what’s best for us, but as human beings we don’t have a clue what’s best for us. We want to define what’s best for us. There’s an understanding of the law of Moses: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t break the Sabbath, and so on. It’s the ramifications of saying that if you don’t obey rule X, then Y is going to happen to you. This encroaches into an area that man doesn’t belong in. It’s fine to have guidelines for life so that hopefully, people end up with what’s best for them, but we must be careful. There’s no doubt that when God says he’s prepared a place for us, I view that as a place for me, as an individual. So God knows what’s best for me and has prepared a place for me. It doesn’t say God has prepared a place for us. He’s prepared a place for me. And that might look crazy if it turns out to be very different than what he’s prepared for somebody who lives on the other side of the world, or somebody who lived 3000 years ago. We want to make broad, sweeping generalizations because as human beings we want to be able to define our community. And when we try to define our community in ways that lead to our saying we can discern God’s will or we can discern how God is going to act in a very specific situation, it becomes very troubling.
Kiran: Why did Jesus say this was done so that his Father”s name would be glorified? First of all, if there was no sin involved in the man’s being born blind, then God purposefully made him blind. That doesn’t make God look good. And letting him suffer all these years then restoring his sight makes it look selfish. Perhaps he wants to make the point that we as humans don’t have control over things, that God has ultimate control over everything, that our job is not to question but to react to what he has given. Our Sabbath comes every Saturday and our sole option is to embrace or reject it. We don’t have any control. God is glorified in contrast to our powerlessness.
Anonymous: I can’t rule out cause and effect because of our understanding and belief that death came because of sin. Throughout the Bible, where we see God talking to Jeremiah about the Israelites and their sins and telling how He is going to punish them, send them into exile, and on and on, in Leviticus, Exodus, almost all the books. Moses told the Israelites: “If you do such and such you will get this and that—all sorts of sicknesses and diseases will fall upon you.” The Bible is replete with examples of cause and effect. On the other hand, judgement is not ours, for sure. I don’t want to judge. God is doing something for this wayward world but I’m resisting this thought and praying from the bottom of my heart: “Please, Lord take this thought away from me.” And every time it came to my mind, I found myself pleading with him: “Please, I don’t want to think that way.”
How hard I tried to get my late sister to even consider the fact that if she read the Bible and believed, she would be saved. She resisted, but I’m not inside her heart so I don’t know what her thoughts were in her dying days, and whether she reconciled with God. After her death I found myself praying and pleading with God to ignore her rejection of the Bible, of the truth “my way.” I’m kind of growing towards something other than what I was before, but at the same time, I cannot rule out the cause and effect. Now in the middle, there’s a situation where I can get these two extremes to reconcile. This is the effect from God but He uses in His way and most likely purpose to judge and punish but He uses the causes and the way we receive the effects of our causes to bring us back to Him and to challenge the enemy of goodness by saying you can’t judge that I have a better way to get them out of that and save their lives in the meanwhile. So God neither punishes nor judges, nor do we need to do that. We don’t know the heart of the Lord, we don’t know the hearts of one another.
But again, instead of playing this drama on one another, we need to look deeper and see how we can live our lives, our own individual lives, we can see the cause and effect more clearly. I could say, of course I didn’t smoke, I didn’t eat bad foods. I kept the Sabbath, I did my best to please God and here I am with cancer six times. I used to think, and probably I was partly right, that I don’t have to be smoke free and eating proper food according to the Bible and keeping God’s commandments and all that to be perfect in my health. But my life wasn’t very pleasing to God. So could that be a reason why I had the cancers? It could be! That’s my own life. I’m judging and I’m thinking and I’m and I’m analyzing my own life. I don’t have the right to do that for anyone else. But in my life, thank God for this recognition. It’s not bad for God to show me to open my eyes and be the light. He Himself is the light to show me my way and to see other things I need to pay attention to in my life, to confront them face to face, confess them and leave them and, of course, by the grace of God, you’ve given me chance after chance. Over 20 years now, I’ve been growing cancers but at the same time, I’m seeing God’s leading hand in the mercy and grace demonstrated in my life. And I got to the point (not to say that I don’t need punishment or God’s instruction anymore—I’m not saying that) but I came to a point where I see my sickness as a great blessing,
Donald: Sometimes, it seems almost too bold to say, “I am blessed.” What does it mean? Should we be thankful for being blessed? And does it mean I’ve done something that God has blessed me for? And how does that relate to God’s wanting what’s best for me?
Don: We have much to explore in this story. I encourage you to read the story over and over again. According this weekend. We’ll look at a lot of different pieces of this looking for insight in the subject of spiritual blindness and spiritual openness from the story.
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