In John 9, we have the account of Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. This is the only miracle in the gospels where the sufferer is spoken of as being disabled from birth.
The chapter falls out nicely into three parts. First, is the account of the healing itself (9:1-7), then there is the interrogation of the blind man by his neighbors and the Pharisees (9:8-34) and at the end, Jesus reenters the story to teach us the real lesson of the miracle – that the truly blind person is the one who in their pride and arrogance refuses to see the truth that is right in front of them in the person of Christ.
The story begins with a theological question posed by Jesus’ own disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v.2). They think that there must be some connection between sin and suffering, so they ask about the cause.
Jesus however, bypasses the question and tells us what was really going on behind the scenes with this blind man. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (v.3). Who would have thought it? There is more to this man’s story than meets the eye. The truth is that difficulty, pain, and suffering are opportunities for God to display His glory. The blind man’s disability was God’s opportunity. This does not imply that God brings suffering to a person just so that he can glorify himself. That would make God out to be cruel. Rather, God can use our suffering to reveal something of Himself even in what appears to be hopeless and without meaning. Jesus will work in this man’s life so that God’s work will be displayed in his life. He does the same for us.
This week my daughter showed me a news article of a young man who recently took a 20-minute plane ride over the City of New York. When he returned home, he took out an artist’s pen and mounted a 15 foot-long canvas on the wall. He then proceeded to draw the New York City skyline in exacting detail – all from memory. His ability to recall the exact placement of building, streets, and landmarks was nothing short of amazing. Such a feat would be remarkable for anyone, except that this man was autistic.God takes our disabilities and sufferings in whatever form they come and works to reveal himself in spite of them.
The miracle itself is a parable of seeing, for the blind man gained not only physical sight, but spiritual sight as well. Unlike the opening of his physical eyes however, the blind man’s spiritual sight was progressive. The man’s perception of Jesus moves from “the man called Jesus” (9.11), to “a prophet” (9.17), to one who is worthy of being followed as a disciple (9.27), to one who is “from God” (9.33), to the “Lord” to be worshiped (9.38).
Because Jesus’ act is performed on a Sabbath, the Pharisees are critical and do their best to dismiss the miracle. They proceed to interrogate the man and his perception about Jesus. The man appears to hold his own with great insight and a simple testimony: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v.25). How ironic that with all of their knowledge of the Torah, these arrogant theologians were the ones who could not see and were truly blind. In their pride, they rejected the obvious fact about who Jesus was and refused to believe in him. To the man whose eyes had been opened, however, the truth about Jesus was obvious to anyone who could see. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (vv.32-33). Even though the Pharisees threw the man out of the temple, the Lord of the temple comes and finds the man whom he had healed. There, the man finally sees Jesus for the first time, face-to-face (vv.35-38).
The story closes with Jesus’ teaching regarding the meaning of this sixth sign of John’s gospel. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (v.39). For those who receive God’s light, Jesus gives spiritual vision. To those who refuse it, to those who have a knowing, willful rejection of Jesus, the result is judgment.