Summary: This story addresses: 1. The question of suffering. 2. The reality of spiritual blindness. 3. The hope of a new world
A recent article reported, “The blind will be able to see the light with a new bionic eye implant which is said to be available within 2 years. The development of the bionic eye will at last restore blind people’s sight. The prototype high tech implant will be fitted to approx 50 to 75 patients, mow that U.S. researchers have been given the go ahead. The bionic eye device is called The Argus II which is a spectacle mounted camera that sends visual information to electrodes in the eye.” It is amazing what our technology can do. It is certainly a far cry from Jesus spitting in dirt and making mud to put on a blind man’s eyes. But with all our technology, it is still be far less effective than what Jesus did with a little dirt and spit. Even the miracle of technology cannot hold a candle to the miracles of Jesus.
Our story today unfolds as Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem on their way out of the Temple area. They see a man who is blind, in fact, they learn that he has been blind from birth. There are many points which this story addresses, and the first is: The question of suffering. It was the common understanding of the day that when some tragedy or illness occurred, it was God’s way of punishing people for their sin. So we are not surprised to hear Jesus’ disciples say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). From the beginning of time people have been trying to understand why bad things which cause suffering in this world. The great thing about this story is that Jesus immediately clears this up for us by saying that this has nothing to do with some sin in this man’s life or his parent’s. God is not punishing them. God is not angry with them. That is not why bad things happen in the world. God is not punishing individuals or the world at large. In fact, in spite of the things which happen at times, this is a very good and pleasant world. Every day God shows his love and pours out his blessings, in spite of our sin and the fact that we do not deserve his blessings. God’s response to us is affection, not anger. The Bible says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). That’s good news since we would all be blind, deaf and terminal if we got what we deserved.
For some, the presence of difficulties and suffering in the world mean that God is punishing them for something. But for others, it is the sign that God is not able to do anything about the problems they face. Others wonder if he simply does not care. William Frey, retired Episcopal bishop from Colorado, tells the following story: “When I was a younger man, I volunteered to read to a degree student named John who was blind. One day I asked him, “How did you lose your sight?” “A chemical explosion,” John said, “at the age of thirteen.” “How did that make you feel?” I asked. “Life was over. I felt helpless. I hated God,” John responded. “For the first six months I did nothing to improve my lot in life. I would eat all my meals alone in my room. One day my father entered my room and said, ‘John, winter’s coming and the storm windows need to be up — that’s your job. I want those hung by the time I get back this evening or else!’ Then he turned, walked out of the room and slammed the door. I got so angry. I thought Who does he think I am? I’m blind! I was so angry I decided to do it. I felt my way to the garage, found the windows, located the necessary tools, found the ladder, all the while muttering under my breath, ‘I’ll show them. I’ll fall, then they’ll have a blind and paralyzed son!’” John continued, “I got the windows up. I found out later that never at any moment was my father more than four or five feet away from my side.” In the same way, Jesus did not promise to spare us, but he did promise to be with us: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The second thing addressed in this story is: The reality of spiritual blindness. There are two kinds of blindness in the story. One is of the man who was born with a physical defect of blindness. The second is of the religious folk who had a spiritual defect and were spiritually blind. And the story tells us that spiritual blindness is worse than physical blindness. Physical blindness can be healed, but spiritual blindness resists healing. In the story we have this interesting dialogue between the man who had been blind and the Pharisees. The Pharisees begin to question the man. They want to know how he received his sight. They want to know who healed him, and they want to know what the man believes about Jesus. They tell the man who had been healed that Jesus cannot possibly be from God, because he broke the religious law and heals on the Sabbath. They seem to miss the point that the man’s healing is a miracle — a miracle that had never been heard of before. For some reason it doesn’t seem to matter to them. The only thing they can do is to criticize Jesus for doing it on the wrong day. They are not sure they even believe the man was healed, so they question his parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” His parents answer, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself” (John 9:19-21).