Who Sinned?Just as our bodies crave things like food, water, and air; our souls crave things like intimacy, significance and meaning. We have a hunger to understand the purpose of our lives and to make sense of the circumstances of our lives. This is especially true when it comes to evil and suffering.
Today we meet a third anonymous person from the Gospels. This encounter with Jesus is a little bit different from the previous two we have looked at, the woman at the well and the rich young ruler. The man we read about today wasn't the one who came to Jesus to discover the purpose of suffering, rather it was Jesus’ disciples who asked the question. It was in the encounter with this man who was born blind that provided the disciples with the context to ask their question about the meaning of life.
Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. Shortly the before this, at least the day before, people attempted to stone Jesus for what he had taught in the Temple. Now Jesus is back at the Temple and at one of the temple gates there is a beggar who was born blind. This is what happens:
1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.2 "Rabbi," his disciples asked him, "why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?"
3 "It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.* The night is coming, and then no one can work.5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world."
6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man's eyes.7 He told him, "Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam" (Siloam means "sent"). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, "Isn't this the man who used to sit and beg?"9 Some said he was, and others said, "No, he just looks like him!"
But the beggar kept saying, "Yes, I am the same one!"
10 They asked, "Who healed you? What happened?"
11 He told them, "The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.' So I went and washed, and now I can see!" (John 9:1-11; NLT)
I want to make three observations from this story to provide some context to what is happening:
Observation #1: The disciples’ question.
The disciples believed, as most people in their culture, that misfortune was the result of sin. If this man was born blind there were only two explanations. The first explanation they offered in their questions may seem a little odd to us since it would require the man having sinned before he was born. Amazingly this doesn’t seem to be an uncommon belief. It appears that some Rabbis taught, based on Genesis 25:22 (But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the LORD about it. "Why is this happening to me?" she asked.; NLT), that Esau attempted to murder Jacob in the womb (The Chronological Life of Christ: From Glory to Galilee, p. 392; Mark Moore)
The second option the offered that it was the parents’ sin that caused the blindness. This belief had its roots in Exodus 20:5; You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me (NLT). We recognize even today that the physical consequences of sin are passed from parent to child. For example, if the father is unfaithful, children may suffer from syphilis or AIDS. An addiction like alcoholism tends to get passed on to the younger generation as well. So the consequences of sin don’t have to be out of line with what the natural physical consequences for God’s promise to be lived out.
What we see in the disciples’ question is an attempt to make sense of the world. They want to understand suffering. If suffering was the result of sin then it would make sense to them, because they would know God was acting justly with a person. This question reveals their craving for meaning in a world where things don’t always make sense.
Observation #2: The man lived in the context of this question.
Imagine living in this type of culture where the accepted belief was that your suffering was due to sin. This man was constantly looked down on as a sinner. If we read further in the text we see the Pharisees vocalizing this very sentiment (verse 34).
This means you were constantly judged based on outward circumstances that you have no control over. This man’s blindness wasn’t due to sin. Blindness is a common problem even today in Third World countries due to lack of pre-natal care and nutrition.
The reality for this man’s life was that his blindness served as a sign around his neck which read “Sinner." As a result he experienced life on the outside of society. Do you know people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the outside of polite society? Perhaps you are one of those people? What this story also shows us, something that we won’t get into today but is worth mentioning, is that Jesus provides meaning in the midst of suffering. While society might through us out Jesus invites us to join Him (verses 35-39)
Observation #3: The man had faith in Jesus.
With his proximity to the Temple this man, though he had never seen Jesus, had heard about Him and maybe even had heard Him before. So he knew who was talking about him and what Jesus had done. So when Jesus made the mud with his spit and put it on the blind man’s eyes the man had faith enough in Jesus to go to the pool and wash.
This man would never have discovered meaning in life, in suffering, without first trusting Jesus. If the man did not demonstrate his faith then he would have remained a blind beggar at the gates of the Temple for the rest of his life, constantly wondering why God had forsaken him.
Without faith it is impossible to make sense of this world. Only through the lenses of faith in Jesus Christ does this world finally come into focus. So while faith doesn’t always make sense to us, for example how mud made from salvia is going to cure the sight of the blind, we continue to trust in the Person. This is what faith is more than just belief. Faith requires trust and commitment. We need faith if we are going to find meaning in this world.