1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Now we come to the sixth sign and third healing in the gospel of John, the healing of a man blind from birth. This episode follows the “I am the light of the world” discourse (Jn 8:12). This sign gives evidence that Jesus was indeed the light of the world. Those who embrace the light will come to salvation (vv. 6-38) and those who don’t will move into judgment (vv. 39-41).
There was a lapse of time between chapters 8 and 9. The confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders continues in this chapter.
Now as Jesus passed by,
As Jesus walked in the city of Jerusalem, He happened upon a man who was hopelessly born blind. The man’s station in life was to beg. The best place to beg was situated next to the temple. He was a well-known beggar.
He saw a man who was blind from birth.
Blindness was common in the first century. “From birth” indicates the level of the man’s hopelessness and the extent of the miracle. No human methodology could have healed this man. It was clearly a miracle.
Jesus specifically chose a man born blind from birth. Congenital blindness was a more difficult physical problem than a person’s loss of sight later in life. This man had never seen the light of day, had never seen his parents or the world around him.
And His disciples asked Him, saying,
The last reference to the disciples was 7:3 but now they reappeared on the scene.
The disciples saw a theological problem with this man’s state. To them, it was a doctrinal dilemma. They wanted to find fault in the blind man’s situation. In their minds someone must have sinned to cause his condition; otherwise, God would not be just or good.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The disciples saw two alternatives for the reason for blindness. The question here involves why people suffer. The disciples offered two options—either the man sinned or his parents sinned. They wanted to assign blame for this man’s suffering. They did not know how to square this situation with God’s justice.
We must distinguish between God’s punishment and His chastisement.
Some Christians today hold to doctrines similar to the Hindu doctrine of karma; that is, the soul must be punished for past actions. This simplistic correspondence between sin and suffering correlates repentance or lack of it with how God treats us.
There is truth to the idea that God sometimes makes this correlation. However, the issue in this case was not punishment but chastisement. Chastisement is not about making the believer pay a penalty for sin but about development of character.
Curious speculation about others is idle speculation. To make a crime out of a fault is careless gossip. Christianity values the worth of the individual.
There are many reasons for suffering. Most are found in 1 Peter. Here are a few reasons why Christians suffer:
Some suffering is corrective (He 12:6f).
Some suffering is constructive—to form the character of Christ in our lives.
Some suffering is merely that the grace of God might be revealed in the life of the Christian (cf. Job).
Some suffering is due to specific sin (1 Co 11:29-32). This is discipline for the Christian, not punishment.