A Disgusting Question
John 9:1-2 tells us, “As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”
What a disgusting question this is! What a disgusting thing it is to approach life from the viewpoint that a birth defect or a health challenge is because of one’s sin or the sin of one’s parents!
Consider the repercussions of either option:
If this man and his parents and their friends and relatives believed that his blindness from birth was the result of the man’s sin at birth or even before birth, how would they have treated him as a baby? Would they have cooed over him as a “sweet little gift from God” whom they delighted in? Or would they have withdrawn from him as a sinner who brought on his own disability? As he grew and reached that inevitable milestone when young people begin to question their own worth and potential, would he be able to look beyond the oft repeated judgment that he is a sinner, justly cursed by God. Throughout his life, those who looked upon him as having deserved blindness had dismissed him or pitied him as the object of God’s displeasure.
If, on the other hand, it was believed that it was his parents’ sin that caused his blindness, what depth of guilt and shame that would have inflicted on the parents! After listening to a lecture about “how fear inflicts illness and love cures it,” Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynecologist and blogger, wrote to the lecturer in anguish, “Can you explain how fear killed my son who died after 3 minutes of life? After hearing you speak…I was left thinking his death was because I didn’t love him enough.” How cruel to suggest that a newborn’s death or a newborn’s blindness is because of a parent’s sin!
The problem is that the people of Jesus’ day were influenced by an ancient version of the prosperity gospel—the idea that God rewards “good” people with blessings while visiting sickness and misfortune on those who are “bad.” On top of that, the hearts of people in Jesus’ day were weighted down with a suffocating sense of fatalism—being resigned to the despair that whatever is going to happen to us is just going to happen.
The Japanese poet Issa provides the tragic epitome of fatalistic despair. All five of Issa’s children died before he turned 30, then his young wife died as well. Seeking consolation, Issa visited a Zen master, a Buddhist priest, who told him that the world is like a dew drop. The sun rises and the dew evaporates. That is all there is to life. So Issa wrote this poem:
This Dewdrop world—
a dewdrop world it is, and still,
although it is….
There remained in Issa an unsatisfied longing for something more than fatalism.
Fortunately, in John 9, Jesus offered something in sharp contrast to both the prosperity gospel and fatalism: Grace and Opportunity.
Jesus cast aside the prosperity gospel and its idea that misfortune and illness are the result of sin when he announced to his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” He replaced the lie of the prosperity gospel with the good news of God’s grace. He saw this man not as a philosophical talking point but as a man in need of Christ’s touch, a man loved by God.
And Jesus cast aside fatalism when he declared, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” He replaced the despair of fatalism with the hope of new opportunities. I appreciate that Jesus did not say, “He was born blind so that I could do a miracle,” but said, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” A miracle is a singular event that is over in a matter of minutes. Jesus focuses instead on the man’s life, and on the works (plural) that would reveal God to others. It has to do with far more than the proper functioning of a pair of eyes, for the chapter goes on to address the blindness of the Pharisees whose physical eyes worked fine.
Verse 6 tells us that Jesus “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes.”
Other times, Jesus simply spoke and a person was healed. Why does he go through such a strange procedure to heal this man?
I can think of two reasons:
1: Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath by mixing a formula, knowing full well that what he did was looked upon as illegal work for a Sabbath. Jesus was making a point to the man (and to all who had written this man off as disdained by God): “You are worth the effort. You are worth the work—even if it gets me in trouble with the legalists. Those who misunderstood God’s ways will keep on misunderstanding, but you matter to me!”
2: In mixing the mud from his spit and spreading it on his eyes, Jesus was mixing the very essence of his being with this man. When I wanted to discover my ancestry, I spat into a vial and mailed it in for analysis. It told me who I am. Jesus gave his very self to this man. Remember that others had withdrawn from this one whom they considered punished by God. But Jesus made intimate connection with him. He didn’t heal the man from a distance but close up and hands on.