“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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”
(John 9:1-3, NRSVue)
When things go wrong, the neurological wiring in our brain compels us to find a cause for the problem. Identifying the cause is necessary, as it allows us to assess if an active threat requires further action to keep us safe. In addition to this primitive biological response, we have a fundamental psychological need for predictability and control in our environment. Only once the immediate threat has passed can we reason through what happened. Healthy individuals determine their role in what went wrong, taking responsibility, while unhealthy people may seek to avoid responsibility altogether, shifting blame to others or their circumstances. Blaming someone or something can give us a false sense of relief over our role in the outcome and limit our growth.
Taking responsibility is integral in developing to our fullest potential; however, what do we do when we can’t clearly identify a reason or cause for our unwanted circumstances? This question is at the heart of what Jesus sought to teach his disciples in the passage above. As they walked with Jesus, they encountered a blind man, whom John, the gospel writer, said was blind at birth. Conventional wisdom in the 1st century said his blindness resulted from sinful behavior. The dilemma, in this case, was whose sin caused it? Who was responsible—a baby exposed to an opportunity to sin before it was born or his parents? On whom could the disciples place their moral outrage?
Jesus wasn’t interested in playing the “blame game.” He told the disciples that neither this man nor his parents were to blame. He didn’t say this because neither had sinned, for indeed, they had. He said this because sin did not cause his blindness—something else did. What I wish Jesus had done at this point was given a thorough explanation of the causes of blindness because then we might have had a chance to cure blindness, but he didn’t. I wish he would also have clarified whether God caused this man’s blindness because many people interpret Jesus’ words to mean just that. Although he answered his disciples’ question, he left many other questions unanswered.
In John 9, Jesus heals the man who was blind, and the Pharisees open an investigation. They asked the man to describe everything Jesus did to him. They immediately denied the possibility that Jesus came from God because he healed someone on the Sabbath, a significant breach of religious law. Then they questioned the formerly blind man’s parents, implying that maybe the man wasn’t really blind, so no healing took place. Out of fear, they said they knew nothing about what happened; however, they affirmed that the man was born blind. John picks up with the story,
“So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see.’” (John 9:24-25, NRSVue)
We can learn a lot from the man’s response to the Pharisees. He acknowledges what he does not know and speaks only of his experience. He says he doesn’t know if Jesus is a sinner, as the Pharisees suggest; however, he was blind before he met Jesus, and now he can see. That is all he needs to know.
In the life of faith, we can know some things, but there are other things we may never know. We get in trouble when we talk authoritatively about things we don’t understand, as the disciples did with their assumption about the cause of blindness. However, if we’ve experienced the power of God’s presence in our lives, we can boldly share with others what God has done for us. We may not be able to explain the “why” or the “how,” but we can talk about the difference Jesus makes in our lives. While other people played the “blame game,” the formerly blind man worshiped God in all his mysterious glory. God is so much more than we can understand, and that is Jesus’ point. Trust God even when we can’t explain his ways. That is the ultimate faith. — Senior Pastor Dale Cohen