A large component of Jesus’ earthly ministry was the act of healing. The gospels contain many stories in which Jesus brings wholeness or restoration to someone in need.
As he traveled throughout Israel and surrounding areas, proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, Jesus was constantly bombarded by people wishing to experience some type of physical or spiritual liberation.
Sometimes Jesus heals a person via simple command, and at other times, healing occurs through touch.
John 9 is the longest of these healing accounts. It is also one of the more complex occurrences of healing. In this story, Jesus and the disciples come across a man born blind.
Jesus spits on the ground and commands him to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7). The man is healed and goes forward to testify about Jesus.
While we can never know the depths of God’s wisdom when it comes to healing, John 9 reveals some important insights as to how Jesus approached his healing ministry. In this story, we see three distinct reasons why Jesus healed the man born blind.
1. To Correct the Disciples
Many faithful people wrestle with the presence of suffering and evil in the world. In response, some have attempted to rationalize suffering by suggesting that all misfortune must have a cause.
The most popular and simplest of explanations posits that suffering is a result of unconfessed sin in someone’s life.
The equation is short and simple: blessing equals prosperity, and sin equals suffering. In other words, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. This is exactly what the disciples believed in John 9.
The disciples believe that sinfulness is the underlying cause of the man’s blindness. Thus, they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2). Notice that this question was not about if sin played a part in the man’s blindness, but whose sin was the cause.
Were the sins of the parents visited upon the unwitting child? Was he an innocent victim of God’s retribution? Or did God know that the man was sinful in the womb and thereby inflict him with the punishment of blindness?
The belief that sins equal suffering was common in the ancient world. This thought was particularly prominent if someone was born with a physical impairment. Being born blind, deaf, or with any other condition testified to God’s judgment upon the individual.
Even the Pharisees reinforce this notion. During their interrogation of his healing, they rebuke the man by calling him “seeped in sin from birth” (John 9:34). The Pharisees ultimately reject the man and dismiss his experience because they believe him to be accursed by God.
Sadly, many people today echo this notion. For them, God blesses the healthy, wealthy, and whole. Disability or disease, therefore, testifies to God’s judgment upon an individual or a family. Jesus, however, denies any cause and effect between sinfulness and disability or disease.
To the disciples’ question, Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but that the work of God might be revealed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus rejects any notion that physical malady or sickness amounts to divine punishment. God does not inflict His children with illness or infirmity.
Jesus heals the blind man to correct the disciples’ misunderstanding. Jesus affirms that the man born blind is created in the image of God. Importantly, when Jesus says that the man is born “that the works of God might be revealed in him,” Jesus mentions his birth, not his blindness.
In other words, the man is born so that God might be revealed through him. This truth is applicable to us all.
All of us, blind or sighted, deaf or hearing, able-bodied or disabled, are born so that the works of God may be revealed in us. All of us are born to be people who bear witness to Christ’s love and grace.
2. To Prove His Identity
When we wrestle with the healing ministry of Jesus, we often attempt to rationalize why someone is healed instead of another. We may even suggest that, somehow, the person deserved to be healed.
Yet when we look in the gospels, we see a different reality. Jesus doesn’t heal the deserving or the righteous. In fact, Jesus often goes out of his way to interact with those who would be considered cast off or rejected. Why does Jesus do this?
Jesus healed others to highlight his own identity and mission in the world. This is what occurs in John 9. While the ancient world had a widespread acceptance of various forms of healing, the healing of blindness was an act that only the Messiah could perform.
The prophet Isaiah is explicit about this fact. In a passage describing the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah states how “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5). In fact, the man born blind testifies to this as well.
During his interrogation, he states, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eye of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:32-33). Healing blindness simply didn’t occur outside the coming of the Messiah.
The healing of the blind man, therefore, is a visual sign that the Messiah was in their midst. In fact, Jesus testifies to this throughout his earthly ministry.
For example, when the disciples of John ask bluntly whether he is the Messiah, Jesus responds, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard, the blind receive sight (Luke 7:22). Opening the eyes of the blind pointed to the presence of the Messiah amongst them.
This is why John gives an entire chapter to this event. In healing the man born blind, Jesus declares his Messianic identity.
3. To Reveal Our Blindness
The healing of the blind man challenges the Pharisees’ refusal to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. For example, the Pharisees reject the man’s healing because it was done on the Sabbath (John 9:16).
In their judgment, this was “proof” that Jesus was not the Messiah. Jesus didn’t fit into their understanding of who the Messiah should be and what he should do.
This preoccupation with their own understanding ultimately blinded the Pharisees to the very Kingdom of God that was being displayed before them.
Similarly, the man’s healing is a challenge and a lesson to us. As it was the faithful of the day who rejected the healing in the first place, we are challenged to examine our own propensity to judge others by outward appearances and surface criteria.
Jesus says, “For judgement I have come into the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will come blind” (John 9:39). Our pre-judgments blind us to God’s activity in the world.
As followers of Jesus, we are to view others through the lens of God’s mercy and grace and not presuppose that someone is cut off from God simply because they do not fit the worldly standard of the perfect or the prestigious.
Do we ever reject Jesus simply because he does what we would not expect? Do we believe that Jesus must follow our rules and understandings? Do we believe that Jesus judges others in the same way we do?
These are questions John 9 prompts us to ask ourselves. It is only as we recognize our own blindness that we can turn to Jesus as the light of our lives and of the world (John 9:5).
For further reading:
What Is the Significance of Jesus Healing the Blind Man?
What Does the Bible Say about Healing?
Why Did Jesus Want His Miracles to Stay Secret?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sonia Dhankhar
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.