John 9

This is at once one of my favorite stories and one of the most troublesome to me. A Caedmon’s Call song captures the essence of what I love about it:

Spit in the clay, when washed away
Gave the blind man sight
New eyes couldn’t comprehend the sun
That by light ended the night
Shackled in blindness since his birth
Whose sin, was it him, what’s it all worth?

Now with eyes wide open
They interrogate him
Saying “Who is he?”
“Do you believe what that man is saying?”
“Who do you say is he?”

“All I know
Is I was blind,” he said,
“And now I see.”
“All I know is he healed me.”

I sit here today
So I say that I believe in Him
Yet I cannot fathom the wind-like way
That’s made me new again
Shackled in darkness since my birth
Whose sin, was it me, what’s it all worth

Now new from the womb
They interrogate me
Saying “Who is he?”
“Do you believe what that book is saying?”
“How gullible can you be?”

Darwin may tend to disagree
I don’t know
Marx is writing a drug I need
Still I don’t know
Freud analyzes in my head
Nietzsche’s saying God is dead
But I’m saying

“All I know
Is I was blind,” I say,
“And now I see.”
“All I know is he healed me.”

I’m not a big fan of fideism, but there is such convincing beauty in the man’s statement. In fairness, it follows a revelatory experience and is followed by a simple but vital exchange:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, Do you believe in the Son of Man? He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he” (vv. 35–37).

The man’s response: He said, “Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him” (v. 38).


The disturbing part, for me, is what’s at stake theologically for the story’s characters: cosmology. The opening question is, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? A number of statements follow that indicate a complex of beliefs about the way the world works. Theirs seems to be a mechanistic, retributive system of cause and effect that gives unquestionable answers and no comfort (from my perspective). The problem is not that Jesus leaves this view intact. He does not. The problem is that his response opens a whole other can. There is clear symmetry between question and response when translated literally:

“Who sinned—this one or his parents—that he should be born blind?”

“Neither this one sinned nor his parents but rather that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

A little unsure about the flow of that response? Good. Most translations suggest or add a more complete thought, like, “he was born blind so that Gods works might be revealed in him” (NRSV). The coherence of that thought does not exist in the original, but I’ll not deny is implies that idea. I’ll simply leave it to the reader to see that Jesus never makes so direct a “because.” In fact, no one every asked the “why” that Jesus should need give the “because.” He offers a reorienting “but rather” that gives us all pause (or heartburn). Is he saying that God caused this man a life of suffering so that he could be healed in this moment and teach the Pharisees a lesson they refused to learn anyway? All I can say is, I hope not. But if I suspend the obsession with the “why” for a moment, it gives me the chance to see that Jesus may simply be offering an alternative view of the world. He may be suggesting that this man, like all of us born into often inexplicable suffering and anguish, was born into a world designed to give us the opportunity to reveal the works of God in a way that a different world would not. Yeah, I’m probably reading a bit in there.

Anyway, this whole scenario is an opportunity to make another important claim (and an official “I am” saying): “I am the light of the world” (9:5). Light: that by which we see, without which we are all blind.

How does it all work? I don’t know, but I was blind, and now I see.

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