The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent (John 9:1-41) begins,

…Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither… he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. … I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

Many people of the time assumed that God acted directly in the daily life of people and inflicted specific misfortunes on people as punishment for their sins. The presumed link was so strong that blindness, or other disasters, (such as the eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam collapsed (Luke 13:4)) were taken as evidence of transgression. The connection between sin and punishment seemed straightforward. 

Jesus rejected the direct connection, saying, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned. 

At the same time, he confirmed that God is active in the world: God had a purpose for this particular person from the moment of his birth: he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. In particular, God’s work was that Jesus gave the man vision. 

Nevertheless, God’s activity in the world is subtle. One must not pretend to read the mind of God or know his plan. Misfortune is no more proof of sin than one’s fortune is a sign of God’s approval. As his own death would show, even God’s own beloved child, could suffer incredible pain. 


The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’  One wonders if the man was so transformed by his encounter with Jesus that his appearance changed, as the comments hint at. He may have gone from being someone who moved tentatively, hunched up in a protective stance, to someone who stood erect, eagerly looking around at his ‘new’ world.


A lengthy exchange followed, in which many people doubted either the miracle or that the man had been blind. (Here is an edited form of the exchange)

They kept asking, ‘How were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, put it on my eyes and said, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’… Now it was a sabbath when Jesus…opened his eyes…The Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God. He does not observe the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a sinner perform such signs?’ They were divided. So they asked again…‘What do you say…?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

…They called the man’s parents…and asked, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? … His parents answered, ‘We know this is our son and that he was born blind; but we do not know how he now sees, nor who opened his eyes. Ask him..’ His parents…were afraid…for the Jews had agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue….

Jesus had developed a public following for miracles such as the feeding of the five thousand (John 6) but he had also humbled the officials who would have stoned the woman caught in adultery (8). Both incidents had angered the leaders, so they had agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah would be put out of the synagogue…. 


A second time they called the man …and said, ‘… We know this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. I know, that I was blind, now I see.’…They said, ‘How did he open your eyes?’ 

He answered, ‘I have told you…and you would not listen…Do you want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘… We follow Moses…God spoke to Moses, but … we do not know where this man comes from.’ 

The man answered, ‘This is astonishing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. … God does not listen to sinners…If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out. 

Jesus apparently gave the man more than sight; he went from being a humble beggar to a self-confident advocate for Jesus.


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, ‘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.’  He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 

Jesus said, ‘I came…for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees …heard this and said, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Sight became the reference point in this conversation: ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is he, sir? …Jesus said, ‘You have seen him. Then he used the metaphor of sight against the Pharisees, ‘I came… so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees … said, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

This enigmatic way of speaking reveals Jesus’ Semitic mind. Like his conversation with Nicodemus in the gospel two weeks ago about being born again or his works about living water to the Samaritan woman at the well, he wraps the truth in a puzzling metaphor that engages his listener. The thinking proceeds by interpreting every possible meaning and the relationship of each element to every other element in scripture.  


At the heart of this gospel are Jesus’ words, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So it was as the gospel played out.

We generalize this specific, circumstantial statement to become, “Each person was born so that God’s works might be revealed in that person.”  It was true of the Samaritan woman last week, who evangelized Jesus, calling her townsfolk to meet him, saying, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” It would be true of Lazarus whom Jesus would raise from the dead in the last week before his own death. It was true for many others throughout the gospel. Most significantly, it is true for each of us.


  • Identify others whose lives revealed God’s works in the gospel. Think of others whose lives reveal God’s works today. In what way are God’s works revealed in you? 
  • If the man had been blind from birth, the gift of sight would have been only the start of the miracle. He would have no experience of organizing the visual stimuli unless God also gave him the understanding of those things. Try to imagine entering the world of sight without any prior experience of what the specific objects were. (What will it be like when we first see God?)
  • Light plays a huge role in John’s gospel. The prologue says the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness. (John 1:4-5) In the opening lines of this morning’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” One can not see without light. It is the enabling power of sight (as well as oxygen, through photosynthesis, by which we breathe). Yet one does not “see light” directly. It is everywhere and nowhere, without location. So it is with God’s grace: omnipresent but undefinable in its specifics, acting on us in many ways. Pause for a few moments and consider the ways God’s grace kisses you with light and breath each day.