I love the humanity and humour of chapter 9.
There’s a bit of a mystery in the first verses. The disciples ask Jesus whether the blind man’s condition is a punishment for his own (presumably future) sin or that of his parents. It’s a question that still comes up in variations. Someone asked me after a service yesterday what she must have done to cause the illness of members of her family. This was one of the stories I came to in trying to help her to see that the world doesn’t always have a neat justice to it. Sometimes, in a fallen world, stuff does just happen. I don’t think that Jesus is justifying the man’s blindness when he says ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’ (9:3) I certainly hope not. A good outcome does not make suffering right.
I think the point is that Jesus shortcuts the ethical and philosophical discussion by coming to the here and now. He’s not interested so much in why the man is blind as in the fact that God can and will do something about it. With a blind man standing before him, restoring his sight matters. Sorting guilt, cause and effect into neat boxes that keep the world looking like it makes sense does not matter.
Sadly, the world does not always make sense. The death of the man who is love, hanging on a cross, will not make moral or philosophical sense. But that death will be the way that sense begins to come back into the world, as love, God, deals with the world as it is rather than as it should be.
Once that bit’s out of the way, we get the comedy sketch of the man, his sight restored, getting more and more annoyed with those who keep asking him what happened. They keep asking him because they don’t want to hear the only answer he can give. (9:27) But he can only speak of his experience – and that experience is still developing, as he can now see Jesus and speak with him. His experience isn’t one of theological debate. It’s one of mud, spit and opened eyes.
Once again, I wonder whether John is calling us to look at whether we as a church are letting abstract questions of theology become an excuse not to meet the world as it is, get involved in a hands-on way and bring some healing.
There’s a lot of mess around us. A lot of people need our help. We should probably leave working out whose fault the mess is until after we’ve done something to help sort it out.