John’s sixth sign was the healing of a blind man which led to confrontation, teaching and insights about spiritual vision (John 9:1-41). Jesus healed many blind people throughout His ministry (see Matthew 9, Matthew 15:30, Luke 7:21, Luke 18:35-42, Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 10:46-62), but this account in John’s gospel shows us much more than the miraculous healing of one man.
The chapter starts with Jesus and His disciples encountering a man who was born blind, which prompts the disciples to ask the question “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) This question reflects our deep-seated belief that something has gone wrong with the world, that it is not how it was originally meant to be, and reflects our understnding that sin and misfortune must be connected. Whilst it is true that personal sin can be connected to suffering, Jesus shows us that the correlation between the two is not so simple. He says that this happened so that the works of God may be displayed, reminding us that God can bring good out of all our suffering.
The healing itself reminds us that Jesus uses the ordinary (mud, spit, saliva) to do the miraculous and points not only to physical healing but how this can lead to testimony. The man repeatedly tells his story of what Jesus has done for him, first of all to the crowds and then to the religious leaders and Pharisees. We are called to do the same: to tell the story of what God has done for us. (Ps 107:2) Personal testimony is hugely important. We may not have all the answers, just as this man could not answer all the questions, but we know what God has done for us!
The Pharisees are frustrated that this miracle happened on the Sabbath and call Jesus a sinner and the man ‘steeped in sin.‘ Yet the man’s spiritual eyes have been opened, for he knows that a mere man could not have done this healing. Jesus seeks him out again and this time asks if he believes in the Son of Man. On learning that Jesus is the Son of Man, the man’s spiritual eyes acknowledge Jesus as Lord and his faith journey can really start.
John shows us the hostility and opposition that this miracle arouses as religious people refuse persistently to believe the evidence of the works Jesus is doing. We do not simply need our physical sight restoring; we need to see and understand who Jesus is and what He does. When this happens, then we can receive eternal life and become a disciple of Jesus.