Who sinned?

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” – John 9:2 (ESV)
Jesus’s disciples, upon seeing a man in his broken condition, want to know who is responsible for what has happened to him. Had the man failed personally? Perhaps his parents made some bad decisions that impacted his life. In either case, the man’s blindness, in their view, is due to some indiscretion or lack of responsibility.
Jesus answers their query by stating, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day: night is coming when no one can work” (vs 4).
There are a few important things we can derive from this exchange:

  1. When coming upon broken people or broken communities, we tend to start by searching for fault. Like the disciples, we often conclude that people simply get what they deserve, or they are merely the products of their environments. Upon seeing a poor child struggling to read we might ask, “Which failing school or absentee parent sinned that this child can’t read?” Or upon witnessing a young person arrested for a crime we can ask, “Which broken home or character flaw in this young man taught him to steal?” Let us be clear that all of us are responsible for our actions. Certain environments can influence us more than others towards certain behaviors and outcomes. However, when we approach broken people and communities as diagnosticians and not as ambassadors for Christ, we frequently do so without compassion or a spirit of humility.

  3. Jesus isn’t nearly as concerned with the diagnostics of why someone is broken as He is with seeing God’s work displayed in this person’s life. The disciples conclude (errantly) that this poor blind man lost his eyesight due to personal sin or the sins of his family. For one, this is highly unlikely. Secondly, it is safe to assume that the disciples come to this conclusion in large part because they wanted to indemnify themselves of any responsibility to intervene. Thirdly, if they were correct, it affords them a measure of pride. They can “see,” because unlike this man or his parents, they haven’t sinned. Jesus bypasses all of their reasons and motives and gets to a deeper point: The works of God can be put on full display in ministering to this man. There is real potential for God to be glorified in this situation. This is His primary concern, and it far outweighs discovering “why” the man became blind.

  5. We all must work the works. Jesus instructs His disciples (which includes you and me) that they must invest in ministering to broken people and broken communities. This “work” can be done in a myriad of ways. In the case of John 9, Jesus miraculously restores the blind man’s sight. For us it could mean providing friendship, food, funding, advocacy, justice, clothing, prayer, proclaiming the Gospel and by a plethora of other means. Christ’s words are really more of an invitation than an exhortation. He is beckoning you to come alongside Him in His ongoing work of restoring, refreshing, rebuilding, and resurrecting broken spaces. This opportunity to co-labor with Jesus (even if it’s in a small way) in His ongoing work of unleashing the Gospel in word and deed is unbelievably amazing.
    Like the blind man, all of us at one time were lost, broken, and without sight. Jesus, at the right time, came to us to deliver us, restore us, and give us sight. The work that He worked (and works) in us provide powerful ways to glorify God. Now it is our turn, by His grace and power, to unleash those same works into a broken a blinded world around us.
    Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

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