As he went along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (verse 1-3)
I love this story. Clearly John did, too, because he devotes a whole chapter to unfolding its details. Even so, there is so much more I would like to know. Like, exactly how old was this man anyway? There is no indication in the account except that he “is of age” (verse 21). So, how many years had he been forced to beg in order to support himself? And precisely where does this encounter happen? I envision it taking place on the steps of the temple, one of the most profitable locations for begging, but we’re simply not told.
Regardless, he’s clearly lived right into his adult years as a person without sight and without any other means of support than begging. In the culture of that day, this would have involved years of struggle and difficulty and hardship. Perhaps he also endured years of being subjected to the argumentative voices of rabbis and disciples debating whose sin was responsible for landing him in this difficulty in the first place.
Think of all those years. Nothing can diminish the trauma he’d undergone. And yet, as this story unfolds and the man experiences sight-filled eyes for the first time, the sense of joy and wonder expressed in his newborn reality is palpable. More so since the gift of physical sight seems to be an open doorway into the even more vital arena of spiritual sightedness. He sees Jesus. We don’t get the details, but I assume his life was never the same thereafter. The immediate thankfulness for physical sight would have been overwhelmed by thankfulness for spiritual new birth.
As a result, I have no doubt this man, though he suffered those years of struggling adversity, would not have exchanged them for anything. His miraculous new beginning was simply so good. I believe he got a taste, in advance, of what Paul says all of us in Christ will experience in the age to come: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
So, when we hear Jesus say, in the man’s hearing, that “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (verse 3), I think we’re not meant to dwell on the years of hardship, but linger rather on the glory. Indeed, those preceding years, drawn out as they were, served to intensify the resulting wonder.
When God delivered Israel from Pharaoh’s clutches, it would have been amazing had it happened simply and quickly. But it didn’t. The struggle was prolonged. Plague after plague after plague were poured out, and still Pharaoh’s grip did not loosen, the predicament looking more and more hopeless. That he finally let Israel go, releasing them only to immediately change his mind as they were helplessly trapped at the Red Sea, simply intensified the miraculous deliverance they ultimately experienced, so much so that the Old Testament refers back to it again and again in praise-filled wonder.
So, too, for this man. The work of God was displayed in his life. Glory emerged from trauma. The wonder reverberated. I think his thankfulness for that sighting never abated.
And the wonder has rolled down the years ever since. We, too, get to see.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are able to work even in the midst of my greatest weaknesses. In my struggles, you continue to make yourself known. I submit my life to you as a canvas on which to display your glory. Help me trust you in the process. Your will be done. Your kingdom come.
Reflect: Look back to a time when you clearly saw God’s work in the struggle of your own life. Remember. Give thanks.
Look forward to the Lord’s answer to a current need. Place it before him again. Believe him for his work to be displayed.
Painting: Jesus Healing the Blind Man, 2008 © Brian Jekel