9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7 (ESV)
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” To this day we think of suffering as punishment for sin. We tend to ask, why me Lord? There is some truth to this idea. If there was no sin in the world, if our parents, Adam and Eve, had not sinned there wouldn’t be any suffering in this world. When Jesus heals the paralytic he does so by forgiving the man his sins, and thereby shows that the physical ailments we have are the symptoms of an underlying condition called sin. On the other hand, we can’t look at a person suffering and say that that is punishment for any particular sin. Even Jesus suffered, and his suffering was not punishment for any sin of his because he had none. Instead Jesus’ suffering was on account of our sin, that his death would atone for our sin, and thus heal us. One can look at the story of Job and see the same thing, suffering befell him for no apparent reason at all but that God wanted to teach Satan a lesson. So it is that suffering can be a tool God uses to draw us closer to him. Or a tool God uses to draw others close to him, a tool through which God brings blessing.
It’s a tough thing to consider. We think of suffering as evil. And often people who are afflicted with debilitating disease see themselves as useless. They don’t see the good that God is still working through them. And yet every day we live is a day of Grace that God has given us where he works his purposes in and through us. I remember one old lady I used to visit who felt absolutely useless, but I enjoyed her company and the stories she had to tell when she felt up to it any way. She brought meaning and purpose to my life. No she couldn’t help others like she used to, but she did help others in that she provided work for those whose job it was to help her. By just being alive she helped put food on the table and clothes on the backs of the families of nurses who attended to her. God used her for good.
God meant to use this blind man for good too. This man was blind, so that Jesus could be shown to be the one who opened the eyes of the blind, and we are all blind. He was the instrument by which Jesus showed that he is the light of the world. He healed the man using mud made from saliva, and rubbing the man’s eyes with it sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash. The man comes back seeing. So he sends us to be baptized and to baptize. The word “nipto” used here is used elsewhere interchangeably with baptism. It is in baptism that the word of God takes hold and root, that the Holy Spirit is given, received and sealed to believers. And with the Holy Spirit comes the gift of faith that allows us to see Jesus as the light of the world who gives meaning and life to the world. This is the means that Jesus has given his apostles the sent ones, to bring sight to the world.