“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
Effect and Cause
There are those who make their living by making logical connections between EFFECT and CAUSE. Doctors do it all the time. They see the EFFECT and they deduce a probable CAUSE and prescribe the treatment. Electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics all do the same thing. They see the PROBLEM and then determine the CAUSE and set out to fix it.
We all do the same thing. It’s just that what they do as an OCCUPATION, we do as a PREOCCUPATION.
His car ran off the road at 3:00am. He must have been drinking again.
He didn’t come home until 6:00am. He must be having an affair.
She got called down to the principal’s office. She must be in trouble.
Knowing the EFFECT and guessing at the CAUSE can make for some interesting conversation and more than a little gossip to boot. In a court of law, juries hear the evidence, weigh it and make a judgment. How often do we make the judgment without ever hearing the evidence at all.
Even the people of God do it.
Joseph was told that his fiancée was pregnant. He concluded that the cause must be that Mary has been unfaithful and must be ‘put away.’ Wrong conclusion.
The Jews found Jesus’ tomb empty. They concluded that the cause must be that the disciples stole the body. Wrong conclusion.
The disciples of Jesus saw the man who was blind from birth. They concluded that he must be a sinner, or at least his parents were. After all, the sins of the father are punished to the 3rd and 4th generations. Maybe this one started at the 2nd. Another wrong conclusion.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus is not saying that this man and his parents were SINLESS. We’re all born in sin. But to attempt to make a connection between this particular man’s blindness and the particular man’s sin or that of his parent’s – is simply to go down the wrong road and miss the amazing thing God is about to do in and through this blind man. The “works of God” are about to be “displayed in him.”
The work of God on display.
Which of us would have ever put 2 and 2 together like this? “Here is a man who is blind from birth – whom Jesus has seen. Conclusion, the works of God are about to be displayed in him”? Who puts suffering and illness and even death together like that – besides Jesus?
Which of US would have ever put 2 and 2 together like this when Jesus’ flesh was being shredded with the Roman whip and nailed to the cross? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that He is so completely scorned by God and man.”? “NO, BUT THE WORK OF GOD IS ON DISPLAY BEFORE YOUR EYES?” IN THE GREATEST SUFFERING OF MAN, THE GREATEST WORK OF GOD IS ON DISPLAY BEFORE YOUR EYES.
But no one saw it, because WE’RE ALL BLIND FROM BIRTH. Everyone saw the EFFECT, and everyone swore they knew the CAUSE. “He must have committed one heck of a crime.” “He must be a fraud and a fool.”
No one was able to trace the cause of Jesus’ bloody death to:
the victory over the devil
the justification of mankind,
the reconciliation of the world to the One who Created it,
the perfectly complete atonement for the sin of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th and to every generation.
By their question, the disciples show what immature theologians they still are. And we are no better. When tragedy strikes, when we or loved ones suffer, how often do we insist on connecting a CAUSE to the EFFECT?
‘Why has God let this happen to us, to me, to him, to her? We must have done something wrong.’
‘What have we done to deserve this?’
All just variations on the same tune we’ve already heard – “Who sinned, that this man was born blind.”
How many of us who regard ourselves as HIS DISCIPLES, have focused our thoughts and attention on the cause of this virus and who’s to blame and how we are all being forced to pay a price whether we are infected or not? And how many of us have SET ALL OF THAT ASIDE in the eager expectation of ‘what works of God will be displayed through this?’
Because the truth is, now that God has GLORIFIED HIS SON by DISPLAYING Him on the cross, we can no longer make the connections between EFFECT and CAUSE that we would like to. We cannot draw conclusions from the raw data of catastrophe and plague and human suffering – whether it be others or our own, EXCEPT TO SAY THAT THERE IS NO SUFFERING SO GREAT THAT THE WORK OF GOD CANNOT BE DISPLAYED IN IT.
In fact, we can go even further than this – and I think we should. It is not just that there is no suffering, no misfortune in life so great that THE WORK OF GOD cannot be displayed in it, but that EVERY MISFORTUNE and tragedy and disability and handicap and pandemic, WHATEVER IT MAY BE, is the Lord’s point of entry to DISPLAY THE WORKS OF GOD.
In fact, this is the way of God. It is the way of the cross. He brings light out of darkness, sight out of blindness, and even life out of death.
So, now that we know what we’re looking for in this account, let’s hear it again. “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.” Whenever John reports that Jesus ‘SEES’ someone, it’s time to buckle up. The WORKS OF GOD are about to be DISPLAYED before our eyes.
“He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which means sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
So, what’s with the spit and the mud and the washing? What’s going on here? Let’s see… you’ve got physical, earthly elements, and the word and promise of God attached to those elements, which sounds a lot like a SACRAMENT if you ask me. Let’s plug it into the Small Catechism and see how it fits.
“How do mud and saliva do such great things?”
“Certainly not the mud or the saliva, but the Word of God in and with the mud and saliva does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the mud and saliva. For apart from the word of God, the mud is just plain mud and the saliva is just plain spit.”
By faith, “the man went and washed.” That’s how we know HE BELIEVED. He didn’t respond as did Naaman the leper did when Elisha told him to “go wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:8).
The blind man didn’t say, ‘what’d you do that for?’ “THE MAN WENT AND WASHED.” FAITH IS ON DISPLAY IN THIS MAN’S WORKS. And isn’t that an even GREAT WORK OF GOD on display than the fact that “he came back seeing.”
But his neighbors cannot connect EFFECT and CAUSE. “Maybe he wasn’t really blind.” “Maybe it’s not the same guy.” WRONG CONCLUSION!
To his credit, the man simply explains what Jesus did. “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash… So I went and washed and received my sight.’”
His neighbors are not convinced. But they suspect that this is a ‘GOD THING,’ so they bring him to the theologians. Maybe THEY can put 2 and 2 together.
The Pharisees response is VERY STRANGE. The disciples wanted to know the cause for this man’s BLINDNESS. The Pharisees want to know the cause for this man’s SIGHT. They clearly cannot rejoice with this man and the miracle that has happened because they closed their minds to Jesus and refuse to SEE THE WORKS OF GOD ON DISPLAY IN HIM.
I think that we could all stand to learn something from these Pharisees. They were not ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics.’ They believed in God and they knew the Bible better than we do. They were deeply religious people and outstanding members of the church. But they were blind to the WORKS OF GOD on display in Jesus – and therefore the missed the ENTIRE POINT of what their ENTIRE RELIGION was really about.
The same can happen to us. Just because our eyes were opened in our baptism doesn’t mean that we cannot be blinded again by any number of things that blind us to the ENTIRE POINT of what the Christian religion and the entire Bible is all about – which is, Christ and Him crucified for the sin of the world – and risen from the dead so that the whole world might see the WORKS OF GOD DISPLAYED IN HIM.
We miss the entire point of the Christian faith if we believe that it is all about Christ our Lord delivering us from Covid – 19 or any other sickness – ALIVE. No, the entire point of the Christian faith is that Christ our Lord can and will deliver us through THE MOST DEADLY DISEASE THAT EVERYONE IS INFECTED WITH – EVEN THOUGH WE DIE – TO LIVE FOREVER.
It becomes obvious by the end of this account, that the restoration of sight to the man’s eyes was not the ultimate WORK OF GOD that Jesus wants to DISPLAY in this man. After all the commotion dies down, Jesus finds the man. He asks the man the big question that all men and women will one day have to give an answer to. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the man replies, “who is He Sir, that I may believe in Him?”
And suddenly we realize this man has still never laid eyes on the One that brought light into his dark life. “And who is he sir, that I may believe in him?”
Oh how much we should learn from this fellow. How often do we take the blessings of God that are bestowed on us and never even think of connecting EFFECT and CAUSE and thanking the One from whom they have come to us?
Here is a man who is dying to be able to put CAUSE to EFFECT. The EFFECTS are not enough for him. There’s a big hole in his life that can only be filled with the name of the one who CAUSED this EFFECT in him.
There is only one name that will fill that huge hole in our lives. It is the name that is above every name – the name of Jesus Christ. Listen to how remarkable Jesus’ reply to this man is on many levels. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have SEEN him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’”
And the man replied, “Lord, I believe,” AND HE WORSHIPPED HIM.” And the WORK OF GOD IS DISPLAYED in this man. Faith in Christ is GOD’S WORK IN US. It is ‘amazing grace.’ We were blind but now we see.
Jesus gave this man the GIFT OF SIGHT and then He gave him the GIFT OF FAITH. This account began with a man whom JESUS SAW. And it ends with the same man SEEING JESUS.
This is the work of God that same Lord Jesus has done in you when He SAW YOU in your blindness and told you to go wash in the pool of water called Baptism. He opens your eyes so that you might see the works of God on display – none greater than His cross and His empty tomb and that baptismal pool in which you were washed and your eyes were opened and you said, “Lord, I believe. And you worship Him.”