9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
The lectionary gospel text for the fourth Sunday of Lent is long and dense. There are many layers that could capture our attention but I want to focus on one thread running through the entire passage: sin.
The story begins with Jesus and the disciples walking past a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus: who sinned—the parents or the man? They assumed that sin was the cause, or source, of his disability. This was a common belief then and is one now.
Jesus responded that sin didn’t cause the blindness but instead the blindness was an opportunity to reveal God’s glory by healing the man. Then Jesus made a few mud pies, placed them on the man’s eyes and told him to wash at the pool of Siloam. The man’s eyes are healed and he could see. He returned to his neighborhood and new set of problems began.
His neighbors couldn’t believe this was the same man—how could this be? He told them what happened and the neighbors took him to the synagogue leaders, the Pharisees. They begin interrogating him about the healing but they focused instead on the fact that Jesus broke the rabbinical Sabbath laws. The Pharisees declared: “This man [Jesus] is not from God because he didn’t observe the Sabbath.” Others chimed in: “Yea, so Jesus must be a sinner … but how can a sinner perform miracles?”
As the religious authorities continue interrogating the formerly blind man they continually circled back to sin—the man’s sinfulness, Jesus’s sinfulness, offense that someone accused them of sinning, etc.
But here’s the thing: in the gospel of John, sin is not based on behavior, it is focused on one’s relationship with God. According to The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume IX):
In the Fourth Gospel, ‘sin’ is not a moral category about behavior, but is a theological category about one’s response to the revelation of God in Jesus. (p.653)
By the time we get to verses 24-25, the formerly blind man’s insistence on what he knows from experience confronts the religious authorities with their own contradictory understanding of sin. Their focus on the violation of the Sabbath laws keeps them from seeing the glorious wonder of the healing.
Finally, in v. 41, Jesus redefines the meaning and understanding of sin. While the Pharisees have physical sight they are unable to see God’s loving face revealed to them through Jesus. For John, sin isn’t about what we do but almost exclusively about one’s relationship with Jesus, and whether we believe that God was revealed in Jesus.
Sin is witnessing the healing love of God, but not recognizing it as such. Sin is sitting in the presence of a beautiful sunrise, but staring at your phone. Sin is deciding what the Bible says, instead of being open to hearing God’s active voice though the Bible. Sin did not cause the blind man’s blindness, but blindness to God causes sin.
The story of the healing of the blind man and the ensuing discussion about sin invites me to reconsider how I view others and my own behavior—am I quick to judge someone as sinful when only God can do that? And, will I pray for eyes that see and ears to hear God’s presence in me and around me? I hope so.