‘Who is to blame?’ (Sunday of the Blind Man)

30 May 2022

‘And his disciples asked him: “Teacher, who is to blame, him or his parents, that he was born blind’” (Jn. 9, 2). A short time before, the Lord had cured the paralytic at the pool of the Sheep’s Gate and had told him: ‘Go and sin no more, lest you suffer worse’ (Jn. 5, 14). It’s clear from Christ’s words that this man, who’d been crippled for so many years, was himself to blame for his condition, because of his sins. The case of the man born blind, however, is unclear and this is why Christ’s disciples asked him who was to blame.

The fact that God allows children to suffer for the sins of their parents had already been established in Scripture (1 Kings 11, 12 and 29ff). This may seem unjust only to those who are accustomed to seeing people as separate entities, as if they’re completely cut off from each other. But those who see the human race as an organism, will not consider it either unjust or unnatural.

When one member is injured, all the other members, who haven’t sinned, are affected. It’s much more difficult to explain how and when a person born blind could have sinned than it is to decide the cause of the blindness. As simple people, the apostles accepted the second version, without it entering their minds that there might be a third. It seemed most likely to them that, in this case, the parents of the man had sinned. But they remembered Christ’s words to the paralytic ‘Do not sin again’ and, in some way, linked the one instance with the other. It was as if they were saying to him: ‘It was clear to us then, from your own words, that that man had brought ill health upon himself. But can the same be true in this case? Did this blind man sin himself, or was it his parents who sinned?’.

Had the Lord asked his disciples at that moment: ‘How do you think he could have sinned to be born blind?’, they’d have been at a loss to explain. As a final argument, they may have deployed the common sin of the human race, from the sin of Adam, as the psalmist says: ‘Behold, I was conceived in transgressions and in sins did my mother bear me’ (Ps. 50, 5).

There is a very small possibility that the disciples were referring to the opinion of certain Scribes and Pharisees that, before being born, a person’s soul may have lived in another body and that, in this previous life, they may have lived in such a way as to deserve such repayment or punishment in this life. This was a philosophical hypothesis which simple, faithful, Galilean fisherman would not have known about.

The wise Teacher answered his disciples’ question with: ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned, but that the power of the works of God might be manifested in him’ (Jn. 9, 2). In other words, as Saint John Chrysostom points out, ‘whether he or his parents sinned is not the cause of blindness here’.

There may be other causes for the trials and sicknesses which people suffer on this earth, apart from their sins or those of their parents. In the case of the man born blind, it was so that ‘the power of the works of God might be made manifest in him’.

Blessed are those who manifest the works of God, who use them for their spiritual salvation. Blessed are poor people who, when the mercy of God makes them rich and famous, feel and accept this mercy with gratitude. Blessed are those despairing invalids whom God restores to health and they then glorify him in their hearts, the invisible God, their sole benefactor.

How visible the works of God are to us every day. What joy those people feel whose spiritual eyes are opened by God through his works so that they can look upon him. Woe betide those who, although their hands are full of God’s gifts, turn their back on him and continue along their dark and aimless paths as if they were blind. The works of God are revealed to us every day, because God is with us every day and every hour of our life on earth.

The works of God act towards the salvation of every person individually. But the works of God performed on the man blind from birth have contributed to the salvation of many. These works revealed that God truly did descend to earth and lived among us. These works reveal that there are more people who are spiritually blind than there are those who are blind in the body. They also prove that responsible people, who have some bodily gift from God will use it to enrich their soul with the true faith.

Foreseeing all these fruits of the healing of the man born blind, Christ told his disciples : ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned, but that the power of the works of God might be made manifest in him’. It’s as though he was wanting to say: Set aside the question about who’s to blame, him or his father. It’s not worth troubling about at the moment. If he or his parents sinned, I can forgive them here and now. I can take their sins upon myself and declare them innocent. All of this is of secondary importance, however, compared to what’ll be manifested. The works of God (a whole host, not just one), will be made manifest in this person; what happened will be written in the Gospel so that it will act towards the salvation of all.

Indeed, the man born blind will be rewarded a hundredfold for the years he suffered. And the recompense God gives to those who suffer gladly for his sake is imperishable throughout eternity. Nikiforos, a wise commentator on the Gospels, says about the man blind from birth: ‘The man who was born blind had no idea what sight was, so he would have been less troubled than someone who had had their sight and lost it. He was blind and was later rewarded for this small, almost unimportant sorrow. And he received twofold sight: on the one hand the physical ability to see; and, on the other, spiritual sight, through which he was able to recognize and acknowledge the Creator of the cosmos’.