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A Man Born Blind Receives Sight


As 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.”

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1. Jesus saw a man blind. In this chapter, the Evangelist describes the restoration of sight to the blind man, at the same time mingling doctrine, to point out the fruit of the miracle. From his birth. This circumstance gives an additional display of the power of Christ; for blindness, which he had brought from his mother’s womb, and which he had endured till he arrived at the age of a man, could not be cured by human remedies. This gave occasion to the disciples to propose a question, Of whose sin was this the punishment?

2. Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents? In the first place, as Scripture testifies that all the sufferings to which the human race is liable proceed from sin, whenever we see any person wretched, we cannot prevent the thought from immediately presenting itself to our minds, that the distresses which fall heavily upon him are punishments inflicted by the hand of God. But here we commonly err in three ways.

First, while every man is ready to censure others with extreme bitterness, there are few who apply to themselves, as they ought to do, the same severity. If my brother meets with adversity, I instantly acknowledge the judgment of God; but if God chastises me with a heavier stroke, I wink at my sins. But in considering punishments, every man ought to begin with himself, and to spare himself as little as any other person. Wherefore, if we wish to be candid judges in this matter, let us learn to be quick in discerning our own evils rather than those of others.

The second error lies in excessive severity; for no sooner is any man touched by the hand of God, than we conclude that this shows deadly hatred, and we turn small offenses into crimes, and almost despair of his salvation. On the contrary, by extenuating our sins, we scarcely think that we have committed very small offenses, when we have committed a very aggravated crime.

Thirdly, we do wrong in this respect, that we pronounce condemnation on all, without exception, whom God visits with the cross or with tribulation. 253253     “Par croix ou tribulation.” What we have lately said is undoubtedly true, that all our distresses arise from sin; but God afflicts his own people for various reasons. For as there are some men whose crimes he does not punish in this world, but whose punishment he delays till the future life, that he may inflict on them more dreadful torments; so he often treats his believing people with greater severity, not because they have sinned more grievously, but that he may mortify the sins of the flesh for the future. Sometimes, too, he does not look at their sins, but only tries their obedience, or trains them to patience; as we see that holy Job — a righteous man, and one that feareth God, 254254     “Homme juste, et craignaut Dieu.” is miserable beyond all other men; and yet it is not on account of his sins that he is sore distressed, but the design of God was different, which was, that his piety might be more fully ascertained even in adversity. They are false interpreters, therefore, who say that all afflictions, without any distinction, are sent on account of sins; as if the measure of punishments were equal, or as if God looked to nothing else in punishing men than to what every man deserves.

Wherefore, there are two things here that ought to be observed: that

judgment begins, for the most part, at the house of God,
(1 Peter 4:17;)

and, consequently, that while he passes by the wicked, he punishes his own people with severity when they have offended, and that, in correcting the sinful actions of the Church, his stripes are far more severe. Next, we ought to observe that there are various reasons why he afflicts men; for he gave Peter and Paul, not less than the most wicked robbers, into the hands of the executioner. Hence we infer, that we cannot always put our finger on the causes of the punishments which men endure.

When the disciples, following the common opinion, put the question, what kind of sin it was that the God of heaven punished, as soon as this man was born, they do not speak so absurdly as when they ask if he sinned before he was born. And yet this question, absurd as it is, was drawn from a common opinion which at that time prevailed; for it is very evident from other passages of Scripture, that they believed the transmigration (μετεμψύχωσις) of which Pythagoras dreamed, or that souls passed from one body into another. 255255     “Que les ames passoyent d’un corps eu l’autre.” Hence we see that the curiosity of men is an exceedingly deep labyrinth, especially when presumption is added to it. They saw that some were born lame, some squint-eyed, some entirely blind, and some with a deformed body; but instead of adoring, as they ought to have done, the hidden judgments of God, they wished to have a manifest reason in his works. Thus through their rashness they fell into those childish fooleries, so as to think that a soul, when it has completed one life, passes into a new body, and there endures the punishment due on account of the life which is already past. Nor are the Jews in the present day ashamed to proclaim this foolish dream in their synagogues, as if it were a revelation from heaven.

We are taught by this example, that we ought to be exceedingly careful not to push our inquiries into the judgments of God beyond the measure of sobriety, but the wanderings and errors of our understanding hurry and plunge us into dreadful gulfs. It was truly monstrous, that so gross an error should have found a place among the elect people of God, in the midst of which the light of heavenly wisdom had been kindled by the Law and the Prophets. But if God punished so severely their presumption, there is nothing better for us, in considering the works of God, than such modesty that, when the reason of them is concealed, our minds shall break out into admiration, and our tongues shall immediately exclaim, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, and thy judgments are right though they cannot be comprehended.”

It is not without reason that the disciples put the question, Did his parents sin? For though the innocent son is not punished for his father’s fault, but

the soul which hath sinned shall itself die,
(Ezekiel 18:20,)

yet it is not an empty threatening, that the Lord throws the crimes of the parents into the bosom of the children, and

revenges them to the third and fourth generation,
(Exodus 20:5.)

Thus it frequently happens that the anger of God rests on one house for many generations; and, as he blesses the children of believers for the sake of their fathers, so he also rejects a wicked offspring, destining the children, by a just punishment, to the same ruin with their fathers. Nor can any man complain, on this account, that he is unjustly punished on account of the sin of another man; for, where the grace of the Spirit is wanting, from bad crows — as the proverb says 256256     “Comme dit le proverbe.” — there must be produced bad eggs. This gave reason to the apostles to doubt if the Lord punished, in the son, some crime of his parents.

3. Neither did this man sin, nor his parents. Christ does not absolutely say that the blind man, and his parents, were free from all blame; but he declares that we ought not to seek the cause of the blindness in sin. And this is what I have already said, that God has sometimes another object in view than to punish the sins of men, when he sends afflictions to them. Consequently, when the causes of afflictions are concealed, we ought to restrain curiosity, that we may neither dishonor God nor be malicious towards our brethren. Wherefore, Christ assigns another reason. This man, he says, was born blind, —

That the works of God might be manifested in him. He does not, say a single work, but uses the plural number, works; for, so long as he was blind, there was exhibited in him a proof of the severity of God, from which others might learn to fear and to humble themselves. It was afterwards followed by the benefit of his cure and deliverance, 257257     “De sa guairison et delivrance.” in which the astonishing goodness of God was strikingly displayed. So then Christ intended, by these words, to excite in his disciples the expectation of a miracle; but at the same time reminds them in a general manner, that this must be abundantly exhibited on the theater of the world, as the true and lawful cause, when God glorifies his name. Nor have men any right to complain of God, when he makes them the instruments of his glory in both ways, whether he shows himself to be merciful or severe.

4. I must work the works of him who hath sent me. He now testifies that he has been sent for the purpose of manifesting the kindness of God in giving sight to the blind man. He borrows also a comparison from the ordinary custom of life; for, when the sun is risen, man rises to labor, but the night is allotted to repose, as it is said,

The sun riseth; man goeth forth to his work, and to his labor, till the evening
(Psalm 104:22, 23.)

He therefore employs the word Day to denote the time which the Father had fixed, during which he must finish the work assigned him; in the same manner as every man who has been called to some public office ought to be employed in what may be called his daily task, to perform what the nature of his office demands. Hence too we ought to deduce a universal rule, that to every man the course of his life may be called his day Wherefore, as the short duration of the light ought to excite laborers to industry and toil, that the darkness of the night may not come on them by surprise, ere their exertions are well begun, so, when we see that a short period of life is allotted to us, we ought to be ashamed of languishing in idleness. In short, as soon as God enlightens us by calling us, we ought to make no delay, that the opportunity may not be lost.

5. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. I consider this to have been added, by way of anticipation; for it might have been thought strange that Christ should speak of his time of working as limited, as if there were danger that the night should come upon him by surprise, as it does on other men. Thus, while he makes a distinction between himself and others, still he says that his time of working is limited. For he compares himself to the sun which, though it illuminates the whole earth by its brightness, yet, when it sets, takes away the day along with it. In this manner he states that his death will resemble the setting of the sun; not that his death extinguishes or obscures his light, but that it withdraws the view of it from the world. At the same time, he shows that, when he was manifested in flesh, that was truly the time of the day-light of the world. For though God gave light in all ages, yet Christ, by his coming, diffused a new and unwonted splendor. Hence he infers that this was an exceedingly fit and proper time, and that it might be said to be a very bright day, for illustrating the glory of God, when God intended to make a more striking exhibition of himself in his wonderful works.

But here arises another question. After the death of Christ, the power of God shone more illustriously, both in the fruit of the doctrine and in miracles; and Paul applies this strictly to the time of his own preaching, that

God, who from the beginning of the world commanded the light to shine out of darkness, at that time shone in the face of Christ by the Gospel,
(2 Corinthians 4:6.)

And does Christ now give less light to the world than when he was in the presence of men, and conversed with them? I reply, when Christ had finished the course of his office, he labored not less powerfully by his ministers than he had labored by himself, while he lived in the world. This I acknowledge to be true; but, first, it is not inconsistent with what he had said, that he was bound to perform, in his own person, what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and at the time when he was manifested in the flesh for that purpose. Secondly, it is not inconsistent with what he said, that his bodily presence was the true and remarkable day of the world, the lustre of which was diffused over all ages. For whence did the holy fathers in ancient times, or whence do we now, desire light and day, but because the manifestation of Christ always darted its rays to a great distance, so as to form one continued day? Whence it follows, that all who have not Christ for their guide grope in the dark like the blind, and wander about in confusion and disorder. Yet we must hold by this meaning of the words, that, as the sun discovers to our view the lovely spectacle of earth and heaven, and the whole arrangement of nature, so God has visibly displayed the chief glory of his works in his Son.

6. He spat on the ground. The intention of Christ was, to restore sight to the blind man, but he commences the operation in a way which appears to be highly absurd; for, by anointing his eyes with clay, he in some respects doubles the blindness Who would not have thought either that he was mocking the wretched man, or that he was practising senseless and absurd fooleries? But in this way he intended to try the faith and obedience of the blind man, that he might be an example to all. It certainly was no ordinary proof of faith, that the blind man, relying on a bare word, is fully convinced that his sight will be restored to him, and with this conviction hastens to go to the place where he was commanded. It is an illustrious commendation of his obedience, that he simply obeys Christ, though there are many inducements to an opposite course. And this is the trial of true faith, when the devout mind, satisfied with the simple word of God, promises what otherwise appears incredible. Faith is instantly followed by a readiness to obey, so that he who is convinced that God will be his faithful guide calmly yields himself to the direction of God. There can be no doubt that some suspicion and fear that he was mocked came into the mind of the blind man; but he found it easy to break through every obstruction, when he arrived at the conclusion that it was safe to follow Christ. It may be objected that the blind man did not know Christ; and, therefore, could not render the honor which was due to him as the Son of God. I acknowledge this to be true; but as he believed that Christ had been sent by God, he submits to him, and not doubting that he speaks the truth, he beholds in him nothing but what is Divine; and, in addition to all this, his faith is entitled to the greater commendation, because, while his knowledge was so small, he devoted himself wholly to Christ.

7. Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. Unquestionably, there was not, either in the clay, or in the water of Siloam, any power or fitness for curing the eyes; but Christ freely made use of those outward symbols, on various occasions, for adorning his miracles, either to accustom believers to the use of signs, or to show that all things were at his disposal, or to testify that every one of the creatures has as much power as he chooses to give them. But some inquire what is meant by the clay composed of dust and spittle, and they explain it to have been a figure of Christ, because the dust denotes the earthly nature of the flesh, and the spittle, which came from his mouth, denotes the Divine essence of the Word. For my part, I lay aside this allegory as being more ingenious than solid, and am satisfied with this simple view, that as man was at first made of clay, so in restoring the eyes Christ made use of clay, showing that he had the same power over a part of the body which the Father had displayed in forming the whole man. Or, perhaps, he intended to declare, by this sign, that it was not more difficult for him to remove the obstruction, and to open the eyes of the blind man, than to wash away clay from any man whatever; and, on the other hand, that it was as much in his power to restore sight to the man as it was to anoint his eyes with clay I prefer the latter interpretation.

As to the pool of Siloam, he perhaps ordered the blind man to wash in it, in order to reprove the Jews for not being able to discern the power of God when present; as Isaiah reproaches the men of his time, that they

despise the waters of Siloam, which flow softly,
(Isaiah 8:6,)

and prefer rapid and impetuous streams. This was also the reason, I think, why Elisha ordered Naaman the Syrian to go and wash in Jordan, (2 Kings 5:10.) This pool, if we may believe Jerome, was formed by waters which flowed at certain hours from Mount Zion.

Which, if you interpret it, means Sent. The Evangelist purposely adds the interpretation of the word Siloam; because that fountain, which was near the temple, daily reminded the Jews of Christ who was to come, but whom they despised when he was exhibited before them. The Evangelist, therefore, magnifies the grace of Christ, because he alone enlightens our darkness, and restores sight to the blind. For the condition of our nature is delineated in the person of one man, that we are all destitute of light and understanding from the womb, and that we ought to seek the cure of this evil from Christ alone.

Let it be observed that, though Christ was present then, yet he did not wish to neglect signs; and that for the sake of reproving the stupidity of the nation, which laid aside the substance, and retained only an empty shadow of signs. Besides, the astonishing goodness of God is displayed in this respect, that he comes of his own accord to cure the blind man, and does not wait for his prayers to bestow help. And, indeed, since we are by nature averse to him, if he do not meet us before we call on him, and anticipate by his mercy us who are plunged in the forgetfulness of light and life, we are ruined.

8. Then the neighbors, and those who had formerly seen him. The blind man was known not only to the neighbors, but to all the inhabitants of the town, having been wont to sit and beg at the gate of the temple; and the common people look more readily at such persons than at others. This circumstance — of the man being known — contributed to make many people acquainted with the fame of the miracle. But, as impiety is ingenious in obscuring the works of God, many thought that it was not the same man, because a new power of God openly appeared in him. Thus we find that the more brightly the majesty of God is displayed in his works, the less credit do they obtain among men. But the doubts of those men aided in proving the miracle, for, in consequence of those doubts, the blind man celebrated more highly the grace of Christ by his testimony. It is not without good reason, therefore, that the Evangelist brings together all those circumstances which seemed to exhibit more clearly the truth of the miracle.

11. And after I had gone and washed. So happy a result of obedience warns us to surmount every obstacle, and to proceed courageously wherever the Lord calls us, and not even to entertain a doubt that every thing which we undertake by his authority, and under his guidance, will have a prosperous issue.