"Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam' (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing" (John 9:1-7).
It is unknown exactly where these events fit in chronologically. However, we do know that this was a Sabbath day (cf. 9:14).
Let it be observed that of all the recorded miracles associated with blindness in the gospel accounts, this is the only one in which the blindness is said to have existed from birth. It is possible that the man earnestly sought the compassion of passerbys by repeatedly stating the fact that he had been blind from birth. This seems to be a logical explanation as to how the disciples became aware of the fact.
The disciples expose their misunderstanding of the relationship between sin and suffering by asking Jesus - "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). They assume, as most Jews did in that day (and as most folks did in the past [e.g., Job's friends] and as many still do today), that there is always a direct relationship between sin and suffering. This is clearly not the case, and although there are many passages to disprove this false idea, one should be sufficient--I Peter 2:21-24. Jesus, who did not commit any sins, suffered greatly. Thus, one cannot automatically assume that suffering is a direct result of personal sin. Suffering is often a direct result of one's sins but sometimes one may suffer: (1) because of the sins of others (e.g., Jesus, poor decisions made by one's parents, etc.), (2) because of the natural consequences of living in a sin-filled world (e.g., bereavement, natural disasters, etc.), or (3) because God is testing one's faith (cf. James 1:2-4).
The apostles believed that there were only two possible reasons as to why this man was born blind--either he committed some terrible sin or his parents did. Of course, the notion of someone committing sin prior to birth is absurd, so they are probably leaning toward the belief that his parents must have committed some wicked act. Had they understood the teaching of Ezekiel 18, they would not have asked this question. If those in our world understood the teaching of that passage, the false doctrine of "Original Sin" would become extinct.
Although the apostles haven't considered it, there is a third option in this case. Jesus states that neither the parents nor the man sinned. This must be understood in context! Jesus isn't saying that these people were sinless (cf. Rom. 3:23). However, as it pertained to the man's blindness, there had been no wicked acts committed that had caused him to be born blind.
The wording in our English translations seems to lay the blame for the man's blindness at the feet of God, but such is not the case in the Greek text. Jesus' words could be loosely paraphrased as follows: "Neither he nor his parents sinned as to cause his blindness, but since he is blind, let us do the works of God!"
Jesus declared in John 9:4 - "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day." The translation should probably be "We" instead of "I." This would include the Lord and all of His disciples, even us today (cf. Eph. 2:10). Although time (or duration) is irrelevant to God (cf. II Pet. 3:8), timing means everything (cf. Gal. 4:4). "Day" in this passage refers to the time Jesus was given to teach and work miracles. That time would come to an end eventually and the day of opportunity would pass. When death (i.e., "night") comes, one's fate is sealed; there will be no more opportunities for work or repentance (cf. Heb. 9:27).
"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5; cf. 8:12). Jesus is about to prove this to the blind man--both physically and spiritually. Why Jesus chose to use spit, dirt, and a pool to heal the man is unknown, but it was effective. He received sight, a gift he had never before experienced.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.