1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or a punishment). Of course, actions always have consequences. Good things often happen as a result of good actions (kindness produces gratitude), and bad things often happen through bad actions (drunkenness causes car accidents). But this isn’t inevitable. Kindness is sometimes scorned. Some drunkards always get away with it.
In particular, you can’t stretch the point back to a previous ‘life’, or to someone else’s sins. Being born blind doesn’t mean you must have sinned, says Jesus. Nor does it mean that your parents must have sinned. No: something much stranger, at once more mysterious and more hopeful, is going on. The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation.
When Jesus heals the man, John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments in the gospel when God’s truth and the world’s life (theology and history, if you like) come rushing together into one. ‘I am the light of the world’, says Jesus in verse 5, sending our minds back yet once more to the Prologue: ‘life was in him, and this life was the light of the human race’ (1:4). As the passage goes on, we see part of what it means that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it’. John’s gospel is pushing us forward in heart and mind towards God’s new creation, the time when God will make all things new. Wright, T. (2004). John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (pp. 133–134). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.