John the Gospel writer says that the miracles he describes are just a selection of all the amazing things Jesus did, and he says ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:30). He calls them ‘signs’ – signs that point to who Jesus really is, signs that show us the right direction.
In first century Palestinian culture if someone had a disability, it was assumed that they must have deserved it, it must be a punishment from God. But what if the person was born blind? Maybe it was their parents’ fault. Jesus says, this man’s suffering wasn’t down to anyone’s sin. But it was part of God’s plan. First of all, the people there that day would have the chance to see God at work; and then, centuries later, you and I would be able to read about it and draw our conclusions – along with thousands upon thousands of other people through the passing years. One man suffered so that millions of people could see Jesus’ power and ‘have life in his name’.
We are tempted to think that if we’d been there and witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles for ourselves, it would be easier to believe in him. But not everyone who sees Jesus’ handiwork is ready to accept it. John records that even people who knew the blind man – his next-door neighbours – doubted that a miracle had really taken place. This seeing man must just be a look-alike. The religious authorities bully his parents – he’s not really your son, you’ve pulled a switch. They try to discredit the miracle – it was performed on the wrong day, therefore the healer is evil.
The man’s parents were afraid of the religious authorities, because they had the power to throw people out of the synagogue – effectively cut them off from their local community. But the man himself has met Jesus, has experienced his healing power, and his life has been transformed from darkness to light. No human can scare him now, or deflect him from worshipping Jesus, God come to earth.