The disciples assumed a man born blind was being punished, so they asked in verse 2, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”
The disciples’ worldview was simplistic. Painfully so. To them the man’s disability could only mean one thing: someone had sinned—which inevitably meant those with disabilities were little more than cautionary tales. Don’t do X or you might end up like Y. We like to believe we’ve progressed from the primitive ways of the first century. We know better, we tell ourselves. But if we’re honest, the disciples’ response is not unfamiliar to us. We default to it all the time. Something goes wrong—we get a flat tire, we lose our job, we struggle with chronic illness, we finally get pregnant only to hear the doctor say our little one will have a disability—and the question pops into our minds like a reflex, almost involuntarily—What did I do to deserve this?
So it must have come as a shock to the disciples when Jesus turned their worldview on its head and said, “No one.” No one sinned—not the man and not his parents. We can only imagine they weren’t prepared for Jesus’s answer in verse 3: the man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him”? They didn’t have a category for glory. We still don’t.
We don’t need to be convinced that there’s something wrong with the world. We see it all around us. We feel it in our own lives. What we need is to be convinced that the works of God can be seen even in our limitations.
And we all have them. It’s what it means to be human: to be limited. Maybe our limitations are physical—like the man in the passage who was born blind. Or maybe our limitations are psychological—we struggle with depression or anxiety or both. Whatever they may be, more often than not, we think God’s glory can only be displayed in the removal of our limitations. So we come to passages like this one and we marvel at how Jesus gives the man the ability to see. We think that’s what Jesus means when He says the man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” But the truth is, it is only through the man’s limitations that God’s glory is displayed. Because it is his very limitation that provides the opportunity for grace.
We think we have to be perfect for God’s glory to be displayed in us, but that’s a deception. Although it stands in direct contradiction to what many of us have been taught to believe, it is in our weaknesses that God is glorified. The works of God are on display not in spite of our limitations. The works of God are on display through our limitations. For as Paul taught, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is only then that we realize His grace really is sufficient for us. May we be like Paul. May we learn to find contentment even with our limitations. For only when we are weak can God be strong in us.