“I only know that I was blind and now I can see.”
(John 9: 26, The Jerusalem Bible)
He was the man born blind. His neighbors and passers-by knew him to be a beggar. When Jesus and his disciples were going along, the disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind as punishment for some sin, either his or that of his parents. Jesus, who was often frustrated with his followers’ ignorance of the reasons for withered limbs, vertebrae twisting a person’s back and neck toward the ground, diseases of the skin, tremors, rage, blindness, stopped before the man and answered the disciples, “‘Neither he nor his parents sinned'” (John 9: 3, The Jerusalem Bible). Some are born without sight; some lose their vision. Others can see, but are blind, comfortable in their judgments, their seeming wholeness. Jesus said he had come to bring sight to those physically blind and also to those who could see but were blind, a paradox his disciples were slow to comprehend. Blind to the Truth, the Way and the Life offered by Jesus (John 14: 6, The Jerusalem Bible).
The man born blind, did not, like so many other beggars stationed along the path of the religious, the wealthy, the politically favored, cry out, “Alms. Have mercy. Who will guide me into the waters of healing stirred by the angel?” The man said nothing, even with his acute senses signaling him Jesus was passing by. Jesus who had healed so many others. The man born blind was the quiet beggar, having contemplated since birth the voices of his world, and lately, what he had heard of this prophet from Nazareth shedding darkness with light.
Jesus knew, of course, and stopped before the man and did not ask if the man wished to see, be healed, sin no more. Jesus knew. He did something no one had ever heard of. He spat on the ground, bent down and worked his spittle and the dust into a paste he patted over the man’s eyes. The man did not pull away. Then Jesus said to the man born blind, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9: 7, The Jerusalem Bible), a name meaning sent, Jesus surely thinking of himself as “the one sent” from God, the one come as Light to a dark, sightless world. He did not need to lecture the man. The man went.
Going could not have been easy. He could not see. He did not ask for help. None, apparently, was offered. If Jesus encountered the man born blind close to the Temple, where Jesus had been teaching, the man possibly would have had to traverse half a mile of downhill terrain ending in the narrow, precarious, stone steps descending to the Pool of Siloam.
Jesus often demanded an act of faith on the part of the petitioner before granting healing. Not so with this man. Jesus knew him. Possibly they had both been waiting for each other. “So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored” (John 9: 7, The Jerusalem Bible).
Imagine what he saw, what he had been waiting for since birth. The message, the testimony, he had been formulating all his life, the voice of Faith and Truth, confirming what Jesus had been witnessing to all people in need, including the religious leaders–the Pharisees demanding strict observance of the Law, blind to the Law’s fulfillment in Jesus–the new Law he proclaimed:
“‘I give you a new commandment:
love one another;
just as I have loved you,
you also must love one another.'”
(John 13: 34, The Jerusalem Bible)
Now Jesus disappears from the story, the man born blind becoming the central character, the witness Jesus hoped his disciples would be. Imagine the man taking in the sights of his world. Imagine his laughter, his joy. And then, the man’s neighbors and the Pharisees and the man’s parents complicate the plot:
“Look,” the man’s neighbors said, “isn’t this the blind man who used to sit and beg?” “Yes,” some said, astounded. Others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
But who looks closely at a blind beggar?
The man heard and saw and said yes he was that man.
“So how do your eyes come to be open?”
“The man Jesus. He put a paste on my eyes. I felt my way down to the Pool of Siloam, washed, and then I could see.”
“Well, then where is Jesus?”
The man looked around, for a moment almost doubting himself, and said he did not know. So they hustled him to the Pharisees who asked how a man born blind could suddenly see.
He told them about Jesus, the paste, the trek to the pool, his eyes opening. On the sabbath, the Pharisees said, God’s holy day, day of rest prohibiting work, including a so-called miracle the Law did not authorize, so this Jesus could not be from God. He was a sinner. Other Pharisees asked could a sinner perform such signs? And as with people in authority, in congress with each other, they argued. So why not ask the man himself?
“Tell us who you think this man is who broke the sabbath Law.”
“A prophet,” the man replied, “like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah.”
“No!” the teachers of the Law replied.
They ordered the man’s parents to appear before them, testify to the truth or be cast from the synagogue into the outer darkness. His parents were afraid, admitted the man was their son, blind from birth, but how he could now see and who opened his eyes, they could not say. “He is old enough; ask him.”
The man born blind was not intimidated by the Pharisees, their Law. Why should he be? Did the Pharisees restore his sight? Could they?
They told him they were in agreement Jesus was a sinner.
And now comes the climax, the major turning point, the line all actors would sell their thespian souls to speak, the greatest profession of faith in all the Bible: “‘I don’t know,’ the man born blind replied, ‘if he is a sinner. I only know that I was blind and now I can see'” (John 9: 25-26, The Jerusalem Bible). Imagine the silence that followed, the stillness in the room. And then the man spoke with the voice of a prophet, a man God speaks to, speaks through: “Why do you ask to hear my testimony again? Maybe you, too, wish to become his disciples?” The man knew what to expect: hurled abuse, more condemnation of Jesus, questioning where he could possibly have come from.
“What an astonishing thing,” the man added, “you don’t know where he comes from? And he opened my eyes, unheard of for anyone to do, much less the sinner you claim Jesus is. Are you blind that Jesus comes from God?”
The Pharisees replied: “Who are you, also a sinner, to try and teach us!” And they cast the man out.
Now Jesus returns in the story. He heard what had happened and found the man and asked if he believed in the Son of Man (John 9: 36, The Jerusalem Bible), Jesus’s favorite title for himself–God become flesh and blood, human. The man said to Jesus, “Tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You are looking at him; he is speaking to you,” and the man replied, “Lord, I believe,” and worshipped him.
Biblical Source: John 9: 1-38, The Jerusalem Bible.
If you read my October 29, 2019, Post “What I Would Have Said,” you may recall I was surprised by Lynn Martin’s suddenly asking me to fill in for the Deacon and give the devotional before the noontime meal at City Light Community Ministries. I said, “No,” and I said it dramatically. I have been ashamed of my response ever since. I’m not a preacher. I’m not worthy of standing behind a pulpit. Reading poems or literary nonfiction or discussing literature at a podium or pacing at the front of a classroom, yes, but not preaching. So this Post, “The Story,” is my attempt at asking forgiveness, expiation for my flip reply–“Do I look like a preacher?”–to Lynn’s request. Should she ever ask me again, “The Story” would be my offering.