CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Emerging Clarity
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; 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 this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
,p>They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
- John 9:1-41
“If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
“Lord, I believe.”
In the story of the man born blind, only one person consistently speaks in clear, declarative sentences that point people to the Gospel, and that person is not Jesus. (As usual in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks rather cryptically, and the meaning of his words becomes clear only over time.) The most effective messenger is the newly sighted man himself.
It can be rare for that kind of clarity to emerge in the midst of conflict. Like sadly familiar scenes from playgrounds, family gatherings, vestry meeting rooms and legislatures, the sparring in this Gospel passage escalates through name-calling, questioning people’s motives and character, shunning or silencing them, even dragging their families into the mess. The dispute may have originated over substantive issues, like how best to keep Sabbath, which is both a commandment and a gift from God, and basic human needs, like healing. But it’s turned into a bitter contest whose winners will have power to silence the losers.
As in many conflicts that escalate quickly, confusion reigns. Is the man who can now see the same one who used to sit and beg? Where is his healer now? Is the healer in league with God or with evil powers? Can the religious leaders be trusted? Who or what are they trying to protect? Can the formerly blind man speak for himself, or do his statements need to be corroborated? The high stakes in this dispute leave people either unsure of what they know or afraid to share their thoughts.
Except for the former beggar. He simply keeps declaring what he knows to be true about himself, and what he believes to be true about Jesus. To people who are wondering if he is indeed the man who was healed, or just someone who looks like him, he repeats, “I am the man.” When asked where “the man called Jesus” is, he answers, “I do not know.” When called to give an account of what happened to him, he tells his story succinctly: “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Pressed from all sides and asked to pass judgment on Jesus, he focuses on what Jesus has done for him: “I was blind, now I see….he opened my eyes…If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” He keeps his focus on himself and Jesus until finally, after the religious leaders have put him out of their sight, he comes face to face with Jesus once more. That new encounter changes his understanding of who Jesus is: not simply a prophet, but the Son of Man, the One who closes the gap between humanity and divinity. “Lord, I believe,” he offers, bowing down.
But his new insight and nascent devotion don’t end the conflict. It will escalate to the Crucifixion, and extend beyond the Resurrection, to the painful division between the synagogue and the church (hinted at in John’s confusing use of the term “the Jews” for the theological opponents of Jesus, himself a Jew), to the deadly spread of Christian anti-Semitism, and onward to the present through myriad disputes over who Jesus is and whose side he might be on.
You and I are still living with those disputes, still grappling with the abuses and arguments we see foreshadowed in this Gospel, and many others besides. When we land in the midst of such bitter conflict, are we tempted to add our voices to the shouting crowd? Tempted to use whatever power we have to intimidate, to judge, to exclude?
If we were honest, we might answer: sometimes. But our brother, the beggar who had his sight restored, shows us a better way: Focus on Jesus. Tell the story of what he has done for you. Be willing to repeat yourself. Remind yourself, and any others who may listen, that Jesus’ power heals, nourishes, offers good things to people who don’t have everything we need to live well. In the midst of the conflict and confusion we human beings sow, keep your attention on Jesus, and be prepared to witness wonders.
The Rev. Canon Rhonda Mahwood Lee is a regional canon for the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus