The Blind Man Who Saw
By Laura Spray (4/3/11)
Hear an audio recording of this Sunday's reflection:
READ THE TEXT:
A man with his head held at an awkward angle is talking. His eyes roam as he talks…
I used to be a beggar. I had my own corner and everything. I did pretty well, too. Helped my family out in a big way. I hung with my friends. Moses, he had bad legs, and Eli, he was burned and his hands were kind of stuck together. Me, I was the blind guy. We been on our corner, that’s the best place for panhandlin’, for years. We looked after each other and we all did okay.
One day these guys come by. They got a gang or something.
I hear them calling somebody “Rabbi,” but Moses, he says they too poor to be with a rabbi. “Don’t expect nuthin’ from these guys,” says Moses.
Then somebody touches me. It don’t bother me. People always grabbin’ me. They think if you can’t see, you can’t hear either. I get lots of good information just sittin’ there.
This guy, though, it feels like a whole hive of bees buzzin’ where his hands is on me. Like a whole hill of ants crawling on me.
Next, he smears something warm and sticky on my face. Smells like dirt! I don’t know why I didn’t just clock him one, but I didn’t even think of it.
Then he says “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
Well, I’m up and feelin’ my way along before I know what’s goin’ on. I sorta come to and think “Why am I doing what He says?”
But then I decide I gotta wash this crap off anyway, so I go on. People are hollerin’ and whoopin’ at me, calling me names and trying to trip me or goose me. I go on, though.
It didn’t even enter my mind to go home where there was water. All I could think about was how that water in that pool was gonna feel when it touched me.
I got there, and by then I was so ready to touch that water I practically shoved some women out of the way. They was squawkin’ and flappin’ at me, but I didn’t hardly notice. I stuck both hands in that water and dashed it over my face like I was desperate, which I kinda was, by then.
That water felt like nothin’ I ever felt before. It wasn’t cold, or hot, but it was kinda like it was real cold, and real hot too. After a while I left off washin’ and just stood and breathed. I felt like I run all the way down th and back without stoppin’ once.
Then I noticed something was different. My face felt funny. It was moving some new way. And there was something else too…
Something was there when I moved my face, and then when I moved again, it wasn’t. It hurt, but it was real interestin’ too.
One of the women, a friend of my ma’s, said “Boy, your eyes is open, what is goin’ on here?”
I moved my face, and it changed again.
“Your eyes was open, I saw them! Open your eyes!”
I moved again, and the whatever it was was back.
“Boy, can you see me?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but something happens when I move my eyes. It hurts. It’s real… loud.”
“Boy, that’s the light, you seeing the light. You not used to it. Here, shade your eyes.”
A big thing came at me and I reared back. Her voice was real close now.
“You seein’ the light, boy. When you close your eyes, that’s the dark.”
I closed my eyes, after a little practice to figure out how, and the world went back to normal.
I kept my eyes closed on the way back. It was just too hard to figure out where I was or what was goin’ on. It took me a couple of days to figure out how to walk, and I had a couple bad times. Turns out you don’t stare right at the sun!
I went home to show my parents. They couldn’t believe it, and made me tell the story over and over.
When I got to the part about the rabbi, my ma looked at my pa, and said “Jesus.”
That’s all she said, and that’s all she had to say.
I heard of him back on my corner. They say he’s a cult leader. Not a real Jew. He has radical ideas. Claims to be God’s brother or somethin'. Thinks he can do miracles….
I heard he healed a cripple over at the pool at Bethesda. The guy couldn’t get into the pool or something so this Jesus tells him to get up and take his mat and walk into the pool. And he did!
After that, I heard he was walkin’ around big as life and up to his old tricks besides. Healin’ his legs didn’t seem to make him any “holier,” I guess.
I heard about this guy in , a royal official, stopped Jesus on the street and asked him to heal his son who was sick.
Jesus says “Leave me alone.”
The guy says “Not without you heal my son!” and Jesus says “Okay, it’s done,” and goes off. His servants came with the news that the kid is completely fine!
That one sounds pretty wild to me, but I guess my story would make a pretty good tale too.
Well, this Jesus, he’s in trouble with the law. They don’t allow no healing on the Sabbath. They don’t allow no healing they don’t get credit for.
My ma says “Don’t you be talkin’ about this. If anybody asks you, you stick to the plain story. Don’t have no opinions. Opinions get you in trouble. You don’t talk about it unless you gotta. Then, you stick to the facts, boy."
My pa just looked worried.
I went back to my corner the next day, but nobody wants to give money to a man who used to be blind, and I’m not trained to do much else. . I’m too old to be apprenticed, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
People had big problems with my eyes. Some of ‘em thought I had to be some other guy. I told ‘em I was me, but then they wanted to hear what happened, and I didn’t want to talk about it.
My folks are already worryin’ about how we’re gonna feed ourselves. I’m their only kid, and my job’s gone. Just gone. Since then, my life is entirely different. It’s like I’ve turned around and gone completely the other way.
You know, I used to sit and dream of being like other people. It seemed like they had this magic power to do stuff I couldn’t do. They could see. Now I can see, and I’m not sure it’s as great as I always thought it was.
I’m not sure why he chose me to heal either. I don’t know if I’m bad, or good, or was just in his path.
Then the elders from the Temple sent for me. They heard I been healed. They want to ask some questions.
That set my ma off again about “just stick to the facts and we’ll get through this.” My pa just looked like he’d like to cry.
I went with the temple guards they sent to fetch me.
The elders at the temple were mighty serious. They asked me and asked me, “Were you really blind? Who healed you? When was it? What did he say? What exactly did he do? ”
I tried to stick to just answering the questions, like my ma said, but I don’t know how I did. I never talked to guys like that before. They asked me what he preached, but I never heard him preach.
They asked me what I thought. Me! A beggar!
I said he was a prophet. I didn’t know what else to say and I didn’t want to get him in trouble.
Then they sent for my folks. I was startin’ to get kinda mad. When they got there, the elders asked was I their son, and was I blind, and how could I see now?
Well, my poor daddy, he said yes, I was their son, and yes, I was born blind, and he didn’t know how I could see. They asked my ma. She said the same, except she said to ask me, I was a man, I could tell them myself.
You know, I always knew my parents loved me. I mean, they kept a blind baby. They knew I’d be blind, they could have left me in the desert. They were always on my side.
But when I stood in that place and watched them try not to get in trouble on account of me, I began to wonder. I can’t put food on the table like I used to, I got them up in front of the Pharisees and it seems like maybe they should be sorry they kept me, now. When I watched their faces, I didn’t know them. Hell, I don’t even know myself now.
Something that’s supposed to be great, a miracle, happened to me. Why am I not happy? Why is it so hard?
So then they called me to come up again and asked me the whole thing over again. I tried not to get into it, and I tried to turn it back to them when I could. I asked them how they thought he could heal me if he wasn’t from God. It went on a while, around and around, and they finally said I, sinner that I was, had no right to try to teach my betters anything, and threw me out.
I met up with Jesus a little later. He was one strange man. He asked me, “Do you believe in the Son of man?”
It sounded like a code or something to me. I asked him to explain it to me, but I still didn’t get it. I got him, though. I knew he loved me. I knew he knew me. I knew he was something different from anybody else. He told me that he came to give sight to the blind and to blind the sighted.
I guess we are all supposed to get shaken up.
This young man whose name we do not ever learn, was caught up in something bigger than himself. When we get what we think is our heart’s desire, it often is not as we expected it to be. The message I get from the story of the blind man who became sighted is one about expectations, the nature of belief, and faith. When gifted with an entirely new sense, the young man could not disbelieve that Jesus was someone sent from God, but he did have other, unforeseen questions of faith. Like any of us who experience a life-changing event, he had to figure out how to live a new life. He had to let go of what he had known and been comfortable with, and learn to navigate in a world that was completely different from what he had always known it to be.
While he had been given a great gift, this did not preclude him from facing difficulties associated with that gift. His Savior turned out to be a man of mystery, a fugitive from the law and from most of the people, he was trying to save. Jesus’ message was so uncomfortable that he was as likely to be stoned as to be worshipped. Our newly sighted man found Jesus to be incomprehensible. Jesus had come to give sight to the blind and blindness to the sighted. Clearly, some kind of revolution was on its way. The interesting thing to me is that it is still happening, two thousand years or so later.
We still do not know how it happens, or why one person experiences the “Christ event” and another is passed by. We are still not sure what it is all about. It is as mysterious now as it was then to that blind beggar. When it happens, it is as likely to cause trouble for us as it did for the blind man. Spiritual awakening and true belief often pose problems for those who experience them. To have something inexplicable happen to one, even a good thing, causes profound change, and a revaluation of everything one has known before. It causes a kind of grief. None of the rules of one’s life applies any longer. One doesn’t know how to act. One doesn’t know how one feels. One’s actions are erratic and unpredictable. As the blind man found out, coming close to God can cause insanity.
Since he was someone who actually met Jesus, talked with him, and was healed by him, the once-blind man seemed to have good reason for conviction. Those of us who haven’t had this experience may feel that we have to make a bigger “leap of faith” than this lowly beggar did. Those of us who hear the promises of the “good news” of healing and life through believing in Christ wonder exactly what “believe in me” means. Are we to believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins? That if we will just change our minds he will change our lives? How can we do that? I believe what I believe. If you tell me that I can fly if I will only believe in you, I won’t be able to believe that you can make my body fly no matter how badly I want to. I might be able to embrace the idea that you can make me feel as if I’m flying, or that I might metaphorically begin to fly if I believe I can, but I don’t see any way that I could believe that you could make me fly around the room unless maybe you actually did it. I think I might still have reservations even after I’ve sailed around at ceiling height for a while! I could probably convince myself that I was psychotic or that I’d fallen asleep and dreamt it. So if I want to believe, if something inside me calls for me to believe, how can I surrender to that belief?
What can we learn from the example of the blind man? He was chosen, seemingly at random, from among people who were much like him, we presume. The stories of the New Testament are full of images of people beset by illness, injury, and birth defects. Why did Jesus choose to heal this particular blind man?
It wasn’t because he asked, although he must have wanted to have the wonderful “sight” that other people had. It wasn’t his social position or his powerbase. It doesn’t even seem to have been his good works or kindness to others. Presumably, we would have been told if there was something obvious about this man that was special. So what do we know about him that might give us a clue? He was blind from birth. He was a beggar. His parents cared enough about him to be careful what they said about him to the authorities. He was a man. Completely, utterly, blind.
Maybe he was in the right place at the right time? Jesus explained how to have eternal life, how to be saved, several times in several places. “Believe in me.” He said. Nowhere does he say, “Meet me on the corner of Siloam and Bethesda at eleven and you’ll have everlasting life.”
So who was this man that made him save-able, or even save-worthy? He was blind. He couldn’t see his way. He knew this.
Could it have been as simple as that? If we take the blind man’s self-knowledge and humility as a hypothesis, what can we emulate in him that might make us save-able and save-worthy? How can we learn to believe? Well, he knew who he was, he knew who and what he was not.
So, how can we learn who we are on a deep level, with few illusions? What did the blind man do? He sat at his place, possibly by a gate or other public square and waited. He waited for people to give him money, or perhaps food. In John 9:8, the story of the blind man, the Greek word used is “aiteo” or “asking.” By contrast in Luke 16:20, about the beggar Lazarus, the word used is “ptochos,” or “cringing.” Perhaps this suggests that there are different ways to beg.
He listened. He may have talked with people who came by, or maybe he talked with the other beggars and merchants around him. There were lots of beggars in those days, just as there are now. In the Hebrew testament not much mention is made of begging, perhaps because the Jewish system made provision for those in need, and under the Roman system that broke down somewhat, until in Jesus’ time, beggars, especially handicapped people, were a subset of society, almost like a caste. As we read the gospels, they seem always to be in the background, part of the jostling crowd. Jesus talks to them and also about them. Perhaps we talk about and tend to the poor today because of Jesus, but the vast majority of us never look a homeless person in the eye, even when we give them our change. Jesus engaged some of these folks at least as much as he did anyone else. Could it be that “save-ability” or spiritual insight is scattered throughout all classes and circumstance of people? So what would these “”believers” have in common?
Let’s look at another set of “believers.” Again and again, one group of people was open and accepting of Jesus’ words. They listened to him, defended him, and stood by him. Interestingly enough, they also were a vulnerable population who “knew their place” if only because everyone they came in contact with reinforced it. These people were from all classes, cultures, and bloodlines. This group included a woman who was offered the living water of everlasting life by Jesus, a woman whose brother Jesus raised from death because she trusted him to do it, and the woman who was the first person to recognize the resurrected Christ. These people would have known deeply their own vulnerability. They were not too full of their own issues to listen to what Jesus said to them. They were open to his differences. They were able to wait, and watch, and believe.
The word “believe” appears ninety-nine times in John’s Gospel. Ninety-eight of those instances are “ — the verb/action form of the word. In one instance, belief is used as an adjective. Nowhere in John’s Gospel is “ — a noun — used, although it appears 142 times in Paul’s words.
The blind man waited. He listened. He knew he was of a low caste. He probably had a good sense of his own vulnerability too. What can we say about waiting, listening, and knowing one’s helplessness? They are expectant acts. Did these habits, which the blind man had probably practiced to the point where they were a part of him, prepare him to meet the Messiah? When one listens, when one waits, when one asks, one is open. There is a state of un-sureness and trust that must be reached before one can achieve these acts. If you are afraid, or angry, no one will talk to you, give to you, and if you don’t know you need help, you won’t ask.