What an amazing story from today’s gospel. As I read the story earlier in the week, I was struck by the amount of tension in the story. On the one hand, there are the authorities who just cannot seem to believe that the blind man was healed. They keep insisting that maybe he wasn’t really blind at all, that somehow the whole incident is made up, perhaps even made up to make them look bad, since anyone who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, would be kicked out of the synagogue. Being kicked out of the synagogue was a big deal. The synagogue was a central place for worship, teaching and for organizing the community; Not being allowed to participate in synagogue activities would mean being separated from the whole community, and likely result in being shunned. I suspect that it was easy for the authorities to control people by holding their membership over their heads. Community was necessary for survival, and everyone knew it. If you were shunned by the community, then you were at their mercy.
The man who was born blind is already dependent upon people for his survival; we know that he had to beg in order to live, and his unclean status probably affected his parents as well, which is why they were reluctant to defend him. They and he were already marked as sinners, and I suspect they would do almost anything not to draw attention to themselves. Well, as we know, especially in the gospel of John, Jesus is not all that subtle; and the closer he gets to his entry into Jerusalem, the less subtle he gets. He not only heals the man of his blindness, but he does it on a sabbath. Any work, including healing or making mud was forbidden by sabbath law, which now makes Jesus into a bit of an outlaw. Now the man who is blind, his parents, AND Jesus are all sinners according to those in authority. And who is going to question authority? The man born blind has moved from the darkness of blindness into the light of being able to see; and his eyes, eyes that have never seen before, can see what those in authority can not see; the more he talks about Jesus, the more clearly he sees who Jesus really is, perhaps because his eyes are new; they are not hardened by seeing through lenses of greed or power; he has come from the lowest place, and so anything at this point is an improvement… and Jesus, who is the true authority, and the light of the world, has already said that the man’s blindness was not the result of sin, which is in direct conflict with what the authorities are fighting about…
And look at how much they fight. More and more questions, more and more confusion, more and more denial of the truth… and the more it all goes on, the more eloquent and the more faithful the blind man becomes; listen to what he says: “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.” He basically quotes the law to those who are the authorities, and they have nothing to say in return except that he is a sinner, which goes back to the original argument.
Let’s remember that the man, when he was blind probably couldn’t be part of the synagogue worship or the activities around the synagogue… and now that he is healed, his belief in Jesus will likely still keep him from the worship of the synagogue, which as we have already seen, basically means he STILL isn’t part of the community now that he can see. The authorities want him to give glory to God by admitting that Jesus is a sinner; and yet what truly gives glory to God is the fact that man is healed by Jesus… And the man knows it.
So much tension; so much insistence on being right by those in power… and it is clear, especially as we go deeper into John’s gospel that their power and their ability to see the truth diminishes as their fear increases. And here, a man who was a blind beggar, who dared to believe that healing was possible even on the sabbath, now has more truth, more knowledge and is part of the greater community of disciples of Jesus.
So much powerful imagery in this story, perhaps the most obvious being that of light overcoming the dark, weakness overcoming power, poverty overcoming privilege, innocence overcoming knowledge, faithfulness overcoming law. One of the important parts of a healing story is the recognition of the sick person’s humanity, a recognition that they are a child of God; Jesus not only cares about this man, but he speaks to him directly, and he touches him, something that would not have happened without risk of being seen as ritually unclean. And as his humanity is recognized, he in turn grows in his faith; he uses his new eyes to truly see in ways that others cannot because of their fear and their greed. The man had nothing to lose; and in his deep poverty and brokenness he experienced more than he bargained for. He was truly healed in body, mind and spirit, despite the incredible controversy that rose up around him. His life was transformed.
Amazing things can happen for us when we bring our brokenness to Jesus; if we can be willing to suspend our dependence upon the idolatrous ways of the empire, if we can let our faith in God bring light into the dark places of our lives, then we too will be able to see things differently. When the light of Christ illuminates our path, there is no room for fear to take hold of us because we know who and what the truth is. The blind man knew who he was in the eyes of the empire, and he chose to remain an outsider by believing Jesus was the Messiah, bringing him closer to God; those who thought they knew what the truth was, chose power and in choosing it, placed more distance between them and God.
As we continue to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, perhaps we too are being asked to suspend our belief in the empire. When we choose the way of Christ, we are choosing to be made whole through brokenness, we are choosing light over dark, life over death. Unlike the man born blind, we must work a bit harder to truly see,with the eyes of our hearts, because we all have had a taste of power and privilege, which we cling to when we become afraid. We all have something we must let go of to be made whole; are we ready to have faith? Are we ready to have our brokenness be made whole in Jesus? Are we ready to wash the mud of our lives from our eyes so that we might see him and ourselves more clearly?