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.” —John 9:10-11
My church-class lesson for the week begins with this particular version of Jesus healing someone blind from birth. (Mark has one too, in 8:22-26, but it’s quite different.)
As our lesson opens, the curriculum writer relates the story of how they got their first glasses, and what a shock it was.
I have a story like that, too.
There’s a first-grade anecdote, where a fellow first-grader challenges my privilege of sitting in the front row to copy assignments. (We were confined to the back of the room because each of us never stopped talking.) There’s the story my mother tells about the year going back and forth with eye specialists who were unable to diagnose me…because they said, “Try to read these letters,” instead of, “Relax your eyes, and tell me what you see.” Then there’s the big reveal: new glasses on my face, and an allée of oaks in full fall color, looking for all the world to me like train-set props made gigantic.
But if we’re crafting an allegory about blindness and faith—as much of John 9 is—I think what’s interesting is not my gaining my unblurred sight,
but how I thought about my world before I got the glasses.
That was the crux of my argument with Matt, he who shared the rear of our first-grade classroom with me. (Poor Ms. Sternberger!) Matt thought it ridiculous that I would routinely go up front (where all the conversational targets were), sit down, and write things from the board. “I have to go up there so I can see to copy everything,” I explained.
“I can see everything fine from right here,” he retorted. We were standing behind our desks at this point. For all I know, our butts could have been 6″ from the rear wall of the room… troublesome talkers require a lot of quarantine space.
“Well, some people can, and some people can’t!” was my clincher. It was a fact, the way those same eyes were brown, and my hair blonde. A fact like the way I’d been reading since I was three, but others were even now learning how to map those squiggles into the words they knew.
If it’s a fact, you can’t change it. Can you?
I’m unsurprised that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders around Jesus didn’t follow/understand what he was saying. That they got angry as he dismissed practices that they were sure were important to leading a life aligned with God. They knew facts. They understood How Things Worked.
A person who says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” and then puts spit-mud on a person’s eyes to heal birth blindness? That is not How Things Work. On either front.
But if we’ve always been this way, how do we know if we, too, have been born blind? If everyone around us has the same kind of blindness, who would point out the possibility? After all, we’re operating in the world of How Things Work.
This ‘othered’ person, he’s not someone to listen to. He doesn’t know How Things Work, because he’s a beggar. And comes from a bad family, because why else would he have been born with his blindness? There’s a rational explanation. That’s not the one he keeps repeating.
It can’t be about listening to the Light, and following him out of darkness.
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 9:39-41
How can I know, even with all my study and prayer, whether I’m blind,
or I see?
Even when I close my eyes, and try to listen-?