The story of the man born blind begins innocuously. Walking along the road on a Sabbath day, Jesus and his disciples passed a man who had been blind from birth. Some of the disciples asked a question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Most of us raise similar questions when we see a child or adult who was born with a severe physical challenge. We don’t usually ask who sinned, but we might ask, “Why did God allow this to happen?” In Jesus’ day illness was viewed as a punishment from God for a sin. Poverty was viewed in the same way. Jesus’ answer was simple; nobody sinned. Good answer. But he added, “It is so that the works of God may be made visible through him.” They must have just begun processing the statement when Jesus threw them totally off track with what must have seemed like a non-sequitur. “We have to do the work of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” Then Jesus gave an even more confusing statement. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” With that statement the conversation ended. Jesus went over to the blind man, spit on the ground, made some mud, and rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. He then told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. He did as he was instructed and returned able to see!
Can you imagine the joy the man experienced?! But his joy was to be quickly frustrated because some people who knew him began to argue about him. Some recognized him as the blind beggar they had known, but others, incredulous, said he just looked like him. They listened to the story of his healing and asked him where they might find Jesus. He told them that he didn’t know. His answer frustrated them even more so they took him to the Pharisees who immediately politicized the healing and condemned Jesus for having broken the Sabbath rest. They asked the blind man what he had to say about Jesus. His answer infuriated them. “He is a prophet.”
Then they called in his parents. This is a tense and very sad part of the man’s story. The religious leaders had previously circulated a threat among the population that any followers of Jesus would be excommunicated from the synagogue. This meant segregation from the Jewish population, and the forfeiture of the Jewish exemption of offering incense to the Roman Emperor. This was a serious threat. The blind man’s parents broke under the threat and abandoned their son. When asked about the healing they told the Pharisees “We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he can speak for himself.”
The Pharisees called the blind man in again and began a second interrogation. Aggravated by their hounding him the blind man lashed out at them. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” With that, they pronounced him a sinner, threw him out of the synagogue and excommunicated him.
The conclusion of the story adds a wonderful dimension. When Jesus heard of the man’s excommunication he tracked him down to ask him a question. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man must have looked at him with puzzlement and fascination.
He had been sitting by the roadside begging, as he always did, when this man Jesus came over to him and initiated his cure. He was blind from the moment of his birth but in a few short minutes a healer put mud on his eyes, he washed in the Pool of Siloam, and could see the light of the sun for the first time. He could see the people along the road. He could see his parents!
But that same day, his parents abandoned him and he was removed from the safety net of the Jewish community. He could see, but he was alone. Jesus’ question offered him hope. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Was this man, this prophet, the messiah? “Who is he, sir, that I might believe in him.” He looked into Jesus’ eyes. “You have seen him, the one speaking to you is he.” His response came from the depth of his heart. “I do believe.” And he worshiped him. At that moment the once blind beggar saw the Kingdom of God and hope filled his heart.
Like the moral at the conclusion of a Medieval Miracle Play Jesus gave an explanation of what had happened. “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
The blind man represents each of us. Now and then God’s healing hand touches us. We’re asked to respond to that touch – to go to the Pool of Siloam – to wash the spiritual cataracts from our eyes. This may happen to the convert who is seeking God and a deeper life. This may happen to the believer whose faith has become insipid. It may happen to the person who is reeling from a trauma or personal tragedy. It may happen to the person who has simply lost the way.
This story of the man born blind reassures us that God is reaching out to heal us. When we respond to that gesture we will be healed. We’ll see the world differently and enjoy a more intimate experience of God. The story is also telling us that our healing doesn’t exempt up from the tribulations of life. The story is asking us to say yes to God’s healing so that we can bring the light and hope we have received to a blind world.