One of the techniques of spiritual direction is to read a passage of scripture and ask people to visualize the scene and put themselves in the story.
The story of the man blind from birth is an excellent one in which to use this technique. Of course we didn’t talk about this before the reading of the gospel so I will offer some thoughts about the various persons in the story and the attitudes they exhibit.
This narrative exhibits 6 distinct parts: the encounter with the blind man and the healing, the reaction of those who knew the blind man, the inquisition by the Pharisees involving both the man and his parents, the response by the man and his casting out, coming to Jesus and finally, Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees.
Jesus and his disciples encounter the man blind from birth and the disciples express a commonly held view among Jews of the time—that physical impairment was proof of past sin being visited on the descendents. Jesus responds that the man was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.
How did the man feel hearing the disciples discuss why he has been blind from birth? Probably pretty much the same way someone in the hospital bed feels when he or she is talked about as if they aren’t also in the room.
How often had the man wondered why he was born blind? How often does anyone wonder why the ones they love are handicapped and others are not?
I find Jesus’ response to be troubling—He appears to say that there is a cause and effect relationship explaining why the man had to be born blind. Perhaps Jesus is mis-quoted; perhaps, knowing the healing he will perform, Jesus characterizes this opportunity as God given.
The blind man is healed, not by words or gestures but by simply making mud with spittle and placing it on the man’s eyes. He is told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. We aren’t told how he got there. Perhaps an acquaintance leads him there. He washes and is healed. Good things happen when we do what God asks us to do!
The man must be jubilant at having his sight but immediately there is controversy. People aren’t prepared to believe that he is the same man who was begging by the side of the road earlier in the day. Some people are not prepared for change in a person but that is one of the things that Lent has traditionally been for—making a new beginning.
Do we find ourselves pigeon-holing someone and not allowing them to be different?
When the man testifies as to what happened, the crowd takes him to the Pharisees. When he informs them as to what happened, they ignore the good work and complain that it was work done on the Sabbath. They are righteously indignant.
Some of the Pharisees get the bigger picture—that something extraordinary has been done and by Jesus while others maintain that Jesus cannot be of God.
The inquisition continues with the parents freely admitting that the man is their son but are mystified by what has happened.
They fear being shunned. In a small village the synagogue is the center of life. What a hard choice the parents had to make! How powerless they must have felt.
When the man challenges the Pharisees for dismissing Jesus, they respond by driving him out. Place yourselves in the position of the Pharisees—here a former beggar is expounding on the nature of Jesus to the supposed experts.
Jesus seeks out the man. He does not ask him how he feels or commiserates with him. Instead he asks the man about his belief in the Son of Man. And the man who trusts Jesus only wants to know what he is to believe.
Throughout the gospels Jesus tells us what to believe; how far do we trust him?
For the second time Jesus tells someone whom society has marginalized that he is the Son of Man and without question the man says he believes.
The narrative ends with Jesus condemning the Pharisees for being blind to God’s reality when they of all people are in the best position to know.
We are left with the question—in this story who was truly blind and who could see clearly the Son of Man.
We who are worshiping Christians who hear and read the gospel message each week are the fortunate ones. We have the greatest opportunity to see Jesus as the incarnate God. May we seize the opportunity and then share it.