"Never before has anyone heard of such a marvelous thing," the man who had been born blind said, "as giving sight to those who could not see."
as told by Deborah
As Jesus was walking along with his disciples, they saw a man blind from birth.
“Rabbi, who sinned?” they asked, “Was it this man or his parents that caused him to be born blind?”
Jesus frowned, “Nobody sinned; this has nothing to do with sin. This man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
“We must do the work of the One who sent me while we can — but there is no time to waste. I am the Light that illuminates everything.”
Saying this, he spit on the ground to make mud which he smeared on the man’s eyes. “Now go,” he told him, “Wash in the pool of Siloam.”
The man did as the Lord said and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him begging on the street started saying, “Wait a minute, isn’t this the guy who used to sit in the market and beg?”
Some said, “Yep. It’s him all right.” Others said, “No, it’s just somebody who looks like him.”
Meanwhile, the man himself kept repeating, “It’s me!”
But they kept asking him, “Then how is it that you can see?”
As my mother’s final illness worsened, she had to rely on a wheelchair to get around, and I can’t tell you how many times when we were out together that people would speak to me as if my mom wasn’t there at all — or as if she were mentally deficient: as if her weakened body had affected her mind as well. “Does she need this in a different size?” “Do you want to take her to the elevator?” “What does she want to eat?”
It was hurtful and irrational, and never ceased to surprise me. Here was a lively, sociable woman who was bright, articulate, and well read; but these people were blind to all those things: all they saw was her disability. When they looked at my mom, they saw the wheelchair, not the woman.
I was reminded of that in this story of the man born blind; when he was given his sight many people didn’t recognize him. There was confusion and disagreement among neighbors and local people who should have known him well — yet, without his handicap, they weren’t sure who he was. They didn’t ever really look at him as a person, but saw him only as “that blind guy.”
When Jesus gave the man sight, it revealed the blindness of those around him. The people who had focused on the disability — not the man — couldn’t tell if it was him, despite his repeated declaration: “It’s me!” For oh-so-many years, the people around him had been as much in the dark as the man who was born blind.
And, even after being confronted with a miracle of epic proportions, these sightless ones remain attached to their blindness. No one rejoices with the man. Instead, his new-found vision is treated with suspicion and distrust: “Is it really you?” “Were you really blind?” “How could this happen?” “Who did this thing?”
What they’re really saying is: “Who turned our neatly-ordered worldview upside down?”
Until this event they knew how things stood: they knew who to blame for the blindness (the sinful acts of “this man or his parents”), and therefore who stood condemned. They felt safe and sanctimonious when their lives were going well, and zealously avoided those who were down on their luck, diseased, or disabled — as if their misfortune might be contagious.
But then that Jesus fellow set all of those comforting lies aside with his extraordinary, troubling claim: “No one has sinned. This man was born blind so that God’s grace and power may be seen.”
How could a disability contribute to the furtherance of God’s goodness? Isn’t it a punishment for a sin — or, as we say nowadays, the result of bad choices: didn’t he or his parents eat the wrong foods, drink too much, take drugs, go to the wrong places, do the wrong things? Perhaps they were exposed to a toxic chemical. Surely there is someone or something to blame.
And, regardless of its cause, we consider a disability a problem to be solved; a wrong that needs to be righted, a flaw to be mended. The person is “less than” whole. We focus on the limitations, on what is missing, rather than the strengths and possibilities. Too often, what we see is the disability or the disease, not the individual.
Despite our modern, “rational” worldview, we may be just as blind as ever.
Is there not a potential for something holy and good to come forth from those who are disabled, as much as from anyone else? Cannot God’s grace shine forth with equal brightness from the lame as from the long-distance runner? from the blind as from the eagle-eyed? from the mute as the multi-lingual? from the weak as from the strong?
Why is it that most traditional stained-glass windows, statuary, and icons present the saints as sound of body and sturdy of limb — as well as attractive and well-dressed? How spiritually blind we are to have overlooked the countless holy folk who had less than perfect physiques! Where is the depiction of the virtuous Christian in a wheelchair? the saint with a prosthetic arm? the angel wearing a hearing aid?
Holiness is not the sole domain of the healthy and the strong.
Perhaps the real miracle in this story isn’t the giving of sight to the blind man, but giving insight to Jesus’ disciples and the people around the blind man. A disability isn’t punishment, it doesn’t define a person, it doesn’t make a person less than whole — or less than holy.
The Light of the World arrives in the village and illuminates the ignorance and hard-heartedness of those who had shunned and avoided the man born blind. Now they recognize him as a person, speak to him directly, and look to him for answers. Now those who were blinded by their fears and prejudices have been given eyes to see.
That is most assuredly a miracle.
And what of the man born blind? Meeting Jesus seems to have empowered him; before his eyes were opened we never hear him speak. Now he clearly and accurately (and repeatedly) reports all that happened; later, when interrogated by the Pharisees, he is firm and direct in his replies — and keeps his sense of humor, too. (When they ask him who he thinks this Jesus is, he tells them “he’s a seer.”)
It is easy to see that the man is intelligent and funny; someone you’d like to know. How sad for those who had always hurried past “that blind guy” to have missed out on all of that! How tragic it is — for us — when we fail to recognize others as fully human. We condemn ourselves to live in the shadows when we ignore and avoid certain “kinds” of people, when we see only a single aspect of someone, when we categorize whole communities based on a shared characteristic. So much wisdom, insight, humor, love — and light — remains hidden from us through our own unwillingness to look at one another with truly Christ-like eyes.
Jesus said, “I came into this world to bring right-minded judgment: so that the blind may see, and that those with eyes may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees heard what he said, and asked him, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?” (John 9:39-40)
Surely we aren’t blind, are we?
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Who don’t you see?
How might you open your eyes to see the holy potential in those you ignore or avoid?