Texts: John 9 (The Message)
A Beggar’s Story
Blind from birth,
oblivious to realities
beyond my senses;
unable to discern in all things
the imminent Truth
on which all things depend.
A poor beggar
(though without knowing it
a child of the Great King)
pleading for cheap charity
around the temple
from guilty worshippers.
Then I am anointed
by the strong fingers
of a man from out of town,
a chap who is under surveillance
by the proud who throw to beggars
a few unwanted crumbs.
For him I go and wash
and begin to see at last
the Truth that sets us free.
Though they excommunicate me,
I rejoice, for now it’s clear
from whence this Jesus comes.
A drama in four scenes or is it seven? Scholars differ on how we might divide up this rather long story, but no one denies its drama. The encounter of the one born blind and Jesus is transformational. The hearings before the religious authorities are full of tension and the final encounter with the Christ is full of saving grace. The story is both engaging and dramatic. It is also instructive for us who would have our eyes open so that we might see more clearly into the heart of God.
Scene One: Jesus and his entourage come strolling into the village. It is a day not unlike today, with the sun shining, birds singing, flowers blooming and trees welcoming springtime. It’s one of those days when you whistle a happy tune and tell yourself that all is right with the world.
The problem is that, just because your day is going well, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone around the corner who is having a very different day. Sure enough, there he is, a blind beggar, right by the side of the road, pleading for alms, spare change, a handout, “just a little so I can get something to eat. I’m hungry. Please sir. Help me out.” If we were honest we might admit to being just a little irritated at this intrusion on our perfect day. Couldn’t we have one day without the world intruding? I doubt this crossed Jesus’ mind but I will confess it crossed mine.
Clearly, Jesus sees him. He’s pretty hard to miss and Jesus isn’t likely to miss much anyway. He’s tuned into his surroundings. Being grounded in compassion will do that to you. But before he can attend to the need in front of him, his disciples break in with one of those irritating questions: “Whose sin caused this man to be born blind?”
“Will they ever learn?” he mutters under his breath and turns to tell them once again. “That’s stinkin’ thinkin’, friends. How many times have I told you that’s not the way it is with God. God wants us to be complete, whole, whatever physical state we’re in, and God wants us to see God’s way in this world and the next. I came to bring that light into this old world. Let me give you a sign of God’s way.”
This next part is kind of gross. He spits in the dirt and made muddy paste. He puts it right on the man’s eyelids. The man doesn’t ask for it. This time it’s not faith that sets him free. Giving him sight is a pure gift of grace from the compassionate Light of the World. When he washes away the mud this man, who has never seen anything, can see everything. Can you imagine? Have you ever had an experience that approximates this? We love to sing “Amazing Grace,” repeating, with feeling, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” What does it mean to you to sing those words? Do they recall a time in your life when you experienced the kind of transformation that man knew as he washed his face in the pool of Siloam?
Immediately, he goes home, back to the old neighborhood. Everyone he encounters is incredulous. “Is it really you? How can this be? What happened? How did your eyes get opened?”
In amazement all he can say is, “I don’t know.” Thus ends scene one.
Scene two. The religious authorities have gotten wind of this miraculous healing. As is customary in small town politics, religious or otherwise, they want an accounting. They are not comfortable when extraordinary things go down in their neighborhood. They like to be in control and they want to make sure no outsider is challenging their authority. Truth is, we already know that Jesus has garnered such a reputation around the countryside that the ruling religious parties want to silence him. So they call the one born blind to account for himself.
He tells them the same story he told the neighbors. When the authorities realize that this healing has been conducted on the Sabbath, they’re outraged. Now they’ve got him. How dare this upstart challenge their sacred order? “Clearly he’s a heretic. No one can be from God and fail to follow our rules.” The poor beggar is suddenly caught in the middle of a conflict he knows little and cares less about. The authorities turn to him. “Who do you say this healer is?”
Innocently, and perhaps foolishly, he shares his growing insight, “He is a prophet.” Surely they will understand. Not much chance of that! He has stepped in it this time. They don’t like his answer and they are determined to get the bottom of this, which we know means get to their predetermined verdict, condemning this miracle of sight. Scene two ends.
Scene three. They’ve decided that their key witness may be unreliable, probably a little crazy from all those years of blindness and begging. He can’t be seeing clearly. So they call in his parents. Poor mom and pop! Hasn’t it been difficult enough living all these years with the stigma of a handicapped child, people in the village whispering speculations about what they had done to deserve a blind child? Now, before they can even take in their son’s new-found sight, they have been called before the authorities. “What do they want with us? What can we say? We just want to be left in peace.” “We don’t know what to tell you. He’s a big boy, an adult. We don’t know any more than what he’s told us.”
I guess you can’t blame them for wanting to protect what little they have, living amidst the small-town gossip. It’s all they can do to keep the family together and a roof over their heads. They really can’t afford to get caught up in this drama. Sound familiar? Have you ever felt the need to take care of yourself in this way, to draw into a protective shell and hope the world will go away, to laugh at that joke that sits so wrong in your gut, to go along with the gossip that you know is potentially painful to another, to hang out with the bully rather than side with the victim? The man’s parents are just ordinary folk, maybe not so different from you or me.
The man is hauled back before the increasingly irate authorities. They’re less inclined to be subtle at the second hearing. “Bow down before our god, if you know what’s good for you. Don’t you see how important it is to view this affair our way? It’s time for you to ‘name names.’ Identify this charlatan for the imposter for what he is.”
Funny what happens when your eyes are opened and you begin to see – things become clearer and clearer. At least they do for our protagonist. The better he sees the bolder he becomes. “Listen, friends, I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind and now I see.” Sometimes, when we begin to see clearly, the truth is plain and simple. All we can do is share what we see and know to be true.
If you’ve watched crime dramas on TV, you know that a favorite interrogation technique is to make the suspect tell the story over and over again in hopes she’ll slip up and the truth, or at least the particular “truth” wanted by the interrogators, will come out. This can be a way of coercing a confession, whether it’s true or not. It turns out our blind beggar is a pretty clever fellow. There may a tinge of sarcasm now when he confronts the authorities. “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”
Ouch! That is definitely not what they wanted to hear. The man has taken a big risk in challenging the authorities who are now furious. They call in their highest trump card. “Don’t you know who we are, boy? Don’t you know we get our authority directly from Moses? Who do think you are to get smart with us? We’re asking the questions here.”
“Be that as it may all I can say is this is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does God’s will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.” The blind beggar schools the religious authorities. He quotes their own tradition back to them in a way for which they have no real response.
When narrow minded bullies are exposed, they become apoplectic in their anger. “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” They exercise the last pitiful shred of their presumed power. They call him names and throw him out threw him out in the street. The chaotic conclusion of scene three.
Scene four. Jesus reappears. He hears how badly the poor beggar has been treated and seeks him out. Isn’t that so typical of Jesus, to appear when you need him most? The one born blind is not too offended or damaged by the treatment of the religious authorities. As a tramp on the street, he has heard and experienced much worse. Besides, there is no authority that can take away the sheer joy he experiences as he sees – and understands – more and more.
I believe Jesus knew exactly what kind of man this one was when he healed him. I think Jesus saw clearly his potentiality as a disciple. In fact, Jesus keeps calling the most improbable characters like fishermen and tax collectors and women with shady reputations to follow him. I believe he does this because he sees right through their facades to the richly gifted souls beneath. The man born blind is one of those richly gifted souls.
“Do you believe in the One sent from God?”
Relishing in his new found vision, he responds, “Just show him to me and I’ll believe.”
“Here I am, standing in front of you.”
And you know what that poor blind beggar who has been through the wringer does? He falls on his knees in worship. He sees and he SEES! He sees with the eyes in his head but he also sees with the eyes of his heart. He is now certain that his testimony before the authorities was right and true. The One who healed him was truly sent from God. How could it be otherwise? And now he could not only see, he was made whole in the presence of the Christ.
“I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
“Not from these eyes can any other grace be seen nor from these lips can any other truth proclaimed. I believe. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” The drama is concluded. Amen.