“The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam” by James Tissot
A Lenten Reflection on John 9
by Anna Larson
“You have seen him, and he is speaking to you!”
When we consider the story of the man born blind in John 9, we tend to focus on the healing, Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees over this issue, or the spiritual blindness metaphor. This week, though, I found myself connecting to the blind man’s story as a whole, and most of all the bigger, better, best happy ending God eventually leads him to.
The opening event, from the blind man’s perspective, is his healing by an unknown Galilean passing through town. This stranger spits on the ground, swirls it around to make mud, paints the gunk on his face, and then tells him to go wash it off in the local pool. The blind and now muddy man goes off to wash. How desperate must he have been? He doesn’t even seem to know rumors about who Jesus is and yet he follows his directions, and comes back seeing. Suddenly, his life has been revolutionized. This is the basis of the man’s faith—a merciful healing he will never forget. Is this the end of the story, we wonder and our friend the blind man wonders? A beautiful bolt from heaven into our lives, that we will always remember, but which will never be repeated? I think of this healing as similar to the “mountaintop encounters” we sometimes have in our spiritual lives—sudden, occasional experiences that change us. These experiences are certainly from God, but do we have to figure the rest out ourselves?
Next off, our formerly blind man is jolted into a testing period. Everyone suddenly starts questioning the crazy fact that has changed his life. They even question who he is—his own neighbors! Is this the blind beggar, this man who’s suddenly overjoyed with seeing eyes? Our friend tells his story again and again. He is called up before his religious leaders, the Pharisees, and relates the facts once more. They argue, call in his parents, and argue some more, before bringing him forward again. “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” our healed man says, “but I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” This one fact is clear to him, and he clings to it. I am reminded of a quote by John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”: “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” In testing periods, we have to hold on to that miraculous truth, that one contact with Jesus, even if it’s the only thing we’ve got.
But the situation gets worse for the healed man. His religious leaders curse him. They say they don’t know where Jesus comes from. Our friend seems shocked (or at least exasperated) by this, exclaiming that “he healed my eyes, and yet you do not know where he comes from? . . . If this man were not from God, he could not have done it.” This great declaration of faith seems admirable to us, but the Pharisees do not see it that way. In fact, they cast him out of the synagogue—basically, throwing him out of his church. All this faith, and none of it believed or rewarded by community or leaders. Is this the end? Does the healed man live the rest of his life preaching a belief no one will listen to, about one experience growing ever fainter in his memory?
No. Jesus doesn’t leave him after the miracle, Jesus doesn’t leave him after the testing, Jesus doesn’t leave him after the ultimate rejection. John 9:35 says that when Jesus heard what had happened, “he found the man.” He comes back. But he does not only come back with comfort, a hug for everything the man has been going through. He comes with a challenge, and a final question. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Our friend questions further, but asserts, “I want to believe in him.” Jesus responds, “you have seen him and he is speaking to you!” Finally, the text tells us one more thing about the healed man’s story: “And he worshiped Jesus.” This is the ending the Bible gives us; this is the story God wants us to live. It doesn’t end with a miracle. It doesn’t end with testing. It doesn’t end with rejection. It ends in worship.
Through this story I feel that God is calling us to open our eyes, to look at the bigger picture! God’s story is so much bigger than this one week, this one year, this one struggle that never seems to come to an end. There are miracles, and there are hardships, and there is heartbreak, but it will end in belief and worship. The blind man’s story shows us our story–but bigger. Jesus, through this Scripture, has granted us the God’s eye view. Look out, and look up; your story will end in worship.