The first thing he recognized in his entire life was the face of God.
The blind beggar only knew one way of life. He had no trade or skill, and no family except his parents, who hadn’t trained their son for a profession or showed any backbone in standing up for their son. He knew his way around Jerusalem through the texture of the walls facing the street, the cobblestone paving beneath his feet, and the sounds of the marketplace. His acquaintances were known by their voices.
The blind man sat on a woven mat with his hand out, wondering if anyone in the crowd would throw money in his lap. The center of the throng came closer to him, he could tell by the dust kicked up, the noise, and the excitement of the people. Then it stopped, and he was the center of attention. Either he was in for abuse as a non-working, unproductive leech on society, or he’d find a few shekels thrown his way.
Here were new voices: strong, self-assured, but with a country accent, not the smooth accent of urbane Jerusalem.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Oh, great, thought the beggar cynically. It was to be the judgment, not the sympathy and support. But the rabbi’s answer surprised him.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The speaker said he was light of the world. What was light? How did one distinguish darkness from light when darkness was all that was known?
He recoiled when he smelled and felt mud being placed on his eyelids. The voice spoke again, this time directed at the blind beggar. “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Instead of a handout of money, he got mud in his eyes!
With no explanation about the mud or what it signified, the blind man obeyed the voice. No questions. No arguments. No complications. Maybe it was the rabbi’s kindness and lack of condemnation for his poverty and disability. Maybe it was a hunch that something extraordinary might happen.
He shuffled down the tiled road leading from the Temple to the Siloam Pool, where pilgrims did ceremonial baths to prepare for acts of sacrifice or worship. Carefully, he felt his way down the stone steps to the water, and sat down on the lowest step, clothes and all, to rinse himself, and wash away the dried smear of mud on his eyes. And when he did, a burst of light blazed into his brain. Sunshine sparkled on the ripples in the pool, and he turned his wet hands this way and that, in complete shock.
Never having seen before, not knowing depth perception through sight, he felt his way back to where he’d left the rabbi, with hands and feet that told him the familiar paths and how many steps between the street corner and his beggar’s mat. He kept turning, round and round, touching things with his fingers, comparing the touch to what his eyes told him. He couldn’t get enough of this new world. So this was light!
His neighbors recognized him by his clothes, undoubtedly dusty and ragged, and he looked something like the dirty beggar they’d seen near the Temple every day for years. They weren’t all that impressed that the man could see for the first time in his life—they suspected he’d faked it all along to beg for handouts rather than learn a trade.
So they took the man to the priests at the Temple, who were going about their sanctified duties on the Sabbath. The priests asked when this alleged healing had taken place. Today, they heard. The Sabbath. Well, here was something to pin on the renegade rabbi: stirring up dust and spittle to make mud was work. (Unlike this panel of inquisition meeting on the Sabbath, of course.)
When the Pharisees questioned the man, he told them the same story he’d given his neighbors, but this time he added, “He is a prophet.”
They called the man’s parents to verify that the sighted man was the same man as the blind beggar. The parents knew that if they acknowledged it was Jesus who had healed their son, they’d be put out of fellowship, flogged, and shunned by their synagogue and their community. So they tossed responsibility back to their son. “Ask him. He is of age, he will speak for himself.”
And he did. The leaders insisted that he give the glory and credit for the miracle to God, not to Jesus, for Jesus must be a sinner for breaking the Sabbath by working. The man’s eyes were still open wide, drinking in his surroundings and the jealous, accusatory faces now confronting him. So this was the face that went along with a suspicious voice. But the new bright eyes opened a little wider. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!”
The priests knew their theology and their denominational doctrines, but the now-sighted man had personally experienced salvation from an incurable, hopeless condition. Now his experience consolidated. He first called Jesus a man. Then a prophet. Now he testified that Jesus was not a sinner, but from God.
This infuriated the leaders. They beat him, and threw him out of fellowship and any hope of salvation as they understood it. They pronounced him a non-person, and shunned him.
But Jesus hadn’t finished with the man. He’d initiated the encounter the man hadn’t asked for, and when he heard that the man had been excommunicated, Jesus sought him out. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he asked.
“Who is he, sir?” the beggar asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” He still saw with his hands and ears, not his eyes. Who was this person with a kind voice, and a face to match?
Jesus replied with a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes, “You have now seen him, in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Jesus identified himself by voice, in the most familiar and comfortable way the man knew.
At that moment, the beggar’s healing was complete. He blinked. He had spiritual eyes to see, with no magnifiers, no filters, no preconceived notions. Jesus instilled trust in him. He answered the rabbi, “Lord, I believe,” and he fell at Jesus’ feet and kissed them in an act of worship. “For you have delivered my soul from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 56:13.
Read the Bible story in John 9.
This article by Christy K. Robinson appeared in the Loma Linda Campus Hill Communique, February 1999.