I’ve been going through the miracle of the healing of the man born blind in John 9 with my Kirkland students. Kirkland is a maximum security prison and my class is composed of fourteen lifers who have committed their lives to Christ and are working on an Associates degree from CIU. When they graduate they will become assistant prison chaplains and will be disseminated throughout the South Carolina penal system.
I’ll tell you more about my course with these brothers in Christ at a later date, but I thought you might enjoy my fictional account of the miracle in John 9. Always glad to get your comments.
“The Man Born Blind” (John 9)
My name is Jeduah, but you can call me Jedu. Anonymity has its benefits, but it will be easier to tell my story if I can give you some extra details, paint a picture you can see, so to speak.
I really haven’t had much time to process what has happened to me. It all seems like a whirlwind. My throat is sore from trying to explain the change, but then my voice has always been strong. And my hearing – my hearing has always been just about perfect. You see, when a person is born blind, the other senses seem to try to help out, seem to go beyond their normal abilities, to make up for the loss.
“Loss.” That’s a good word to describe what my life has been like. My poor parents. It must have been quite a blow for them to realize shortly after I was born that I was blind. Blindness means dependence, joblessness, yes, a life of begging. In Jewish culture such a devastating tragedy demanded an explanation, and there was no shortage of neighbors and others who sounded like the ancient patriarch Job’s friends in trying to explain my “situation.” Sometimes I would hear my parents crying themselves to sleep because of some unkind thing said by those who thought they knew why I was born blind. But now their crying has been turned into laugher! Has it ever! Oh. Sorry. I’m getting ahead of my story.
My life of begging wasn’t so bad, I guess. [I use the past tense for a very good reason.] Sometimes those who wanted to do good, or wanted to be seen doing good, would toss a few coins into my begging basket. I did better than a lot of the other beggars. Afterall, I could cry out, “BORN blind! Please help! I was BORN BLIND!” My friends told me that occasionally some young trouble-makers would quietly slip up to my begging spot and wave their hands in front of my eyes to see if I really was blind. But I would just let them do it. Funny how people don’t realize you can overhear them hatching their plans or that you can feel the air move when they put their hands in your face.
I’ve gotten used to people talking about me and my condition. The whispers, the theological guesses, I must admit, they often brought tears to my empty eyes.
But one day I heard some new voices discussing me. A couple of men walked up and pointed me out to a wandering Rabbi. The question they asked Him was one with which I was quite familiar, but this time was asked in a way expecting an answer. They said, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They actually sounded like their question could be answered, but, of course, only God Himself could explain why.
Funny how people think that blindness makes a person deaf – or mute! Those men didn’t ask me what I thought about my “disability.” I use the term “disability” carefully. You’ll find out why later. I felt a bit like a thing, an object to be examined and explained – or explained away. For some I was just part of the scenery, just another beggar. I felt pitied. Ashamed.
But the Rabbi who was asked that profound question, that question that only God could answer, responded to His followers with some startling words. To their straightforward either-or question, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”, this Rabbi responded, “Bad question, fellas. If you’re going to ask me a multiple choice question, you’d better make sure that the answer is one of the multiple choices!” He said it with a kind of chuckle, not in any way criticizing them for asking the question, just for telling Him what the possible answers could be!
I could not believe the answer He then gave them. I remember His clear, authoritative voice as if it boomed out five minutes ago. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” For once in my life I was mute! Although no one had asked my opinion, I could not believe His dogmatic declaration – a declaration that only Jehovah could make – that my “condition” was not because of me or my parents’ sin!
His proclamation that neither I nor my parents were to blame for my sightlessness was the most liberating and thrilling statement I had ever heard. I felt as if a cloak of shame had been pulled off me, bathing me in a freeing
sunlight. I thought to myself, there could only be one thing better than the freedom of those words – and that would be (dare I even think it?) to receive my sight!
This Rabbi then said something I had heard many times before, from friends and those who loved me. He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” I was always having an aunt or a beloved relative say such words to me. “You know, Jedu,” they would say, “Jehovah’s going to do something special with your life. You can count on it!” I knew they meant well. My parents also would share truths they had gotten in the synagogue services, truths meant to encourage me. They would often quote the book of Exodus when the Lord said to Moses, “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?” It was just so hard to believe, after all these years, that something good could come out of my world of darkness. I frequently prayed for a “work of God,” but my prayers seemed to bounce back on me.
The Rabbi then said something rather cryptic. He said to His followers, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.” I didn’t know what “work” He was referring to, but I knew about night, for that’s all my life had been, a kind of night that was my constant companion – a darkness like the one during the children of Israel’s escape from Egypt, a darkness that could be felt.
While I was thinking about His words, and wondering what “work” He was referring to, I heard a common sound, a sound made even by many Palestinian women, the sound of spitting. Before I realized what was happening, the Rabbi had picked up some common soil, mixed it with His spittle, and carefully smeared some over both of my eyes. Perhaps He fancied Himself some kind of doctor, but my heart was too excited to be cynical. His gentle touch clearly meant me no harm, and then He spoke to me.
“Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” That’s all He said. Two simple commands. Just seven short words. But the way He said those words indicated that something great was going to take place. Those words seemed to contain within them a hope, a promise even, of a “work of God.”
I could have gotten to the Pool of Siloam on my own, but one of my brothers took me by the hand and led me to that sacred place. “Shall I wash off the mud for you, Jedu?,” my brother Jehu asked. “No,” I said. “The Rabbi told me to go and wash. And that’s what I’m going to do!”
There are no words to describe to you what happened next. But I’ll do my best. Please try to put yourself in my place. Imagine what I felt. When I cupped my hands to gather water from Siloam’s pool, my eyes began to burn. It wasn’t a painful kind of burning, but a burning that seemed to be an initial stage to something I had never felt before. When I brought the water up to my eyes, I must admit I was not nearly as gentle with myself as the Rabbi was when He first put the mud mixture on me. I splashed the water over my closed left eye and then over my closed right eye. I’ve had friends describe to me what it feels like to swim in a clear river. They’ve told me of their excitement in opening their eyes underwater! That’s what it felt like to me. As soon as the water touched my eyes, for the first time in my life I could see. I could see the water, and some of the mud, dripping off my eyes! I looked at my brother Jehu and said, “Jehu, you’re not bad looking at all! Why are you still not married?” We laughed and laughed. “Lean over the Pool,” Jehu said. “Why?” I asked. “You’ll see,” he said. I leaned over the Siloam Pool and I saw my own reflection – for the first time. “I’m not so bad looking either,” I thought to myself as I got up.
“Don’t just stand there staring!” Jehu said. “Let’s go home. We’ve got a lot to tell – and show – Mom and Dad!”
And so we went home. The Pool at Siloam was not that far from our house, but I’m sure it seemed to Jehu that it took us forever. I kept stopping and staring at things. My brother had to identify everything for me as he tried to hustle me home. I saw my first sparrow. My first cloud. My first peddler. My first . . . woman. I went up to one peddler and introduced myself. “Hello,” I said. “I’m Jeduah.” “I recognize the voice,” he said, “but I don’t think we’ve ever talked before.”
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” I said to him. “I’m the beggar who was born blind! That Rabbi who recentlycame to town has healed me!” “Wow!” he said, then moved away from me. I don’t think he believed me.
A crowd began to form around me. What a variety of shapes and sizes and ages of people! Other than occasionally touching some of these people [many had treated me as if I had leprosy], I knew them only by their voices. What fun it was to connect the voices with the faces.
But they seemed to be arguing with one another. “What’s the big argument?” I asked. “I can see [that word made me chuckle!] that there’s some kind of disagreement.”
“Well,” said the seller of spicy fish. “It’s just that we’re not all sure you are who you say you are. I mean you look like the guy who used to stand over there and beg alms from people. Others suggest that you just can’t be that guy.”
For a moment I was tempted to deny my own identity. I thought about saying to them, “Beg? I have never begged in my life! You must have me confused with someone else!” That would have saved me a lot of trouble later. But I simply replied to him, “I am, I mean, I was, that guy! Over in that corner was my begging spot. Remember? I used to cry ‘BORN blind! Please help! I was BORN BLIND!’ I am that same person. But now I can see!”
“But how did your eyes get opened?” someone from the crowd yelled. I didn’t know what to say. I overheard another merchant talk about the Rabbi and how He had put mud on my eyes. “I think His name was Jesus. Yes, that’s it. The Rabbi, the man they call Jesus, He made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. I did – and now I can see! That’s my story.”
“Where is this Jesus?” the people demanded. “I don’t have a clue. I have no idea what he looks like. I don’t see Him anywhere,” I said, grinning from ear to ear.
The next thing I knew I was being dragged to visit the Pharisees. I say “dragged” because I had a lot of sight- seeing to do. I assumed they would rejoice with me that I had received my sight. Bad assumption!
I wonder if somehow I’m in trouble, I thought to myself. Oh, no. I’ll bet it has something to do with my healing happening on a Sabbath.
“We understand,” said an older Pharisee abruptly, “that you claim to be a man born blind who can now see? How did such a miracle take place?”
He looked at me with angry eyes – and I looked back at him with eyes welling up with tears. “He put mud on my eyes,” I stammered out. “And I washed and now I see.” I thought to myself, Keep your answers short. You don’t want to get these men upset.
One of the men pushed his way to the front and shook his finger at me. “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath!” For a moment I thought he was talking about me, but then I realized he meant the man called Jesus. Oh, no, I thought to myself. Jedu, you’re in trouble now.
Others in the group spoke up. “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” Wow. Is that what happened to me? I am the recipient of a miraculous sign?! I smiled to myself as they began to argue with one another. I was too hasty in thinking they were done with me, for the one who had been shaking his finger turned to me and demanded, “What do you have to say about him? It was your eyes he opened!”
Great. On top of everything else, he adds guilt! I’m supposed to feel guilty that I got healed? I didn’t know what to say, so I just blurted out, “He is a prophet!” It’s all I could think of at the moment. I didn’t know anything about this Jesus.
They certainly were not going to take the word of a man born blind that this Jesus was a prophet. So they
interrogated a couple they thought could answer their questions: my parents! They sent for my parents, who were terrified that somehow they would be kicked out of the synagogue. The synagogue was the center of Jewish social and religious life and my parents had no desire to become social outcasts. They pummeled my parents with three questions: “Is this your son?” “Is this the one you say was born blind?” “How is it that now he can see?”
My Father has got such a great sense of humor, even in a nerve-wracking situation. When they asked, “Is this your son?”, my Dad’s face took on that expression that says, “I’m not sure. Let me look at him carefully.” I could see the twinkle in his eye and knew he was just busting their chops. He came over and held my face in his hands, squeezed my arms, even had me open my mouth so he could examine my teeth, and then declared, “Yep! That’s my boy!” My Mom was looking at him the whole time with an expression that said, “What are you doing? You don’t play around with these religious people!”
She then volunteered: “We know he was born blind.” They then said together, almost in perfect unity, “We have no idea how he can now see. Have you thought about asking him? He’s of age. He can answer your questions for himself!” Fear can be a powerful motivator. I don’t blame my parents for wanting their conversation with the Pharisees to be brief. It was a well-known fact that if anyone said that Jesus was the promised Messiah, he would be excommunicated.
The Pharisees wasted no time turning back to me. You need to understand that the last thing I wanted was to be grilled all day by these sweaty-faced, angry, legalistic inquisitors. I wanted to spend time with my parents, to throw a big party for myself, to begin my new life of sight. I longed to be done with my day in court.
But they summoned me back into their presence and put me under oath: “Give glory to God,” they insisted. I immediately remembered my Sabbath-school lesson on Achan and how he had been grilled by Joshua to tell the truth about his covetous act which brought God’s judgment on His people. Joshua had said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” Wow. These men were thinking that I had been lying to them.
They continued: “We know this man is a sinner!” I was not about to cave in to their assumption about Jesus, so I said, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Why were they putting me on the spot? Their fight was with Jesus.
“What did he do to you?” “How did he open your eyes?” Their questions had not changed and were delivered as if they were fists to my face. I don’t know what came over me. Impatience, I guess. They did not want information, but ammunition against Jesus. So I answered them in the same tone they questioned me. “I told you already and you did not listen!” I thought to myself, Man, Jedu, you’re being pretty bold now! “Why do you want to hear it again?” If I had stopped there, they would have been plenty mad at me for my disrespect, but my boldness pushed me even further. “Do you want to become his disciples, too?!”
You’ve heard of the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”? Well, I know camels – and my last question was no straw. It was more like a load of bricks! I had thought that religious people spoke a holy language, showed great patience in stressful situations, and remained cool-headed at all times. But these Pharisees lost it! Flames seemed to leap from their eyes; smoke appeared to be coming out their ears. They began to throw insults at me and at my family. They showed no restraint. They screamed at me, “YOU are this fellow’s disciple!” I was? I really didn’t know much about Jesus. But they were right that I wanted to become one of his followers. I didn’t even know where to find him or even what he looked like.
They stopped attacking me for a moment and began to toot their own religious horn: “WE are disciples of Moses!”, they said. “We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow Jesus, we don’t even know where he comes from!”
I guess I should have backed out of the debate at this point. If I had chosen silence, they could have saved face and I could have walked away. But I could not let them get away with their ignorance. I retorted, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes!” I focused on what they did not know, then I turned to what all religious people ought to know. “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.”
They obviously did not like me including myself with them when I said “WE know . . .” But they were convinced that Jesus was a sinner. Their logic made no sense. God doesn’t listen to sinners. And God had listened to Jesus. The only reasonable conclusion was that Jesus was a godly man who was doing God’s will! People, even religious leaders, aren’t always logical, I guess.
I’m sure I sounded like an expert when I then said, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” And that was the last thing they let me say. They exploded, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” But God’s Word teaches that all of us are born in sin, doesn’t it? David, the Sweet Psalmist, writes, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:5). These Pharisees had Jesus pegged as a sinner and they were certain that I was one as well. I wonder: how did they see themselves?
Before I knew what was happening, hands began to grab me and push me out the door of the synagogue. Furious voices were shouting, “You’re excommunicated! You’re under God’s curse! You’re no longer part of God’s covenant people!”
I found myself face down on the street – right next to the spot where I had spent my whole life begging. Now I was cut off from God’s people, cut off from the social center of Israel, cut off from . . . God? Before I began to spiral into despair, I remembered the words of Rabbi Jesus: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” How could I now display God’s work when I had been kicked out of God’s house by God’s leaders?
At that precise moment I heard someone walk up to me. He did not identify himself; he just asked me a straightforward question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” I knew that the expression “the Son of Man” would be used of the Messiah when he came. But I didn’t know what this stranger meant, although his voice sounded familiar to me. “Who is he, sir?” I asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Wait! I thought to myself. I recognize that voice. This was Rabbi Jesus speaking to me! He had heard that I had been kicked out of the synagogue – and he had sought me out! “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” He knows that I am no longer blind! He had been gone when I had gotten back from the Pool of Siloam. Jesus knew that I would be given my sight! In fact, He was the one who healed me. His words, “You have now seen him . . .” convinced me that this Rabbi was the Messiah. I immediately said to Him, “Lord, I believe,” and I worshiped Him there on the spot!
Just then the Pharisees came up and saw that I was worshiping Jesus, blasphemy in their eyes because only Jehovah should be worshiped. Before they had a chance to further condemn me, Rabbi Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into the world, so that the blind will see” (here he pointed to me) “and those who see will become blind.” My“disability” had become the means by which Rabbi Jesus could do the Father’s work and preach the good news of faith in Him.
Some of the Pharisees who had been hanging around Jesus became outraged and asked, “What? Are we blind, too?” Their use of “too” really irritated me for it suggested that they still had not accepted my healing but still regarded me as that blind beggar!
Jesus did not directly answer their question, but simply said, “If you were blind, then you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Contrary to the Pharisees’ teaching that my blindness had indicated that I was “steeped” in sin, Jesus separated the two, saying that one is not guilty of sin if one is blind. Their claim to see caused their guilt to remain, because they did not go to the Lord for healing!
Well, that’s my story. By the way, did I mention the fact that I’m not bad-looking, and that I’m still single?