Every year for the Easter Sunrise service, I attempt a first person narrative to take a fanciful look at the resurrection through the eyes of someone in redemption history. This year I chose the man born blind in John 9:1-41.
Just A Glimpse
Ironically, my parents named me Celidonius, “swallow” – the agile, little bird that swoops around like a daredevil. Better I should be named “Nuchterida,” which means “bat” – for that is how I was born; blind as a bat. The shame my parents endured – the suspicion that hung over them from the day I arrived. Though they tried to keep them from me, I heard all the rumors – my eyes took in no light, but my ears worked just fine. My father, they said, secretly carried out some heinous crime or wasn’t my father at all – I was the product of some illicit love affair or even rape. Some sin must have been committed, why else would God punish my parents with a blind son?
Some even wondered if we had some connection to Egypt, the land of the blind. Eye disease ran rampant in that part of the world. My parents tried desperately to lift the curse of my blindness – prayers and sacrifices offered until the smell of blood made me sick. Washings, elixirs, salves and balms; purges, changes in diet – even attempts to balance out the humors through bloodletting. My arms still bear the scars, but nothing availed – only the growing, oppressive realization my blindness would remain with me forever.
We became outcasts – not in the traditional sense. Yahweh demanded in his Law that our neighbors show compassion, express pity. Gifts of food came near daily to our door, with a mumbled benediction, “May Adonai show you favor.” To which my parents always responded with the schema, “Hear, o Israel, the Adonai our Elohim – the Adonai is one.”
But we always lived kind of apart, socially. Mom tried to draw water either early or later than when most of the women would be at the well. Dad would work our land alone and whatever else we needed, he gleaned from the edges of our neighbor’s fields. At synagogue, we stayed to the back and simply listened. I don’t ever remember dad being called upon to read the Torah. But at festival, we joined the throngs going up to the Temple of God. We shared in the meat of dad’s family. No one dared exclude us from the mercies of God we celebrated during the Feast of Tabernacles, Passover, our first fruits, or Pentecost. It became the only time when I felt God may actually love me – that I was not just a morality lesson for the community.
As I grew, I turned to begging near the Temple – it was all I could do. My world remained dark, despite the efforts to cure what God had done. I’d resolved to a life of feeling my way along, trusting the kindness of others. For the most part it worked – people’s consciences before God remained a little raw. Sometimes help came in the form of alms – coins or items I could barter. Other times the footsteps I heard left a loaf of bread, an ephah of grain, a slab of meat or a bushel of some root or vegetable. I always had enough – just enough, but enough.
But the questions about why plagued me. Why had God made me blind? I believed in Yahweh and had experienced his provision, but still wondered whether he accepted me as one of his own. Why did he not hear my prayer, and if he did, why didn’t he answer? Most days I could still function with the uncertainty – God remained faithful to his people and I belonged to his people, so he would be faithful to me. But on my worst days, I felt orphaned and alone. My parents loved me, but the burden of shame never diminished for them. We settled into lives that intersected at home only, which left a lot of room for bitterness.
I had taken my normal place, near the Gates of Huldah outside the Temple. The Feasts of Tabernacles has just come to a close, so the streets were filled with throngs of worshippers heading out of Jerusalem. I can still hear the crunch of sandals on the paving stones; passers-by talking excitedly about what God has done for his people and wondering why I am blind. Honestly, I have gotten so used to hearing people speculate about me, it simply became background noise. The funny thing is they never lowered their voice – it’s like they thought just because I was blind, I could not hear as well.
So it was when the Rabbi approached. I would not have known he approached but for the chattering of his disciples. I knew a crowd approached, but I would never have known a teacher of my people except for the question one of them asked as they passed, “So, was it a sin he would commit or one his parents already committed to cause him to be born blind?”
I almost blurted out, “A question I have often asked myself – who should I blame for my blindness?” But the Master answered before I could work up the nerve.
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Suddenly, every fiber of my being strained to hear what this Rabbi would say. I’d heard a lot of answers to this question, and all of them saddled me and my parents with the culpability. A few suggested maybe the sin of a great grandfather or great-great grandfather brought this judgment upon me – a punishment that fell on the third or fourth generation. But not Jesus. He said my blindness came that the work of God might be displayed in me. How could this be? How could a holy God display his work through one so flawed, so weak? Can a broken vessel hold wine? No, it leaks the contents on to the ground. So how could a blind man display the works of God? Didn’t my imperfections disqualify me?
The gritty shuffle of steps came closer. I heard the rustle of his robes as he knelt before me. He spit into the dirt; as least it wasn’t aimed at me, I thought wistfully. Then, something damp and warm was being smeared on eyes. He never spoke – not even to ask if I minded having this spittle clay pushed into my eyes. I remember thinking, I supposed the Rabbi figured I was used to such treatment, when he said to me softly. “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” I could feel the warmth of his breath as he spoke.
Strangely, I never asked why I should, nor did he attempt any explanation. We just went our different ways as if the interaction we had was perfectly normal. I wasn’t even angry about having to probe my way down to the pool. I mean, why shouldn’t I? I had mud on my face – it seemed like a good idea to clean it off. It took some time to make the trek to the pool – I overheard a few comments on the way. Life goes on.
As I drew nearer the pool, I could smell its waters and feel a coolness on the air, hear its edges lapping. Feeling my way to a seat at the pools edge, I dipped a hand into its refreshing wetness and brought my hand up to my face. I laved the water onto my eyes. At first, I simply enjoyed the coolness as it ran down my face and into my beard. Then, a sharp pain flashed through the corner of my eye. Did some of the mud irritate my useless orbs? I pulled more water to my face and rubbed at the spittle clay. I didn’t want any more slipping beneath the lids – the last thing I needed was an infection.
Suddenly, the pain flashed through both eyes. What in the world…? It took a moment to realize I’d experienced my first encounter with light. My eyes began to gather in light! Initially, it hurt badly. The extraordinary brightness of the sun rippling off the surface of the pool nearly blinded me, ironically. But once I’d turned away, I slowly opened my eyes – just enough to peep through my lashes. For the first time in my life, colors danced in my head – browns, yellows and reds faded into blues and whites as my eyes moved from the ground to the sky. I sat dumbfounded. I could see!
It took a moment before the full weight of it landed – excitement welled up inside so quickly, for a second or two I couldn’t breathe. When I did catch my breath, I let out a whoop! And broke into a song of deliverance! Bless the Lord, O my soul! And forget not his benefits.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I never felt so alive! Flying back to the place where I begged, I hoped to find the Rabbi. Running was a strange sensation and navigating by sight even stranger! At times, I had to stop and close my eyes to let my other senses catch up and get my bearings again. But when I came to my place, no one was there. That’s when the trouble started – people began to ask if I was the one who used to sit there and beg for alms. When I told them yes, I could see by there startled looks that I had some explaining to do.
My parents, neighbors, the Pharisees – they all asked me how this happened. “The man, Jesus,” I said, “he healed me. Put mud packs on my eye, then told me to go and wash in the pool – so I did! Next thing I knew, I could see!” I must have told the story a hundred times over the next day or two. The Pharisees had the hardest time with it – they hated Jesus because he always seemed to show them up in public. They tried to make him out to be some kind of false teacher by saying because he healed me on the Sabbath. That broke the sanctity of the Sabbath, they said – so Jesus couldn’t be from God. They even harassed my parents till, in such terror, they told the religious authorities I was a man grown and could answer for myself. I can’t really blame them – haven’t I been the source of enough trouble for them?
I’d heard enough though. What kind of nonsense would these Pharisees have me believe? That a son of Belial runs around doing acts of kindness among God’s people? Finally, I reminded them that no one, not even Elijah opened the eyes of the blind. Not since the beginning of the world has anyone opened the eyes of the blind. Scripture only speaks of one person doing that. That’s when they threw me out of the synagogue.
When I finally did catch up with Jesus again – well, I should say when he found me – he asked if I really believed he was the one Scripture said would come. How could I not?
So, you can imagine my surprise when the next time he came to Jerusalem, he ended up condemned. They crucified him! Crucified! Like a common criminal, they hung him on a tree. I admit, my faith was shaken – I questioned whether what I experienced really happened. But then, I could still see – so something happened, but what?
Now there are rumors running like wildfire through he streets of Jerusalem – they say that Jesus is back. Back? How could that be? If I could catch just a glimpse of him, I’d be satisfied – all my doubts would melt into praise. Just one glimpse…
Wait. Jesus? Is that you? Glory to Yahweh! He is risen!