For now we see in a mirror, dimly, … Now I know only in part.—1 Corinthians 13:12
We all see the world through lenses that are stained, cracked or askew. And sometimes, as Jesus shows us, we need to learn from those who are blind.
In John 9, one of my favorite passages in the Bible, we see how people’s assumptions affect what or how they see. The disciples assume the blind man or his parents have sinned.
Jesus sees the man in a different light. Here, he says, is an opportunity to see God at work.
The neighbors can’t believe it. It doesn’t fit their worldview. And when the Pharisees hear who healed the man, they decide, This guy’s a sinner who doesn’t keep the Sabbath. According to their worldview, they’re right, a person who doesn’t keep the Sabbath can’t be from God.
The blind man in this story is like the ideal disciple. He’s truthful, focuses on his own experience, not on what it means, and he’s courageous.
The Pharisees call the blind man back in and hint at what he needs to say. Remember, according to us, this man is a sinner.
This reminds me of when the police or other authorities question someone and say, Admit it, we know you’re guilty. Just say it.
All the blind man has to do is say, Yes, he’s a sinner, so he couldn’t have healed me. But he won’t go for it. He simply tells the truth. All I know, he says, is that I was blind, and now I see.
They want an explanation. How did Jesus do it?
And here is the funniest line in the story, maybe one of the funniest in the entire Bible: I already told you. Aren’t you listening? Do you also want to become his disciples?
The Pharisees resort to categorization, a strategy many of us employ often. We know more than you. We come from better stock.
The blind man, with the clear eyes of innocence and logic, points out the contradiction here. If Jesus is a sinner and not from God, how did he heal me?
Later, Jesus confronts the Pharisees. Because you say you see, you remain blind.
It should be obvious that this story is not really about physical sight but spiritual sight. In fact, many blind people are more aware of what’s around them than those of us who have sight.
It’s easy to read this story and laugh at the Pharisees, but when I read it, I’m struck by how much like them I am. I, too, think I’m right most of the time. And when I’m contradicted, I look for a way out, a way to categorize the one who disagrees with me, or I simply ignore what they say.
In his article “Seeing Our Blindness” (page 22), John C. Murray writes, “The biggest hindrance to new insight, new understanding and a deeper awareness of God’s presence and activity in the world is what we think we already know.”
One of the things my spiritual director asks me is, Where have you seen God active in your life? This is what Jesus does in this story. While others saw a man stuck in his blindness, someone they could go on ignoring, he saw a possibility. Derrida calls God “the possibility of the impossible.” I need to look for that possibility. I’ve learned that when I look, I tend to see God’s activity in ways I don’t when I don’t look.
Jesus saw possibility. He even saw that spitting in the dirt and making mud can serve as a way to anoint a man and bring healing.
Mennonite Church USA is facing important decisions as we examine our differences. We must look for the possibility of the impossible as we seek unity in the Spirit.
But seeing requires humility, realizing we often don’t know what we think we know. As Christian philosopher John D. Caputo says, “Faith is idolatrous if it is rigidly self-certain but not if it is softened in the waters of doubt.”
Gordon Houser is associate editor of The Mennonite. This article appeared in the October print issue of The Mennonite.
Have a comment on this story? Write to the editors. Include your full name, city and state. Selected comments will be edited for publication in print or online.