(Page begun on January 12, 2014)
This first piece is a retelling of story in the Bible that resonates with my soul. It is my Sunday words of worshipping, remembering one of those stories that calls me to look beyond stereotypes to see the person. When we label others with cultures judgements we miss who they really are. I am thankful for the one who comes and finds me when I feel lost and don’t know where to go to find acceptance.
The day I will always remember
(The characters and dialogue can be found in John 9, based on the NRSV version)
Alone. That has become the story of my life. Sitting here – a beggar! Not what my parents dreamed for me. Our world has no place for people like me. Blind. Not to be whole is a sure sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. Even those with menial work don’t want to invite that curse on their establishment.
I hope today isn’t a dry day like yesterday. Mom and dad have been good enough to give me a place to sleep but things are tight in the house. Now that I am a man, being there seems to spread the curse to them all in the eyes of so many. They are doing their best for me, but my brothers and sisters don’t need the taint of who I am. If only I had some way to leave on my own. What can I do? Where does a blind man go when he can’t see the paths ahead?
Footsteps. Good. Maybe they will be a bit more generous then others have been lately. Sit up tall. Straighten my clothes or will they be more pitying of me if I am stooped and slovenly? I wish they had a school for begging to help me figure that out. But things are what they are. They are stopping but they aren’t close enough to my chalice. “Over here”, I want to scream, but that would just chase them away.
Okay. What are they doing. They are just standing there. Wait! Someone is talking. “Rabbi,” a deep voice queries. “Was it this man’s sin or his parents sin that caused him to be born blind?” Another debate! I had heard it all before and any other passerby could hear it as well. It would be a dry day for sure.
The voice that replied had a different tenor to his words.. “Neither.” I recognized his voice as one I had heard before. This was the man they called Jesus. “This was not caused by his parents or his own sin. This is simply a part of his life so that God’s glory can shine in him.” My blindness is a blessing from God? But everyone says…He’s speaking again. I school my face to hide the excitement bubbling inside.
“Our place here on this earth is to do the work of the one who sent me, now, while it is day. The night will come soon enough. No one will work then. But I am here. I am present now. And while I am here, I bring the light.” I could hear the sound of shuffling feet. The people around him were not fully comfortable with his words.
I hear a person spit and involuntarily raise my arm to keep the spray from my face. It would not be the first time I wore the distain of others. But there is nothing. I am not sure what to think of these strange events.
I hear a scratching and rubbing sound and then one set of footprints approach. It comes from the place of the rabbi’s voice so I know it is he. Cool wetness covers my eyes. Is that mud he has placed there? I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at what he has done. His voice did not hold mockery. What could this mean? He speaks gently to me. “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and then their steps began to walk away.
Ah, hello! I thought. I am blind here! How am I supposed to get to the pool? Kindness that walks away seemed like the cruelest mockery of all. What should I do? His directions made no sense.
But sitting here made no sense as well. So I rose, dusted off my robes and began to walk step by tentative step. As I walked I recalled the steps and words of others. I knew of the pool, it was a familiar destination of those who passed my place along the road. It is why my parents brought me here. There were enough people to make my time worthwhile on most days. Using the eyes of my mind I turned the way most people had walked.
Soon I heard others coming from different directions. The pool must be near. A kindly passerby stopped and asked if I needed help. Perhaps she, too, wondered if the mud on my face was one more act of disdain for me. I asked her to help me find the pool and there I knelt to wash the mud from my eyes.
The warmth of the sun gained colour and form as, for the first time in my life my eyes saw the things I heard and felt. I could see! I turned to find the woman who had helped me but she was just walking out the gate. I looked around me. Others went on with their rituals. It felt like the world should have stopped for a moment to see this thing that had happened to me.
Dazedly I walked out the gate and onto the road. I knew no landmarks but my feet seemed to know the way because soon I saw my chalice where I had left it on the road. I could not stop the incredulity in my mind. I can see.
It was too much to hold in. My feet could hardly stay on the ground. I felt like dancing, like whirling round and round as my mother had done with me when I was a small child. “I can see! I can see! He touched my eyes and I can see!” I exalted.
This got their attention.one asked another.
“Nope. That can’t be him. He is blind. It must be someone like him.”
“I’m the man!” I insisted. “I was blind, but I can see!”
“Face the facts, mister. If you were that man you would be blind? How can your eyes have been opened?”
With as much patience as I could gather in my exuberance, I tried to explain, “The man they called Jesus made mud, put it on my eyes and told me to come here to the pool and wash. I was given my sight.” Why did people back away from me? This was a wonderful thing? I could see!
“Then where is he?” One man dared to ask.
“I don’t know,” was all I could say.
It was the Sabbath day so someone in the crowd suggested the obvious. The Pharisees should be the ones who dealt with this matter. No one seemed to want to rejoice with me. In fact, several quickly turned away. Those that walked with me pulled me along quickly until they reached the place the Pharisees were known to gather on the day of rest. Quickly telling them what I had said, the people left. Alone I faced the solemn faces.
“So you say you are the blind man that sat near the pool and yet you can see? How can this be the truth? You say this – uh – Jesus is responsible for this?” The firmness in the speaker’s voice was softer than the glint in his eyes.
What else could I say? “He put mud on my eyes and told me to wash them. I washed them and now I can see.”
Grumbling and mumbling anger filled the circle of men. The voices rose in anger. “This man is not from God! The Sabbath is a day of rest! A man of God would understand this. We do NOT work on the Sabbath!” The assents of the others had the sound of wild animals gathering around their prey.
“How can a man who is a sinner perform such a sign as this?” One questioning voice dared ask into the fray. They began to argue, discuss me as if I was not even there.
Then one turned to me and the others seemed to remember that I was there. Coming close he asked, his oily tone warning that I should take care with my words. “What do you say about him. It was your eyes he opened.”
What did I think of him? I had heard things but I had not thought they had anything to do with me until this happened. Who or what was this man who had done this thing for me? “He is a prophet,” I answered.
They turned back to their argument which rose in pitch until one man’s voice cut through the din. “We could be arguing about nothing. How do we know this story is true. Didn’t the people that brought him say his parents live near? Let’s call them in to see if this man has in truth been given sight.”
Assenting to this, the men sent a servant to find them and we waited. The men returned to their discussions of other things while I stood silent not knowing whether I could sit or even move somewhere else.
When a man and a woman arrived I drank in their faces knowing these were my parents. My father had the movements and smell of fear and frustration about him. My mother was quieter, looking at me wide eyed with wonder then dropping her eyes to the floor. I could guess their thoughts. What had I done now? After all their work training me to be invisible to the religious leaders, after all their sacrifice in keeping me in their home, what had I done to bring down the curse that was surely falling on the family with this unwanted attention.
Thankfully, my “uncleanness” to the men kept the one who approached me from grabbing my arm. I could see the anger in his eyes. I didn’t want to feel it on my flesh. “Is THIS your son, who you say was born blind? How is it that he now can see?”
My mother seemed to be in turmoil. She glanced up at me with so many things stirring in her eyes. It was my father who spoke. “Yes, we know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But we don’t know how it is that he can see now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. You will have to ask him. He is old enough. He will speak for himself.”
My heart cried at my parent’s unwillingness to speak the hopes I had heard them whisper in the night. They knew the word on the streets. Anyone who dared even breath the idea that Jesus just might be the Messiah would be shut out of the synagogue. To be ostracized in such away would solidify the already growing opinion that their family had been cursed because I had been born blind. I had dared speak of Jesus as something more than just a man. They had my brothers and sisters to think of and so I was left standing alone. “Yes, he is old enough, ask him.”
My parents did not even look at me as they left.
The Pharisees turned their attention back to me. “Give God the glory for what happened to you. We know that the man you spoke of is a sinner.” They seemed satisfied with their gracious decision.
“I don’t know if he is a sinner,” I replied. “I only know that I was blind and now I can see.”
Their questions persisted. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” If they could trip me up, get me to change one word of what had happened they felt they could discredit this thing that had changed my life.
What more could I say though? I had already told them again and again what had happened. Perhaps I was misreading their motives. Sight was so new to me and could be confusing my other senses. “Why do you want to hear it again?” I queried, “Do you also want to become his disciple?”
Now they were incensed. “You are his disciple? We are the disciples of Moses. As for this man, we do not even know where he comes from.
I couldn’t stay silent. “This is the thing! You don’t even know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We have been taught that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he does listen to those who worship him and obey what he asks of them. Not since the world began has there been a story of anyone opening the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t of God, he could have done nothing.”
They were so livid that for a moment none of them could speak. The one near me did not refrain from grabbing my arm this time. What he was about to do must have been worth the ritual cleaning in his mind. “You were born entirely of sin and you dare try to teach us?” he seethed. And he dragged me away from the gathering, hurling me out into the street.
I stood dumbfounded. I had only spoken what we had always been taught was truth. Now where was I to go. I knew by their actions, even the disappearance of my blindness which had once marked me as sinful and cursed, I would not be welcomed into the synagogue. Even my parent’s home would be closed to me because of their fears. I walked aimlessly down the road. The only hope I had was to find Jesus, but I had not heard where he had gone after he passed my way.
The word carried quickly about what had happened to me. The need from security drove people to shy away from me. No matter that I now wore a sign of blessing in my eyes that could now see. They were afraid. Their religion was an important part of the fabric of their life. In threatening their exclusion, the authorities had done more to silence the call of this man, Jesus, then physical punishments and incarceration could have done. For me, there was no going back. I had been changed. I could no longer even hope to be the man I once was, even with all its limitations.
I don’t know how long I walked before I saw the small group of people coming toward me. When they stopped in front of me and one man walked forward, all my senses confirmed that this was the man, Jesus. I would know him anywhere by the sound of his step, the tone of his voice. I had not found him, but he had found me.
Gently he asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“And who is he, sir?” I questioned. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” This was the man who I hoped would let me follow him. This was the prophet, the rabbi who had touched my soul.
Jesus responded, “You have seen him. The one who is speaking is He.
What more could I say. I already had known that in my heart. “Lord, I believe.” And falling to the ground, I worshipped him.