In the last three weeks, I’ve heard several snide comments about lengthy gospel readings. Someone recently said that the lectionary’s idea for a Lenten discipline is to make us all stand up for long periods of time in the middle of church. After this coming Sunday (the Passion narrative) and Good Friday’s lengthy lesson, we won’t even remember how our knees began to tremble towards the end of the man blind from birth.
Today’s gospel reading from the daily office (John 9:1-17) is the first half of that story, and I love the fact that we get both to revisit the story but also do it in an abbreviated form. I’m finding something new and fresh this time around—hard to believe given how ready I was to move on even before the gospel lesson was finished being read. In today’s passage, I am drawn to the man’s explanation of how he was healed: “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.” His is a gentle, innocent, almost passive description of the healing, and I am fixated on his impersonal encounter with the man who healed him.
The man who was blind says, “The man called Jesus…” Not only did he not know Jesus, but he didn’t even know enough about him to refer to him directly. He buries his encounter beneath others’ perception of Jesus. He doesn’t say, “The man we call Jesus…” He pushes it away from himself, adding distance between him and the miracle and the one who performed it. Why? Where’s the intimacy we want to read into this passage? Well, it comes at the end of the story, when the man recognizes Jesus as the Son of Man, but that isn’t until tomorrow. For now, we’re left with distanced familiarity at best.
Sometimes it feels like those who “know” God the best are the ones he favors. There are people we know who exude faith and relationship with God. They seem to have their religious lives in order, and it feels like we’ve missed something important and are unable to have that kind of reciprocal relationship with God. But this man who was blind from birth didn’t know Jesus. He never spoke to him. He never asked for healing. He didn’t cry out, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” He knew so little about the healer that he said, “The man called Jesus made clay…” You don’t need to know Jesus to be healed by him. Sometimes we need God to heal us even when he’s a totally foreign concept.
The challenge, however, is connecting the dots after God has entered our lives. We might not be able to see how God is working before or even during a moment of grace, but, like the man blind from birth, we are supposed to reflect on it afterwards and attribute that salvation to its source. The man didn’t understand why the miracle happened. He couldn’t see what made him “special enough” to receive the miracle, but he was able to explain step-by-step how it happened. The man called Jesus—even though I’d hardly ever heard of him before—gave me back my sight. I think he might be a prophet.
If you’re stuck in a state of spiritual blindness—unable even to recognize that God is near you—don’t fret. We don’t need to be able to see God in order for God to be a part of our lives. Sometimes it’s only after we’re healed that we can figure out what’s happened.