Ever have a moment where you wonder why bad things happen? What did I do to deserve this? John 9 tells the story of a man who is blind from birth. The first question the disciples ask is: What did this man or his parents do to deserve blindness? Jesus doesn’t really care why the man is blind. Jesus simply has compassion for him and heals him.
When we encounter people who are struggling in life we sometimes want to know how they ended up in a particular situation. In other words, are they worthy of our care and concern? There is an important role for story-telling in helping us to understand what happened so we can prevent the same thing from happening again so that people responsible can be held accountable. But offering care and compassion is not tied to sin—to what someone has done or not done.
As the story moves on, Jesus heals mixes saliva and mud, smears it on the man’s eyes. Jesus sends him to wash and when he returns he can see. The neighbours and the community don’t recognize him anymore. They wonder if this the same man that they’ve known since he was a child. People begin to question the man. He keeps affirming that he is the same person they have always known and that Jesus was the one who healed him. This speaks to me of the process that happens when people come out about their sexual orientation or gender identity. As those of us in the LGBTQ community begin to talk about who we are, we say it’s still me. Who I am hasn’t changed. What has changed is your perception of me. Sometimes there are questions about how or why people identify a particular way. The why or how isn’t necessarily important. The important part here is that we recognize that of God within someone. You can hear the man in the story says that Jesus is from God. As he affirms God is at work in Jesus he is also affirming that the healing, the thing that everyone is questioning is also of God.
When the neighbours aren’t able to figure out what happened, the Pharisees get in the action. These were people who are very observant of the Jewish faith. They were concerned that Jesus had done this healing on the Sabbath day, the day of rest. But they continued to question the man and he kept responding. I was blind and Jesus healed me. Then the temple authorities called the man’s parents and asked them how he had been healed. They refused to answer because they were afraid of being tossed out of the temple. This goes back to the on-going conflict the writer of John is dealing with between the Christian-Jews and non-Christian Jews. The parents don’t want to lose their place in the temple so they will not intervene for their child and they will not support him. Being removed from the temple essentially resulted in shunning by the community—they would lose social and business connections as well as their place of worship. The parents put the responsibility for answering questions back on their son.
The authorities call the man again to answer questions. This time when he answers the questions, the man has lots to say. You can almost hear is frustration as he says it again.
“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. I have told you already how it happened, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples? Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he Jesus comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (NRSV)
The questions that he is asked, again and again, strengthen his faith in Jesus. Having to defend his faith helps him to be able to articulate who Jesus is for him. It helps him to be clear. He practices first with the neighbours—people who know him well and know him as a person. Then he begins to publicly defend himself. He doesn’t really have a choice. The man born blind is being questioned from every side. His life has been turned upside down. His livelihood has been begging but he no longer has that. No one is going to give to sighted, healthy person. He has no skills. He needs to be accepted into the community in order to survive. If he can’t convince the community that Jesus is of God, he will not have a place.
For those of us, like myself who are comfortable, it’s often easier to stay silent. I sometimes stay silent because I don’t want to upset anyone. It might be less complicated to say silent. Being able to stay silent is a source of privilege that not everyone has. Often it is those who are most vulnerable who use their voice to speak out against oppression, injustice, violence. Speaking out sometimes makes people more vulnerable and more of a target for hatred and violence.
We aren’t told what happens to the man born blind but unless others speak up for him, recognize that of God in him, his entire world will fall apart. Those of us who are comfortable, need to use our voices to stand with folks in our community and world who are vulnerable. We need to recognize that of God in the most vulnerable and lend our voices in support.