Encounters With Jesus: A Man Born Blind

Scripture: John 9:1-38

Reuben was born a boy with questions. He wondered what was in mud and how yeast made dough rise and why bugs chirped so loud on summer nights. He wondered how the world began and he wondered what God looked like and he wondered what it was like to be one of the prophets whose words he heard read from the scrolls in the synagogue each week. And, mostly, he wondered why he had been born blind. Had he done something, somehow, before he was even born, to merit divine punishment? Was it his parents, instead, who had done something, and if so, why was he the one on whom that punishment was meted out? Or did God not have any say in it at all, and it was nothing more than an accident of fate?

His parents told him to be careful with his questions.

And so, as Reuben grew, he learned to leave certain questions unasked.

Reuben’s world was not an accommodating one for a person who couldn’t see. And so, as his parents grew older, he found that his only choice was to beg. He sat by the side of the road with his hands outstretched in hopes of bringing home enough money to put dinner on the table that night, and as he sat, he wondered what it would be like to see, and why God would allow things to be this way, and why the world had put him in this position. But he never spoke those questions out loud.

It was as he sat by the side of the road one day that he heard a group of people approach, and he stretched out his hands a little farther and prepared to call out to them, and then he heard it, the question he dared not speak:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”

Reuben closed his mouth and sat stone-faced, making sure not to flinch at this question that was asked about him rather than to him, as if they thought his blindness meant he couldn’t hear. He wondered who “Rabbi” was, and he wondered what he was going to hear next.

“Neither,” the man called Rabbi said. Reuben felt breath on face as the rabbi kneeled down. “He was born blind so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.” It was an answer that Reuben had never considered before – though he wondered what it meant, and what this actually said about God’s intentions. “I am the light of the world,” the rabbi said softly to him. Reuben realized with a start that he knew who this man was – the one they called Jesus, the traveling preacher who healed people and made bread multiply. He felt something cool on his eyes as the man touched his face. He hadn’t asked – Reuben guessed he didn’t get a say in whether God’s glory was going to be revealed in him – but when the man told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, Reuben went, and that’s when he realized he could see.

It was disorienting. The world was bright, and it took him a bit to get his bearings, and he wasn’t sure at first that he liked it. He found himself closing his eyes as he walked home, wanting the world to feel familiar again. But on the way he did start to wonder what possibilities life might hold for him now, in a world that could finally make room for him. So when he got home he opened his eyes, and just looked around for a long time, taking it all in.

The boy who was born with questions should have known that his neighbors would have some questions of their own.

“Is that Reuben?” they asked each other, still speaking to each other and not to him. “It is,” said some. “It couldn’t be,” said others.

“It’s me,” he said, and they seemed surprised to hear from him, though it wasn’t like he had never been able to talk.

“Who did this?” they asked.

“The man called Jesus,” he said.

“Where is he now?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” Reuben said.

“How is this possible?” they said. But Reuben didn’t know that either. He was beginning to sense, though, that God’s glory being revealed was not an uncontroversial thing.

They led him to the religious leaders in the synagogue, who continued the barrage.  “Is this your son?” they demanded of his parents. “Wasn’t he blind?” And to Reuben himself: “Don’t you know that this man is a sinner?”

“All I know is this,” said Reuben: “I was blind, and now I see.”

“How did it happen?” they said. “Tell us everything.”

Reuben felt anger bubbling up inside of him. “I’ve told you everything I know,” he said. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to be his disciples?” He knew as soon as he said it that it was a mistake, but his world had been turned upside down, and he didn’t care anymore.

“We’re Moses’s disciples,” one of them said frostily. “This man, we don’t even know where he comes from.

Reuben had questions too. Oh, did he have questions. But he had dug himself too far in to quit. For the first time in his life, he held their gaze, until they looked away. “Wow,” he said. “You don’t know. And yet here I am, looking at you.”

“Get out,” they snarled.

The next day, Reuben sat in his old place by the side of the road. He heard their questions echoing over and over in his head. Who is this man? How can this be? They sounded afraid. They sounded like they were building a wall, one question at a time, to defend against a reality they weren’t prepared for. They kept their eyes tightly shut against anything that threatened to crack what they knew of the world.

Reuben sat and he wondered. He wondered what the point of it all had been. He could see, and he hardly knew what to do next. His blindness was the thing that had always kept him on the margins, but now his sight put him on the margins too, for how it had come to be. He also wondered if this was all, if it was the end of the story, or if there was more to come.

He sat and he wondered, but he wasn’t afraid, and he wasn’t building a wall. Reuben had always simply sensed that there was more for him to know. Questions were a powerful thing – as his parents had taught him – but it all depended on how you asked. All Reuben had ever wanted was to open his eyes, so to speak, to the world around him.

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus had said.

He was clearly no ordinary rabbi. But who was he? A healer? A prophet? If this was God’s glory revealed in him, then what did that mean?

It was funny, he thought, as he sat there, he had always thought of miracles as instantaneous kinds of things. And it’s true that his life had changed in one unexpected moment, but here he was, still asking questions, still trying to figure out what it all meant.

He heard footsteps approaching and reflexively stretched out his hands.

“Reuben,” the man said, and Reuben recognized the voice. Maybe some of his questions were about to get answered.

Instead, Jesus asked him one himself; “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Reuben wanted to say yes. He felt like his whole life hinged on saying yes. But there was still so much he didn’t understand. And yet, what was there to understand? He had been blind, and now he could see. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to answer definitively, not yet. So instead, he dared for the first time in a long time to speak one of his questions out loud. “Who is he, sir?” It was, perhaps, the most important question of his life.

“The one who is speaking to you,” Jesus said.

And Reuben whispered, “I believe.”

He still had so many questions. He wondered how it all worked, and he wondered what came next, and he wondered what his life meant now. But he could spend the rest of his life figuring all of that out. For now, it was enough to be able to see – the one that all his questions had always been pointing him to.  

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