The passage from John 9 is a familiar one. After Jesus had descended from the Mount of Olives He came across a man who had been blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he cannot see?”
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him…. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Having said these things, He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “My friend, go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The man went and washed and returned in jubilation, shouting, “I can see, I can see!”
At this the neighbors and those who knew him as a beggar began to grumble, saying, “Has this man lost his mind? He was born blind.” Some said, “It is the same guy!” but others said, “No, it is not, but he is like him.” In response to this the old man kept repeating, “I am the same man. Jesus anointed my eyes and said, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see everything.”
To ascertain what had happened, they brought him to the Pharisees. “Give glory to God,” they said. “Tell the truth. We know that this man Jesus is a sinner, and God would never heal through a sinner.” But the old man answered, “Whether or not He is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, once I was blind but now I see.”
With that the Pharisees began to laugh. “Old man, meeting Jesus has caused you to lose your mind. You had to be carried into this room by friends. You still stumble and fall like a fool. You are as blind today as the day you were born.”
“That may be true,” replied the old man with a long, deep smile. “But as I have told you before, all I know is that I once was blind, but now I see.”
Of course, that’s not the way the Gospel relates the account. In John the man does receive his sight. He is fully able to see, both with the eyes of faith and with his physical eyes. But I think my fanciful retelling highlights one of the main points of this Scripture that is often (pardon the pun) overlooked. All too often we reduce a healing to the level of what can be seen, touched, and experienced.
Unlike the idea of healing as that which is observed in the physical realm, true healing from God is not solely or even mainly manifest in the external world. Healing refers to a transformation in our inner, subjective world. In the miracle of faith everything changes in the life of the one who undergoes it. One is transformed, transfigured, reborn. While nothing in the world needs to change, nothing in the world remains the same.
To reduce whether or not God is at work to what we can understand and experience easily slips into poor, transactional theology. I have a friend who does this too often. His wife is sick? God must not care. His grandson didn’t get that job? God must not be able to deliver on His promises. My friend has prayed for many things but has not always received what he wanted, certainly not what he expected. And therefore, to his way of seeing, God is not a God worth worshipping because He’s not a God that truly can do anything. God doesn’t give him what he asks for. In thinking this way, my friend reveals that despite his claims to truly see, to truly get it, he’s actually blind to all the ways God does work.
We cannot reduce a healing from God to the mundane level of spectacle. The true healing of faith is too radical and precious to be contained there. In healing the whole life of the individual is liberated, saved, and made whole, regardless of what takes place physically.
Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world is very clear in His actions to save it. In miracles like this one He distinguishes between the light and the darkness. He separates between the sight of faith and the blindness of self-assuredness. Because the Pharisees trusted in their own righteousness, their own understanding, their own way of seeing things, their sin remained. They were truly blind. But Jesus heals both our physical and spiritual blindness.
May we all have eyes to see the way God moves, whether we can grasp it or not. May we all trust the working of the Spirit in our lives, whether we can sense it or not. For as Saint Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7, we walk by faith, not by sight. May we each be blind enough to see that.