“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see,” says the man born blind, countering the Pharisees in a stunning display of confidence.
The rest of us bystanders are just as astonished because all we ever knew about the man is that he “used to sit and beg.”
This is the second time the religious authorities have called the former blind man to testify. Their real target is Jesus, “a sinner,” who is “not from God” because he has broken the Sabbath by making a healing salve.
But the more they interrogate the man born blind, the more he holds court, speaks with authority and refutes their allegations. We can almost see his eyes opening wider with each retort.
Only days ago, the blind man had no more standing in the community than a roustabout.
His day job was sensing the weight of the coins hitting the bottom of his outstretched hat and discerning their value by tracing his fingertips over their minted contours.
But now he has depth perception. No longer the pitied vagabond, he is standing with his chin up and shoulders back, projecting his voice to a group of highly esteemed and decorously robed religious leaders. And he has them on their heels.
At the beginning of John 9, we see the man born blind receive the immediate gift of physical sight.
But across these 41 verses, we see an exponential growth of insight, as he becomes ever more convinced of Jesus’ identity as the “Son of Man.”
Back in verse 11, he rather unsuccessfully attempts to explain the miracle to his neighbors. Who did this for him? He replies not with “the Messiah,” but, “The man called Jesus.”
He even describes his healing less decisively. “I … received my sight.”
We notice both his verbs and impressions of Jesus beginning to change in his first testimony to the authorities. It’s no longer, “I received my sight,” but a more decisive “now I see.”
And when they ask his thoughts on Jesus, he responds, “He is a prophet.” Can you see the formerly blind man’s eyes opening wider?
The drama intensifies as the authorities question him a second time. Like theatric lawyers cross-examining their witness, the Pharisees implore, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
Ol’ Blind Beggar sees an opening, “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Zing!
Later on, an officer will backhand Jesus for using this tone of voice with the high priest (John 18:22).
By the end of this raucous interrogation, the outsmarted authorities are bitter, and security is tossing the formerly blind man back into the streets. Jesus never told him seeing would make life easier.
St. Paul teaches us that we “see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Continuing Paul’s claim, David Bentley Hart translates that we see, “in an enigma, but then face to face; as yet I know partially, but then I shall know fully, just as I am fully known.”
Though he’s walking the streets again, the man born blind is seeing everything with new eyes. Jesus remains something of an enigma to him. But we’re about to see he’s been discerning those first impressions too.
When Jesus hears of the formerly blind man’s excommunication, he finds him and offers a gentler inquiry, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Face to face with Jesus once again, the man asks, “And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe him.”
Jesus then grants the formerly blind man has seen the Messiah with deeper insight than ever before. “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
The man replies not with “I see,” but, finally, “I believe.”
The blind man grows steadily from a sheepish beggar to a seasoned witness. Though he receives his sight in his initial encounter with Jesus, the beggar’s true perception deepens through social pressure, dramatic trials and even excommunication.
From his healing to his final encounter with Jesus, the formerly blind man transforms from a stunned recipient of grace to a confessional follower of Jesus.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2020. Each week, we will have an article reflecting on the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. Previous articles in the series were:
Lenten Lectionary | Are You Angry When Your Cheese is Moved? | Terrell Carter
Lenten Lectionary | Journeying with Jesus into the Wilderness | Merianna Harrelson
Lenten Lectionary | Your Lenten Journey to the Far Country | Richard Wilson
Lenten Lectionary | Will You Boldly Push the Boundaries? | Aurelia Davila Pratt
Austin “Mack” Dennis is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Asheville, North Carolina.