What began as a life-changing encounter between a blind man and the Messiah should have culminated in celebration. Instead, this man whose life had been miraculously changed for the better finds himself facing cruel accusations and ultimately rejection.
My story has some similarities. But, in order to understand my story, we must first take a look at his.
There were many blind men to whom Jesus restored sight, but the story of the man who has held my interest is the focus of the entire ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. We are not even given his name, yet this man, whose life began in obscurity, is now and forever etched in the chronicles of God. And on this particular day the man’s life would change in ways he could never have comprehended.
To set the stage, Jesus’ actions are being closely watched and scrutinized, and we see increasingly hostile encounters between our Lord and the unbelieving Jews and the legalist Pharisees, the religious elite. It is worth mentioning that the last verse of chapter 8 of the same gospel concludes with the Pharisees picking up stones to kill Jesus. It is against this chilling backdrop that the blind man’s story unfolds.
“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This particular blind man had lived every day of his life thus far in darkness. This man had never known what it was like to squint at a cloud-enshrouded sun, gaze in awe at evening’s painted sky or catch the unmistakable look of affection in a woman’s eyes. Perhaps he was resigned to his condition, because unlike other people who sought healing, the man never asks to be healed.
Jesus’ disciples seem quite comfortable standing near and inquiring as to who should be faulted for the man’s debilitating condition: the man or his parents. In their minds, those are the only two options. Someone must have done something terrible for him to have to be cursed so. What a terrible thing to say in his presence.
But Jesus has a ready answer. “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”
Come again? The man’s mind must have spun with His words as he recalled years of struggle, groping his way through life in utter darkness… So that the works of God might be displayed…
And then Jesus declares, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
Light. Something the blind man had never seen, yet he surely dreamed of experiencing. From his lifetime of experience, the man knew that during the daylight hours people busied themselves and conducted business. The man knew that light brought warmth. He could discern when he was in the shadows and when he was basking in the sun’s rays or the fire’s glow. And now he was in the presence of The Light.
Still the subject of the conversation says nothing, and there is no way he could have imagined what our Lord chose to do next.
Jesus spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle, put the mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. Here again, the man doesn’t object or even ask for directions, and there is no mention of anyone helping him reach his destination. This was his journey, his act of obedience.
It is important to note at this point that there are 41 verses in the chapter. But Jesus is not mentioned between verse 6 and verse 35.
We can only imagine the blind beggar with arms outstretched and mud on his eyes. His heart pounding, he is propelled forward with a determination that he learned from a young age. As quickly as possible, he finds his way. The Pool of Siloam. I know where that is. Surely, he must have dared to wonder if the impossible was possible. Was that man just toying with me? What good can mud possibly do? Nevertheless…
We are given no indication how many minutes or hours passed before the blind man wades into the pool, fills his cupped hands and washes the paste from his eyes. Opening them ever so slowly, his heart beats faster. Glorious light and color he has never before witnessed suddenly falls into perfect focus. He must have looked down at his own hands, seeing fingers that had served as his compass and guide throughout the years. Sunlight sparkles on the pool before him, and the man looks up and beyond to see a world he had only imagined. I wonder if he feared it all fading away. Could he capture in his mind’s eye the depth and textures and hues of his world before it all disappeared? His face must have lit up to finally see the townsfolk, buildings and trappings of everyday life. I know he laughed and wept and danced with a joy that fully eclipsed the years of longing he had endured.
All of this is contained in one simple sentence in verse 7, that reads, “…So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.”
A miracle. Yet just as quickly as his life changes for the better, his very identity and credibility are called into question.
“Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.”
The word quickly spreads. And when the Pharisees hear the tale, suspicion begins to breed. Rather than share in this man’s celebration, the Pharisees begin to question the legitimacy of his story. He must be lying. He is a pretender. Maybe he is impersonating the blind man to make fools of us.
Why can’t people just be happy for him?
Sadly, some people prefer that those in bondage remain so. Anything that cannot be explained must be condemned. This man who had once lived in obscurity was now a celebrity. But, he’s nothing special. Why should he be so blessed?
“How then were your eyes opened?” the Pharisees ask the man, to which he responds, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash;’ so I went away and washed, and I received sight.”
For such men, neither the marvel of the miraculous nor the truth is sufficient.
And, for this man who didn’t ask to be healed, things didn’t get better, they got worse. Not only did Jesus consistently declare Himself the Lord of the Sabbath, He often healed on the Sabbath to prove it. So it was on this day.
What occurs next is the legalist Pharisees’ interrogation of the healed man, their contention that he had violated the Sabbath, presumably by washing (which apparently discounts the miracle). The Pharisees pronounce with authority that, since the man is a sinner, the restoration of his eyesight simply fell outside of the realm of possibility. (Isn’t that kind of the definition of a miracle?)
In a desperate attempt to discredit the man, the Pharisees summon his parents to testify as to whether the man was truly their formerly blind son and, if so, how he could possibly see. The man’s poor parents can only confirm that he is their son, he was born blind, and they fearfully confess that they are at a loss to disclose how his sight was restored. (A wrong answer could result in them being put out of the synagogue, essentially excommunicated from their social support network.) The man’s parents wisely respond, “…but how he sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”
The Pharisees attempt to corner the seeing man again, but this time he is prepared. The Pharisees tell him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” The man replies, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
To paraphrase: “What else do you want from me? It isn’t logical, I didn’t ask for, didn’t expect and don’t deserve the gift I was given. I accept and receive it with unquestioning gratitude, and you can’t take it away from me.”
But, the interrogation continued, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
(How do you explain the unexplainable?)
He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”
The man’s words drip with frustrated sarcasm.
Making claims of superiority, the story continues, “They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man [Jesus], we do not know where He is from.”
To paraphrase: “We are learned men – revered, respected and powerful. We claim an alliance with God through Moses. You can’t top that.”
But the man throws down a trump card of his own.
“Well, here is an amazing thing; that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” Conversely, it could be said that if He is of God, He can do anything… Top that.
Casting all reason aside, the Pharisees crush the man for his impudence. “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.
What should have been the best day in this man’s life becomes a mixed blessing. His sight is restored and later the same day, he is excommunicated from his social network of family and friends.
Someone found Jesus and relayed to Him what had happened to the man whom He had freed only hours before. I can picture our gracious Lord, the disappointment reflected in His eyes for the briefest moment; then He must have turned to retrace His steps to reintroduce Himself to the man who knew of His power but had never laid eyes on Him.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and he answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
And then Jesus says the most amazing thing. “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”
Verse 38 says, “And [the man] said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.” The man who was blind had had his entire life upended in a day, yet he remained blessed by the unbelievable gift he had been given and fell in awe at the feet of the One who had given it.
The man had no idea what his new life might look like. He had been turned out of his synagogue. But he could see what he had never seen before. And the light that earlier in the day entered his eyes had reached his heart.
But, the story doesn’t end there.
“And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”
Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains.”
Jesus makes it clear that humility opens the door to the impossible. Pride, on the other hand, insists on keeping the same door tightly shut.
So, it is hard to imagine how my story could bear any resemblance to the blind man’s.
I have never been blind, but I have been in bondage.
During my 20 years of marriage to a verbally and emotionally abusive Christian man, I did everything I knew to encourage him to see me as his wife, to submit to his leading (even when he was wrong), love and pray him back to the Lord. I forgave his many offenses against me, and I can’t begin to count the hours I spent either crying or praying for the restoration of our marriage. I imagined a day when my husband would return to his first love and recommit himself to our relationship. My first priority was to serve God, as I believed with all my heart that my faith in God and my love toward my husband would bring about God’s perfect result. I chose obedience and waited on my Lord.
Then, at what seemed like the most unlikely moment, when I least expected it, the Lord released me. I have never once doubted it. Even in writing the words, though, I anticipate the skepticism of those who may read them. Miracles that occur outside of the bounds of our spiritual limits must be rejected.
Now as then.
Like the blind man, the exchange occurred between me and my Lord. There were no witnesses. And although I was resigned to my condition, what transpired in that moment forever altered my understanding of my faith-based relationship and completely upended the course of my life – for the better and with His blessing.
But not everyone was happy for me. In the midst of a painful transition attempting to find a peaceful resolution with my estranged and abusive husband, while contemplating an uncertain future, some of my closest friends, fellow believers and even family members openly condemned me for my decision to divorce my husband. They denied the validity of my release and warned me of the dire consequences I would surely face as a result of my obvious sin. Yet, in the months and years since my release, I have constantly sensed God’s affirmation and seen His provision. He has honored my faith, strengthened my resolve, and blessed my new marriage, my family, and my ministry.
Our God is a defender of the afflicted, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and the Holy Spirit is our intercessor – the touch and the voice of God. Relationship is the essence of all that God desires for us – relationship with Him and relationship with others. He has the power and authority to intercede as He wishes in order to free those in bondage, to give sight to those who cannot see, to lead the lost back into His welcoming arms. If, within His sacred institution of marriage one party or the other is making a mockery of His holy design for the relationship – whether through abuse or neglect – shouldn’t we expect Him to intervene?
But, legalists still walk this earth, and they are far more concerned with what day it is than whether a person is released by the hand of God – in whatever form it takes. There still exist rigid lines of religiosity that have been established beyond which even God Himself is unwelcome. And when we find ourselves there, all we can do is fall with gratitude before the One who has freed us and stand on what we know to be true.
I am not alone in this experience. In my web-based ministry to women in abusive relationships, emotionally exhausted victims who have found freedom in Christ suddenly find themselves victimized again by well-meaning pastors, friends or family members who pile on generous measures of religious condemnation.
But we know the truth. We know how the blind man felt.
Like the blind man, I don’t know why Jesus set me free. I only know that He did, and that’s something no one can ever take away from me. For those who don’t believe me, I suppose you’ll just have to take it up with Him.
“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” John 8:36
P.S. I am finishing up my fourth book for publication entitled, “God Is My Witness: Making a Case for Biblical Divorce.” The book takes an in-depth look at God’s design for marriage, the traditional church script with regard to divorce, and examines the personal, protective and intercessory nature of God.
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