In the Gospels, there are a lot of miracle stories about Jesus. If you take them at their word, they were pivotal to His ministry. They were the proof that He wasn’t just some hack. He called His miracles “signs” – as in, it’s not the miracle itself that was the big deal, but what the miracle pointed to, namely the veracity of everything He was saying. One miracle story is sort of unlike the others, though. Jesus is walking with His disciples and having a conversation with them. He sees a blind man on the side of the road and up and decides He’s going to heal him. No, “Do you want to be healed?” No, “Do you have faith that I can heal you?” No, “What do you want me to do for you?” He just engages the man.
And He doesn’t just say, “Be healed” or just put his hand on the blind man’s eyes. He spits on some dirt on the ground and makes a kind of clay. He smears it on the blind man’s eyes and tells him to go wash the clay off in a river. The man does what Jesus tells him to do, and, lo and behold, he can see. But keep in mind, this man has never seen Jesus. He probably barely knows anything about Him. He wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a line-up. At best, the voice might sound familiar. But the man is grateful just the same.
The religious leaders, however, are not so grateful. It was a Sabbath day that Jesus did this miracle. And according to their interpretation of the Law, doing the work of healing people on the Sabbath could be construed as a religious violation. Not to mention, Jesus was not on their good side, seeing as how He and His friend, John the Baptist, felt the religious leadership were largely wolves in sheep’s clothing (vipers, to be more accurate).
So this formerly blind man got dragged into the synagogue to be questioned by the leaders. And they were not at all happy. “Was this man really born blind?” The parents confirmed he was really born blind. They argued amongst themselves and they argued with the man. We might think the bickering pointless today, but for them, Jesus was an anomaly. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in miracles. But their logic went like this:
God only listens and grants miracles to godly people,
and Jesus is clearly not a godly person (Sabbath-breaker!)
therefore, Jesus could not have done this miracle.*
So it was frustrating. Jesus didn’t fit their understanding of how God works. It’s not that Jesus was a rebel bucking the system. Jesus would have said He was a solid Jew, faithful to the Law of Moses. But they either didn’t have the patience or didn’t have the open-mindedness to even consider that a possibility.
Regardless of their views, the man being questioned stands his ground. He speaks bluntly. And he even gives a little verbal jab at them for how much they’re pestering him. But his best line in the whole story comes when the leaders demand, in exasperation, that he tell the truth (after he had already explained what had happened):
“Give God the praise!” they said.** “We know that this man is a sinner!”
He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.“***
Why is this answer great? Because it’s honest, for one. He doesn’t pretend to know more than he knows. He doesn’t pretend to have some Ph.D. in theology. But neither is he going to pretend that what happened to him didn’t happen. And it’s a great answer because it’s every Christian’s answer. We don’t know everything (even if we act like we do). There’s a lot we don’t know about life, about other religions perhaps, about human nature. We’re ignorant on a lot of levels, as most people are. But every Christian is this man one way or another. We have an encounter with Jesus that changes us.
Sometimes it’s the little daily encounters: the answered prayer, the surge of hope or encouragement that inexplicably penetrates our hearts, the same message spoken to us by God’s Spirit in a conversation, then a sermon, then the local grocer saying exactly the same thing every time. The coincidences pile up so high that you just stop calling them coincidences.
Sometimes it’s the once-in-a-lifetime encounter: you or someone close to you experiences something that can’t be written off with any natural explanation. A priest prays over you for a half hour and suddenly, despite battling thoughts of suicide for years before, the thoughts never come back again, ever, after that point. The child you knew was going to die breathes in new life again. The man born blind, after washing his eyes out in the nearby river, suddenly sees.
I can understand why we get the subtle roll of the eyes for this, as I can understand why the religious leaders had a beef with Jesus. When I say all of this, I know I’m asking many people to have the open-mindedness to think that just maybe miracles can happen. And there may be no way for me to translate the encounters I and many Christians have had with Jesus to those who’s way of looking at the world doesn’t even leave me a crack in the door.
But think also about the frustration of the blind man who could now see. He couldn’t translate his experience either. The religious leaders didn’t change because of him. Jesus still got arrested and crucified. And it was wrong, in a way, for them to demand that he deny everything that had just happened to him. To deny his blindness. To deny his healing. To deny his experience. That was wrong.
I want to talk, in the next few posts, about my encounter with Jesus. A lot of it will sound mundane. A lot of it will sound like I’m putting too much meaning into the circumstances of my life. Some of it will sound too fantastical to be true. Some of what has kept me a Christian has not been from my own personal experience, but from the experiences of others that I have come to believe in. But in a way, they have become part of my story as well. And maybe in the mosaic of tiny experiences here and there, a larger picture will emerge. Or maybe it will look like a mess. I don’t know.
*Some went a little more sinister, and thought about it this way:
Satan can do pretty crazy miraculous stuff, especially when it comes to demons,
Jesus does pretty crazy miraculous stuff, especially when it comes to demons,
therefore, Jesus must be in cahoots with the Devil.
But this second option was largely a no-go. As Jesus Himself pointed out, if He cast out demons from people by the power of Satan, couldn’t the same accusation be made of anybody who casts out demons?
**Which means something like, “Tell us the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!”
***John 9:24-25. The whole story about this man is told in the Gospel of John, chapter 9.