David Lose on John 9
In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his sight – which John calls him in v. 18 – to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. And so some folks don’t recognize him at all. Others, including his parents, know what he struggled with and see his transformation but aren’t sure what to make of it.
The two exceptions to this pattern of being trapped in designations reflecting the past are, first, the man himself and, second, Jesus. The man who sees can only rejoice in his recovery and looks ahead to an open and even delightful future that probably exceeds anything he had previously imagined. How else, I wonder, could he engage the religious authorities who have intimidated others (including his parents) with such good humor: “Do you, also, want to become his disciples?” Indeed, there is a certain joyfulness to his portions of dialogue that is easy to miss if we understand him only as “the man born blind.” Consider the brave playfulness of his retorts to the authority: “I do not know if he was a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) Or, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). He has been given an open future and nothing will deter him from seizing it.
Jesus also looks to the future rather than the past, inviting this man to faith and encouraging him by not just taking his question seriously but by revealing himself to him – indeed, the play on “you have seen him” is simultaneously poignant and joyful. All of this leads the man who now sees to make the quintessential confession in John’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe.”
How might we grasp hold of the open future that Jesus’ grace and forgiveness and resurrection provide? How might the baptismal identity of “child of God” replace some of the other names we’ve been called or have accepted?
This is not at all to deny the importance of the past or some of the scars (or for that matter triumphs) we carry forward. But it is, perhaps, to remind folks that the way forward is in the future. Years ago, I a colleague with whom I worked observed that there’s probably a good reason that the windshield of a car is so big and the rearview mirror relatively small: because while it’s good to be able to glance back once in a while, the key to getting where you need to go is looking forward