Is That the Same Guy?

As Lent draws toward Holy Week, we’ll be following the journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem, noting the encounters he has with people. We’ll be looking for ways in which we can adopt his attitude; we’ll also look for reflections of our own attitudes in the other people he confronts along the way. Today’s text is John 9:1-17 (1-12 included here):

9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

How many times have any of us walked by people without noticing them? Of course we cannot take note of everyone we see if we are customarily passing through crowded places. But what if the same person is in the same place every day? Would we begin to notice this; and if so, to what extent would we make note of their features? If we were to see the same person but in another place entirely we would still recognize the person?

There are some very telling words in the narrative of Jesus healing blind beggar. “The neighbors(!) and those who had seen him before as a beggar” could not definitively identify the man before them as the one they had known in passing for years. We have all had part in the sort of conversation they engaged in–“That’s him;” “no, I don’t think so;” “sure looks like him;” “I’m not sure.” And on it would go. How different from the new guy in town; the one who had no prior relationship or acquaintance with the blind man stopped and healed his blindness. Whereas those who knew him only as a fixture along the pathway could not identify him with certainty, Jesus gave him the radical gift of his presence, giving dignity to him even before healing his blindness.

When you and I see people who are obviously missing out on participation in life, it is far easier to speculate about the causes of their condition and treat them as a case of a general, impersonal question than it is to notice them as individuals with dignity. We may not be able to satisfy all of their needs, but we should be willing to get close enough to them to speak with them and know them when we see them again. Why don’t we?