It was a glorious miracle, and the words of Isaiah sprang to their minds as they talked excitedly among each other.
“The healer is the one Isaiah spoke of!”
“’To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.’”
The man who was formerly blind, but now could see, nodded his head vigorously as he craned around from side to side, taking in everything. He was in a daze, not quite steady on his feet, and thankful for the arms linked through his. He had indeed been in darkness, and yes, imprisoned by his lack of sight.
He had thanked God every day for his heightened sense of hearing, of smell, even of touch as he could sense objects, people, creatures, and buildings within his space. But now! He could hardly absorb it all, blinking at the sun’s light and at the kaleidoscope of colors and images all around him.
They were all breathless as they cleared the final steps that led to the temple. Straightaway they headed for the Court of the Women where the temple treasury was located. Pharisees almost certainly would be there, greeting worshippers, and making themselves available for teaching. Especially today, for it was the Sabbath.
It was not long before a member of their joyful troupe espied the signature robes and prayer shawl. “There!” he cried, and they made their way, so certain these godly men would rejoice with them over God’s wondrous healing.
It came out all of a tumble, first one and then another trying to tell the man’s story for him. The beggar himself was quiet, staring intently at the men he had before only heard, and smelled, and felt near him. He took in the blue of their tassels, the quality of their robes, the curl and shine of their long beards. Suddenly, one of the Pharisees pointed a finger and a question at him.
“How did you receive your sight?”
At first the man blinked, so seldom was he spoken to in the temple setting. At home, of course, his family, neighbors from time to time. But not one of the religious authorities!
Finally, “he put mud on my eyes, and I washed.” He had been making the motions with his hands, showing how mud had been put on his eyes, and how he had rubbed his face vigorously. The Pharisees watched unsmiling, their brows drawn together. Several fingered the curls of their beards.
He waited for them to speak. When none did, he said, “And I see!” waving his hands out from his eyes, indicating every object within view, the people, their offerings, the treasury’s trumpets, and would have continued waving all around had not a friendly arm crossed his and brought his hands down.
The learned teachers began to talk among themselves, quietly, in Hebrew. The man heard “Shabbat” several times. Then, one of the older Pharisees turned back to the beggar and said, “This person is not from God because he does not guard and keep the Sabbath.”
That had caught them off-guard.
But they quickly recovered, each talking more loudly than the last, waving their hands and stepping closer as their voices raised.
“How is a sinful person able to do such signs of divine authority?” they asked.
“A righteous person does not do work on the Lord’s Sabbath!” teachers of the law replied.
“Almighty God never slumbers nor sleeps, so says the Psalm!” came one rejoinder. “Adonai’s lovingkindness never ceases!” cried another. They were trying to remember all the scriptures they had learned since childhood of God’s unceasing care for them. “Every morning God brings justice! Every morning!”
They were offended on the beggar’s behalf.
But the Pharisees were firm. It was not possible that one who was righteous in the Lord would transgress this most ancient and hallowed law.
And so they were divided. Was this miracle a treasure from God, or a vile trick of Satan?
Again the man watched in confused silence, not knowing where to look or what to say. And again, a Pharisee suddenly turned to him and pinned him with a direct question. “What are you saying concerning him, since he opened your eyes?”
The man looked with appeal at those who had brought him there, and then to the group of Pharisees before him. They all stared back, waiting for his answer. He did not know what to do, but he could not agree that what had happened to him was evil, nor that the kind, gentle hands and voice had come from a wicked man.
Finally, with great care, he spoke. “He is a prophet.”
They had put the question to him as though it would break a tie, but it did no such thing. Instead, the Pharisees spluttered with frustration and disbelief. Impossible! No prophet of God would so shamelessly contravene God’s holy day. Especially here, on the holy mountain of God in God’s holy habitation! Did the man have no concept of holiness?!
Then, one of the Pharisees who had grown quiet and speculative found a small break in the mounting tirades and announced, “Get the man’s parents.” Everyone on both sides turned, startled.
A chorus of “What?” “Why?” “Now?” erupted on one side of their knotted group, and a whirlwind of heads nodded on the other. Yes. Now. They lived near enough the temple, they could come (for the beggar walked from his home to the temple every day, even on the Sabbath).
A few neighbors left to retrieve the man’s mother and father while the rest stayed to continue the argument. Within the hour they were back and being questioned. Both were visibly trembling, pale with fear, for they knew the religious authorities had begun to put those who followed Jesus out of the synagogue.
From hearing the story their neighbors had given them along the way, they felt sure the rabbi some called Messiah had restored their son. In their hearts they thanked God. They loved the Lord their God. But, they could not afford the scandal and humiliation, not to mention the burden of being barred from their place of worship.
To every question they shook their heads. Yes, he was their son, yes, he had been born without sight. No, they did not know how, or by whom such a miracle had occurred. Ask him, they said, after each question. Ask him, he is old enough to speak for himself.
They kept their eyes respectfully cast down, bowed before the Pharisees. His mother held her hands tightly clasped under her chin. His father held the ends of his prayer shawl together.
For a second time, the Pharisees turned the full bore of their attention on the beggar who could now see, and demanded he recant.
“Bestow glory to GOD,” the older Pharisee said to him, with gravity and all the authority of his position.
Then another spoke, “We perceive that this person is a sinner.” There was no room for negotiation, now. They had decided.
But he would not have it.
Even as they argued, for the man now was speaking for himself, a warm and pungent wind, redolent of frankincense and myrrh, was sweeping through the Court of the Women, causing the trumpets for offerings to sing with otherworldly voices. It stirred the hearts of all there, for some laughed and others cried out as they caught their garments and clapped hands to heads to catch their scarves. Birds meant for sacrifice fluttered and cooed, and dust swirled across the marble tiles.
“I perceive,” he used their word on purpose, “abundantly that I was blind, now I see!”
“What did he do to you?” Their question was double-edged, for they implied the man was under some sort of spell.
“Why do you want to hear what I have already said?” he asked. “You all do not want to become his disciples?” He made himself sound incredulous.
They were angered, affronted, outraged.
“You are a disciple of that one.” Some spat on the ground in disgust, others shook dust from their sandals.
“But we ourselves are disciples of Moses.” They had each, in their way, drawn themselves up into dignified stances, lifting their chins, and staring down their noses at the brazen bedraggled beggar who dared indict them.
God spoke through Moses, they reminded the man, heatedly. Who knows where this one comes from. But the man would not be swayed. As the wind whipped his worn cloak and sang through the courtyard, he spoke for Jesus.
“If this one was not from God, he would not be able to do anything!”
And then it happened.
They drove him from the temple with angry invective, heaping upon him the shame of his birth, “You were brought forth completely in sins!” They meant being born blind. “Yet you teach US?!” For, of course, the people looked to them as the arbiters of righteousness.
[This is my imagined take on John 9:13-39. Details such as being in the Court of the Women are not given by John, but they seem reasonable to me, considering the general venue and the day. For the quotes, I translated from the Greek myself, or paraphrased, from the Greek]
[Cover Art, The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org]