I have had experiences that required reorientation, sometimes miracles and sometimes devastations. When a child is born, a proposal accepted, a home is lost, a life ends; in any case of great transition we must find the horizon again, reset our balance, recommit to our course, reaffirm our priorities.
In John 9, a man blind from birth has been healed, and his community finds itself in a shaken snow globe. They argue over whether this can be the blind beggar they had known. He undergoes a gamut of questioning in this chapter, which starts with the neighbors: where is the man you claimed returned your sight?
When he can’t answer, he is taken to the religious leaders. The religious leaders argue: could a man of God break our traditions by healing on the Sabbath?
The parents of the man are brought in to confirm his identity. And a word is used to describe their motivation that is likely behind all of these divided, defensive responses: “they were afraid.” They are afraid of the power of those asking questions. They are afraid of what will be done to them if they answer incorrectly.
In fear, these neighbors become strangers. These leaders become legalists. These parents become sycophants.
In the final confrontation between the healed man and the religious leaders, they demand of him, “Give glory to God and tell the truth!” In this time of stress, their vision has halted at the boundaries of their understanding; more specifically, at the boundaries of their authority. Where they cannot determine cause and establish coherence with the system in place, they see a threat to their way of life. “We are disciples of Moses!” The limits of the law and the story are in place; who knows what monsters lurk beyond those borders.
(The healed man is thrown out. As Rich Little recently pointed out, when Jesus hears this, he goes and finds the man.)
Jesus sees the blind beggar and suggests that his life is about bearing witness to a yet unseen work of God. These disciples of tradition see a restored human being and declare that submission to their foregone conclusions is the only way to bring God glory. Will we see with faith, or with fear?
“Nothing will ever be the same.” It’s true, every time we say it. I pray I would meet every great transition – whatever joy or pain it brings – with a willingness to search the horizon of God’s work and ideas for my next move, rather than falling back on what seem my safest defenses. May my faith in God’s presence and work be the “one thing I do know” in the midst of a world fearful of unknown things.
As we remember 9/11 today, even as we share the grief and bear the burden together of what has been lost, may we see with faith to consider how our voices might invite our communities to look towards the horizon of God’s new work to come.