Is it at all surprising to you that a miracle which takes almost three verses of Jesus’ time takes up more than forty verses of consequence in John’s Gospel?
This wonderful, extraordinary event is cluttered with the kind of theology which likes to preen with its own self-importance, but produces little of anything worth admiring.
Occasionally when I am sitting beside someone in their hospital bed, either prior to an operation, or following one, a member of the medical staff may arrive, and begin to talk with others as if the person in the bed is not there.
I have even had conversation directed at me, and not towards the person waiting – usually with apprehension – beside me. The patient has become abstract.
The disciples in the gospel story sound like they are considering this disabled person as a theological curiosity, and not as an opportunity to offer mercy, or grace. Jesus attends with both, and within an earthy, miraculous moment, the man sees for the first time.
All over, it seems, in a matter of minutes.
The poet, Peter Steele, makes the attempt to describe the transformation, as the man opens his eyes entirely for the first time,
to find the day
Open around him, the people strange and tall,
The musing healer up against the wall.
Because this is the heart of the story; not the miracle, but the response.
The newly un-blind man, his parents, his neighbours, the wider community, the clergy are all wrapped into this wonder and not one of them, apart from newly-seeing bloke, says anything positive. Not even a broken Hallelujah.
Instead, there is doubt, confusion, anger, judgement, denial, generally poor theology, and worse, bad humanity.
The miracle is lost because almost everyone else is.
A man who has gained everything has, by the end of the story, been shut out of the community. As the story closes, he sees even more clearly, and worships Jesus, an act which evades everyone else.
Where do we find ourselves in this story? I am not convinced that John’s community records it only for the miracle. It’s possible that the man became a founding member of John’s community, which is why it so important, but there’s more.
The fear of the parents and the hostility of the Pharisees is as much a part of the story as the mud and spittle and miracle. Is this part of the story echoing us? Is the doubt of the Jews something we know?
Or is the man’s new life one we have also grasped with both our hands, seeing more clearly every day?
And the best theology in the story? When the man formerly known as blind says, “All I know is, a few minutes ago I was blind, and now I can see. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
Here’s mud in your eye!