In the Gospels, there are a lot of miracle stories about Jesus. If you take them at their word, they were pivotal to His ministry. They were the proof that He was not just some hack. He called His miracles “signs”–as in, it’s not the miracle itself that was the big deal, but what the miracle pointed to, namely the veracity of everything He was saying.
One miracle story is sort of unlike the others, though. Jesus was walking with His disciples and having a conversation with them. He saw a blind man on the side of the road and decided He was going to heal him. No, “Do you want to be healed?” No, “Do you have faith that I can heal you?” No, “What do you want me to do for you?” He just engages the man.
And He did not just say, “Be healed” or put his hand on the blind man’s eyes. He spat on some dirt on the ground and made a kind of clay. He smeared it on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go wash the clay off in a river. The man did what Jesus told him to do, and, lo and behold, he could see. But keep in mind, this man has never actually seen Jesus. He probably barely knows anything about Him. He would not be able to pick him out in a line-up. At best, the voice might sound familiar, but the man is grateful all the same.
The religious leaders, however, are not so grateful. It was on a Sabbath day that Jesus did this miracle. According to their interpretation of the Law, doing the work of healing people on the Sabbath could be construed as a religious violation. That and Jesus was not on their good side anyway. He and His cousin, John the Baptist, felt the religious leaders were largely wolves in sheep’s clothing (vipers, to be more accurate).
So, this formerly blind man got dragged into the synagogue to be questioned by the leaders, who were not at all happy. “Was this man really born blind?” The parents confirmed it. They argued amongst themselves, and they argued with the man. We might think the bickering pointless today, but for them, Jesus was an anomaly. It was not that they did not believe in miracles. But their logic went like this:
God only listens and grants miracles to godly people,
and Jesus is clearly not a godly person (Sabbath-breaker!)
therefore, Jesus could not have done this miracle.
So, it was frustrating for them. Jesus did not fit their understanding of how God works. It is not that Jesus was a rebel bucking the system. Jesus would have said He was a solid Jew, faithful to the Law of Moses. However, many of them either did not have the patience or did not have the open-mindedness to even consider that a possibility.
Regardless of their views, the man being questioned stood his ground. He spoke bluntly, and he even gave a little verbal jab at them for how much they were pestering him. But his best line in the whole story comes when the leaders demand, in exasperation, that he tell the truth (after he had already explained what had happened):
“Give God the praise!” they said. “We know that this man is a sinner!”
He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
It might not seem like it when you first hear it, but I cannot think of a better answer to skeptics. It’s honest, for one. He does not pretend to know more than he knows. He does not pretend to have some Ph.D. in theology. But neither is he going to pretend that what happened to him did not happen. It is a great answer because it’s every Christian’s answer. We don’t know everything (even if we act like we do). There is a lot we do not know about life, about other religions perhaps, or about human nature. We are ignorant on a lot of levels–as most people are.
Every Christian is this man one way or another. Every Christian has had an encounter with Jesus that has changed them.
Sometimes, they are the little daily encounters: the answered prayer, the surge of hope or encouragement that inexplicably penetrates our hearts. The same message is spoken to us by God’s Spirit in a conversation, then a sermon, then the local grocer saying exactly the same thing every time. The coincidences pile up so high that we stop calling them coincidences.
Sometimes, they are the once-in-a-lifetime encounters: you or someone close to you experience something that cannot be written off with any natural explanation. A priest prays over you for a half hour and suddenly, despite battling thoughts of suicide for years before, the thoughts never come back again after that point. The child all the doctors said was going to die breathes in new life. The man born blind, after washing his eyes out in the nearby river, suddenly sees.
I can understand why we Catholics get the subtle roll of the eyes for this, as I can understand why the religious leaders had a beef with Jesus. When I say all of this, I know I am asking people to have the open-mindedness to think that maybe miracles can happen. And there may be no way for me to translate the encounters I and many Christians have had with Jesus to those whose way of looking at the world does not even leave me a crack in the door.
I think, also, about the frustration of the blind man who could now see. He could not translate his experience either. The religious leaders did not change because of him. Jesus still got arrested and crucified. It was wrong, in a way, for them to demand that he denies everything that had just happened to him–his blindness, his healing, and his experience.
If we as Catholics share Christ, we hold Him out to the world not so much as an argument to convince but as a mystery to experience. Or maybe it is more mundane than that. We introduce Him as someone to meet, to encounter. Maybe, like one of the early disciples, you wonder how anything good can come out of an antiquated religion. Like another disciple, we simply say, “Come and see.”
© 2018 Jon Holowaty
(Pic Credits: CHOATphotographer/Shutterstock.com)