As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. (John 9:1, NIV)
I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to go blind. It must be agony. The progressive loss of sight, and then having to live on the memory of cherished faces and places, must be almost indescribably horrible. How wonderful it must have been, then, for those whose blindness Jesus cured.
But in John 9, we are not reading about such a healing. For here is a man who has never been able to see. He was, John tells us, blind from birth. He did not know what it was to see. He had no idea what a tree, a mountain, a face or a flower looked like; he had no memories of them to cherish. In a sense, he didn’t know what he was missing. When Jesus came and spat on the ground and then wiped the mixture of saliva and mud onto the man’s eyes, giving him instant sight, a whole new world opened up to him.
John tells the true story of what happened, and people’s reaction to it, at considerable length. It is clearly important. And, like other miracles in John, it has symbolic significance. It is a picture of the light Jesus brings us spiritually, with conversion. As Jesus himself explains: While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (verse 5)
The parallel is this: before we come to Christ, we just don’t know what we’re missing. It is only when we are converted that we do. As Jacob said millennia ago, after his night-time vision of God: "Surely the LORD was in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Many of us would echo that experience, of having had a blindness we only really realised we’d had when Jesus gave us sight.
Have you noticed how people who do know Jesus find it hard to grasp how those who don’t know him don’t see things as they do, while those who don’t know Jesus can’t work out what makes Christians tick? The picture of being born (spiritually) blind and then being given sight explains both sides of this.
In this story in John 9, we discover how it is that someone who has never been able to see is given sight. It is by an encounter with Jesus. The implication, then, is that it is by reading about him, and letting him speak to us, that we can have sight.
Just this week, and partly prompting these thoughts, I was talking to someone who was explaining a theory of education: we move from not knowing what we don’t know to knowing something of what we don’t know, to beginning to know! That is how they explained their own journey to faith in Christ. It had come about as a friend opened up the Bible with them over a period of weeks, giving them an encounter with the Lord Jesus.
Like the blind man of John 9, they hadn’t known what they were missing. Now they know what they were missing - because they have it!