I was born without sight. I didn’t know that at the time, and in fact it took me many years to know that there was something that other people could do that I was not able to do. People always ask me what it was like to be blind, and I don’t know how to answer that. When you’ve never experienced sight, how can you describe what it’s like to be without it? That’s like me asking you what it’s like to fly like the sparrow? How would you know if you haven’t experienced it before. To me, I knew the world around me through the gifts that God gave me. I could tell you what time of day it was just from the feel of the sun on my skin, the sound of the birds and people around me, and even the smells of the food being cooked. You don’t have to see to know there are people all around you – most of us make enough noise that even a person without hearing would know that there are people in the room. I didn’t know what sight was like because I never had it. But what I did know was that people treated me differently because I couldn’t see.
Growing up, people always felt like they needed to help the “poor blind kid.” “Here, let me guide you so that you don’t fall.” Come on – I can make it on my own from my home to the city market just fine! You think I can’t notice when I’ve got to step up or down? You take for granted the information that your eyes give you – I never had that, so I learned to adapt.
People would tell me all the time how they felt sorry for me that I couldn’t see. I’d get so frustrated, because I’d try to tell them that there was almost nothing that they could do with vision that I could not do without. They’d say, “but you can’t read!” Hardly anyone except the priests, tax collectors or maybe the rich could read – so most people I knew couldn’t read either! They’d say, “but you can’t see the beauty of God’s creation!” I’d say, “but you can’t smell the beauty the way I do, or hear the beauty, or notice the gentle breeze as it blows across your skin.” They’d say, “but you can’t work – you can’t have a job to support yourself.” I’d say, “I could if someone would give me a chance!”
I wanted to be a tax collector – you don’t have to have eyes to tell when someone is short changing you and when they’re not. But no one believed in me. They just felt sorry for me. I tried to be a carpenter, but no one trusted me with a hammer – eh, I guess I understand that part. After I had tried so many things, I gave up and even tried to be a shepherd. You may depend on your eyes to know when there is danger, but I can hear it. The sheep will get real quiet – and I can tell something is wrong. Or if one sheep strays and gets lost, I can hear that it's gone before someone could see it. I was willing to take the lowest job around, and I was going to be the best shepherd that God would allow me to be, but everyone just wanted to feel sorry for me. “I can’t believe that God let this happen to you,” they’d say. They said it so many times that I eventually began to believe it. Why would God make me like this? You know – I would have been fine not ever having seen a thing if it wasn’t for all the people who felt sorry for me, or who wouldn’t even let me be what God had created me to be.
Eventually, I settled into the lot of life that everyone kept expecting of me. Day after day, I’d sit outside by the road, and I’d beg. As people walked by, some would actually make faces at me – and they’d act like I didn’t know that they were mocking me. I mean, when somebody says, “Hey – watch this,” and then they go silent, and then their buddy starts laughing, even a blind man could know what was going on. Or they’d walk past with their hand over their money pouch, hoping that I wouldn’t hear the money jingling when they said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any money today.” I got so tired of it all that I even quit asking. I’d just go out and sit – enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face; the morning breeze blowing across my brow; the aroma of bread baking; the sound of children’s playing and laughter. Everyone else had given up on me because of my lack of vision; I gave up on everyone else because of their lack of sight.
One day I heard a group of voices that I was not familiar with approaching. When you’ve been around this place as I have, you really do know everyone around – and everyone has their own unique way of walking and talking – and some particularly have their own smell. But those who were coming my way, I did not know. When someone is approaching that I don’t know, I go on high alert – because too many times those unfamiliar voices have led to someone stealing from me, or even striking me. I remember one time a group of soldiers that were passing through that decided to take the liberty of making fun of me and even spitting on me. So now, I take extreme caution when someone is approaching that I don’t recognize their voice, their walk, or even their smell.
As they got closer, I heard one voice ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” I was well acquainted with this sort of question. People asked me all the time what I had done to go blind: did I stare at the sun too long, or did I eat something bad for me? I had even heard people say that my mother must have done something wrong when I was in the womb, and that must surely be the cause of my inability to see as they do. Again, I knew all the questions, and I also knew all the answers that they gave. So now I was curious what this “rabbi” would say. Yes, teacher, explain why I cannot experience the gift of sight!
And then I heard the voice of the one who I could only assume was the “Rabbi” that was spoken to. It was a voice so kind and pure that I could just sit and listen to him read the census in the book of Numbers. “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” I wasn’t sure if I heard him correctly, but I was pretty sure that he said it was neither my fault, nor Mom and Dad’s! I’ve heard a lot of other people’s reasons that they thought I was blind, but I’ve never heard one that didn’t place blame on one of us!
It then began to sink in on me that he was saying that I was blind so that God’s work might appear. And I start thinking, “Once again, something is going to happen and I won’t be able to see it!” I was still trying to process what had been said, when I noticed something. I could hear that this group of men had stopped walking, and I could tell that they were all looking at me. I felt my pulse quicken and I heard one step towards me. I heard him bending down near me, and I began to clutch at my belongings, thinking for sure that he was getting ready to rob me. And then I heard the disgusting sound of this one that was near me spitting. “Oh no, not again,” I thought to myself. I reached up to my hair, because even though I had not felt the spit, and though it sounded like he spat on the ground, I fully expected to be disgusted when I found it in my hair. I tried to ask “What are you doing?,” but nothing would come out. More desperate to see at this moment than at any other point in my life, I began to hear him mixing the spit into the dirt. In horror, I felt as he began to place this mud from his spit onto my eye – and I tried to stop him! I grabbed at his hands, but he breathed “Peace” to me – and I suddenly felt a calm. Soon he was placing more mud on my other eye. I felt humiliated as this “Rabbi” made a mockery of me; I felt anger at his friends who let this happen; I felt so confused – what did I ever do to deserve this?
And then I felt his strong hands take hold of mine, and he began to pull me up. He told me “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” And then he and his group continued down the road. They just left me – standing there with mud on my face. Did he really just tell a blind man to go and wash at the pool of Siloam? And no one is even going to even offer to guide me there? I can’t go anywhere without someone trying to “help” me. “Let me give you hand,” or “here, take my hand.” But not this man. It was like he knew more about me than anyone else did. He knew that I could make my own way there. I didn’t need any help!
As I began to walk to the pool, I was filled with such confusion that I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t believe what had happened – the spit, the mud, and then sending me on my own without anyone’s help. On the one hand, I was humiliated and angry; on the other hand, someone actually believed in me that I was capable of making it there on my own! Just as I got to the pool I started thinking that once I got cleaned off, I might just go back to the town square and try to find this man. Maybe he has a job that he might offer me. In fact, when he sees that a blind man can track him down based on smells and sounds, then maybe he or someone will offer me the job of a shepherd!
Several other people were at the pool, gathering their water for the day to take back to home. I was so tempted to just jump in, and to feel the water cool my skin – and to wash away all the dirt and muck that had fallen upon my body as I sat by the road – but I knew that if I wanted to find the man again, I really just needed to wash the mud off of my face and get going. I leaned over the side, and I dipped my hands in the water, and I brought the cool water to my face. For some reason, just as the water was about to hit my face I was reminded of one of the sayings of Moses – “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” As I felt the mud washing down my face, I reached down for more water, I experienced something that I had never experienced before – I saw my own face looking down in the water! Not understanding what was happening, I splashed more water on my face, and more water, and more water. People began to stare – and I could see them staring! I looked back into the water and stared at myself – and I overheard someone say, “Someone needs to help walk him back to his home.” And I shouted, “Praise to the Lord God Almighty! I can see! I can see!”
I could hear them and I jumped and danced for joy, and I knew they were doubting that I could actually see. As I sprinted back home, I heard some of my neighbors asking each other, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” A couple of them even began arguing with each other, “This is the one that was blind!,” and another saying “No, but it looks like him.” In a way, they were both right – because I am the one who was blind, but now I’m not that man any more! I may look like him, but this man that put his spit and mud on my eyes has made me new! He’s given me a new life! I once was blind, but now I see!