He only knows people by their voices. He can pick his mother and father out of a crowd from fifty feet away. He knows the soft, comforting voice of his mother and the jovial jumble of his father. Though he has never seen them, he knows them. And he has a pretty good idea of what they look like.
He knows his sister’s voice, too. And his little brother’s, and he’s never been fooled by either of them — not even that time they tried to trick him before his brother, that punk, hit puberty — because he knows the rise and fall of their unique pitches.
His friends have their own voices, too, though they don’t come around much anymore since they all found apprenticeships and tutors — all out of town, naturally. And as for all the other voices? Well, he’s always listening, but he’s learned to only pick out and listen to the most important voices these days. Only the ones saying true and good and right things are the ones worth listening to. He’s found that people have plenty to talk about, but very little to say.
He has been sitting out on the streets for a while now, ever since his schooling ended. He could only learn so much, being blind since birth, though his parents and teachers and classmates taught him as much as they could by just speaking the text. Which was okay with him; he thought learning to read sounded like a boring and frustrating task, with syllables coming out in spurts and jolts. He was content to listen and learn. But there weren’t many opportunities for employment as a blind person, and the reasons ranged from simple lack of knowledge, education and skill, to the fact that his culture attributed every malady to a grievous sin committed by him or even his parents.
It is something he’s reminded of on a regular basis.
Sometimes he thinks people assume he can’t hear them since he can’t see them. But, of course, that’s not true; he hears every conversation as they wonder out loud to each other what he must have done to deserve blindness. Some days they come up with some real doozies that make him downright laugh. Other days, he wonders what the reason truly is. And on rare occasions, though less rare than he’d like to admit, he’s frustrated, angry even, that he’s the one sitting here on this dusty ground, begging. Why him? Why here? Why, God?
He hears a group of what sounds like scholars in training, temple apprentices perhaps, nearing, posing the familiar question.
“Rabbi,” one says, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He’s used to hearing the question, and he usually recognized the local rabbis’ voices.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” came the Rabbi’s voice.
A new voice. A kind voice. And with an answer he’d never heard before. He listens carefully for what New Rabbi will say next. He feels people nearing him; New Rabbi’s voice grows louder, closer, kinder.
“This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him,” he explains. “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
He’s not exactly sure about the whole night and day thing. He’s missing something here, but it doesn’t really matter to him. He wants to hear more about the works-of-God thing. It’s not his parents’ fault or his fault, but it’s so “God’s works might be displayed”? He’s so confused.
Someone kneels in front of him and spits. But not on him. Next to him.
Something warm is on his eyes. It’s gooey and gritty at the same time. And it smells weird. Someone — New Rabbi? — is rubbing it into his eyes. He’s frozen, unsure what’s going to happen next.
“Go,” says New Rabbi with a smile in his voice. “Wash in the pool of Siloam.”
Uh …okay… yeah, he thinks as he gets up. Siloam is the closest pool to get this mud off his face, which he’s pretty sure is also New Rabbi’s spit. He walks to the pool as fast as he can without crashing into anything. He finds the water and drops to his knees, splashing it up to clean his face.
And as the mud clears off, things begin to get blurry, then less blurry, and with one last wipe, clear. He realizes he’s seeing water for the very first time. And it looks exactly how it sounds and feels and smells and tastes. He looks up and sees for the very first time. Dirt. Trees. Sky. Sun. Color. People. Life! He sees life!
He returns to where he was sitting, his arms stretched out around him by habit. He sees the place where the mud was made, still wet from the spittle. He looks around, searching for New Rabbi, who he’s just realized is the man they call Jesus. He’s heard about Him from the city chatter; He has been healing all kinds of people and doing all sorts of controversial things. In fact, now that he thinks of it — today is the Sabbath, and that might not go over well for New Rabbi. But what does it matter? He can see!
He’s got to find Jesus.
But people keep staring at him, recognizing him as the blind beggar, or at least someone who looks an awful lot like him. So he yells, “I’m the one! I’m the one!” Some believe him, but others don’t.
Someone asks, “Then how were your eyes opened?” They know he has been blind since he was born, and blind-from-birth people don’t just wake up one day seeing.
He says — because he can hardly keep it inside anymore — “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So when I went and washed, I received my sight.”
The people want to know where Jesus is, but he tells them he doesn’t know. That he had come back to where Jesus made the mud, and He was gone.
He doesn’t know much about New Rabbi, about Jesus. But what he does know is now he can see. He’s not one to get into the controversial, hot-button issues of the day, and if he knows anything about the religious leaders around here, it’s that this will be one such issue. Healing on the Sabbath is not something they’re going to take lightly. But he’s not going to worry about it. All he can do is tell his story of how Jesus healed him. And he knows exactly what he’s going to say:
“I was blind, and now I can see!”