“‘Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.' His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue."
I was nursing our then three-month-old son, Will, in the wee hours of the morning when I read today's passage to first consider what to say in this entry. Who doesn't remember the story of the blind man healed by Jesus? This illustration of Jesus' care and concern for the bodily pain of the people he met during his earthly ministry had often been a source of encouragement to me. When my own trials seemed too personal and globally insignificant for the Creator of the universe to care about them, I could look at his very personal miracles to better understand how specific his care was.
However, on this particular morning I saw something completely new: the blind man’s parents. Desperate to find a way to incriminate the prophet who was generating throngs of followers, the Pharisees go to the once-blind man’s parents to try to pressure them into discrediting his testimony. His parents can't deny that this man, who they had known since the moment of his birth, had been blind his whole life and now could see. But the Pharisees do manage to convey such a threat of religious and social ostracism that his parents refuse to take the miracle to its next logical step. Instead, they leave their son to face the Pharisees' wrath for speaking the truth of what Jesus had done in his life.
We don't know the particular dynamics of this family. We don't know what relationship the man had with his parents; whether they had unfailingly cared for their son or whether there was built up resentment or animosity on either side for a past wrong or feeling of injustice. We do know from earlier in the chapter that some in this time would have attributed the man's blindness to his or his parents' sins, so his previous condition was possibly a source of family shame (John 9:2).
Reading the passage as a new mom, optimistic in the depth and strength of my love for my infant son, I immediately condemned the parents' heartlessness. How could they abandon their little baby boy (even if grown now) to these murderous plotters? Did they not still see him as a tiny, vulnerable creature who needed protection from a world full of threats? But as is so often the case in Lent, when we reflect on our own fallen nature and need for redemption, it only took a moment of reflection to identify the many ways in which I likewise often think more about how the world might view my decisions about Will rather than how I actually care for my child. I frequently worry more about what people will think about the school he goes to, the house he lives in, the friends he has, the clothes he wears, than what these things will teach him about what his parents and church family believe about the love and care of Jesus. Likewise, I often want him to be smart, successful, well-liked as badges of honor of our good parenting and gateways to his own social advancement, rather than as talents he can use to God's glory out of gratitude for his salvation.
As I reflect on my own sin, the hopeful and humbling thing of this passage is that the blind man doesn't care about his parents’ response. He has been changed by his encounter with Jesus! While I pray for courage, wisdom and faith in bringing up the children of our church each week, I pray most of all for our children to know and be changed by Jesus, whether that's through our good and thoughtful care or through our failings.
Kelly lives in Georgetown with her husband, Ben, and son, Will, and can be found with both at Beau Thai most Sunday evenings after the Columbia Heights service.