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For Your Weekend: Jesus Draws Close

Jeannine Yousif

Dig Deeper into this Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 9:141

I walked out on God. On Easter Sunday. 

I was sitting in Mass, my husband at my side. The pews were full, as was usual for Easter Sunday. An infant behind us let out a wail just as we stood up for the processional hymn. My husband and I were asked to squeeze further into the pew to allow more room. I turned to see this beautiful family about to enter: a father, his young son, and a very pregnant wife. And that’s when I lost it. Instead of moving in, I hurried right out, past the beautiful family, the pregnant woman, and everyone else. Overcome with shame; I kept my head down. My eyes nearly burst with tears as I fled the church, tears I didn’t even realize I could still produce due to the sheer amount I had shed over the past two years. 

At that time, more than sixteen years ago, I was knee-deep in fertility treatments and negative pregnancy tests and filled with soul-crushing despair and hopelessness. I was at the end of my rope. I was out of options. Despite all of my prayers, God had not come through for me. And I was done with Him.

I have to imagine that my utter despair might be familiar to the blind man in this Sunday’s gospel reading. He was blind from birth. There was no hope of a different outcome for him. At that time, the Jewish people believed that a man’s physical affliction was a punishment for his sins or those of his parents.[1] His future was bleak; as a beggar, his survival was based solely on the scraps others were willing to spare.

The disciples who walked by this man were familiar enough with him because they knew he had been born blind (John 9:2). Yet, they remained unconcerned. Calling Jesus’ attention to him was a means to an end: receiving a lesson from their Rabbi. 

The Pharisees also had no desire to draw in close to this man. They saw his suffering but not with eyes of compassion. He was a man condemned to suffering due to his sin or the sins of generations past. He held the low standing of a beggar, thus unworthy of their time. 

Acting conversely to the disciples and Pharisees is our Lord, who purposefully sought out the man. When Jesus’ eyes found him on the side of the road, He didn’t view him in light of his suffering, as one condemned. Instead, He saw the man’s true identity as a beloved son of God. Our Lord intentionally stopped and entered this man’s story, because He knew it was not finished yet. In opposition to the world’s view of this man, Jesus saw a person not condemned to suffer. This man was chosen for that moment “so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:3). 

In verse 3, Jesus states there is a greater and higher purpose for this man’s affliction. He was meant to encounter Jesus on that road. It was the will of the Father that this man suffered but also that he be healedhealed in such an unprecedented way[2] as to create an uproar, to be a witness to the glory and power of Jesus, and ultimately to share this with others.

Just as our suffering is not the end of the story, neither is the miracle. 

The man had been blessed with sight and the gift of spiritual boldness. He not only testified of his healing, but he also named Jesus as his healer. In contrast to his parents’ inability to speak up for him out of fear of being excommunicated, the man radically defended Jesus to the opposing Pharisees. And as a result of his bold statements, he found himself again on the outside, thrown out of the synagogue alone.

Hearing what had happened, Jesus sought the man out again. It was this second encounter that led the healed man to address Jesus as Lord and to “give him the response that is proper to God alone, the man worshiped him.”[3] 

No one ever leaves an encounter with Christ the same. At the beginning of the passage, the man is an outcast born blind. By the final verse, he is a man chosen for more, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and playing an essential role in the kingdom. 

However much of a fan of spiritual transformation you are, you may find little comfort in the truth that suffering can be used for God’s glory. Certainly, finding a higher purpose amid pain is nearly impossible. No one wants or chooses to suffer. And yet it is a very real and inescapable fact of living in our fallen world. 

God never promised to answer every one of our prayers as we desire. God never said that if we obey Him, go to Mass, say the rosary, and check all the boxes, we will never suffer. God never promised that just because I was a good Catholic and wanted to be a mother more than anything, I would be blessed with the opportunity to be one. 

What the Lord does promise is that He will never leave our side. In our suffering, be it physical or spiritual, He sees us on the side of the road, begging. And when everyone else passes by, whether in judgment, indifference, or disgust, Jesus stops. And He draws close. He is moved to seek you out and to draw you near simply because He loves you. He knows your suffering is not a condemnation of your sin. 

We have a God who enters into each of our stories to offer us hope because He knows how it feels to suffer. Jesus chose to suffer so that we receive the gift of eternal life. His story did not end in suffering, and neither will ours.

My story did not end that day when I walked out of the church. Through the intercession of powerful prayer warriors and the gifts of the Lord’s mercy and grace, I found Jesus again, or rather He found me. I was invited into a relationship where I learned to love and rely upon the Giver more than the gift I requested. And it is with humble gratitude that I can share that the Lord has blessed my husband and me with three precious miracles to steward here on earth. 

However, if you still find yourself on the side of the road, with people passing you by, leaving you feeling unseen and abandoned, I encourage you to not just read these words but let them sink into the deepest parts of your heart: you are not alone. Even though you may be walking through a valley in the shadow of death and darkness, you are not alone. “The Lord draws near to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18). He is closer to you than your own breath and heartbeat. He is the light of the world (John 9:5). And “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness [will not] overcome it” (John 1:5). 

By God’s grace,

Food for thought or journaling…

Where in your life are you suffering or experiencing hardship? Have you felt the Lord’s presence as you experience this? Have you experienced the Lord’s provision in times of heartache?

Lord, I open my hands in humility and surrender my suffering to You. Increase my understanding so that when I look upon Your sacrifice on the cross, I know that because Your suffering was not the end of Your story, my suffering will not be the end of mine. Amen.

[1] Barclay, The Gospel of John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 43.
[2] Bartunek, John. The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer. (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2020), 165.
[3] Martin and Wright, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 184.

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