When I was in first grade, I had a teaching assistant named Miss Moira. I loved her, in the expansive, generic way that first-graders love everybody. She listened to me chatter about my imaginary siblings; she helped me raid the neighboring classrooms for new and more exciting books; she patiently tied my shoes, over and over and over (it would be another year and a half before I learned to tie them myself). In the way of first-graders, I marched out the door in June and didn’t think of her much after that.
The next time I ran into Miss Moira, I was twelve or thirteen. She looked the same as always, but a stroke had left her with a stutter so severe that she was almost impossible to understand. The five minutes we spent chatting felt more like twenty-five. I was relieved when the conversation was over.
I haven’t seen her since that day, and only recently did I learn the rest of her story. A few years after our chance encounter, Miss Moira began attending a little storefront church.
Not a Catholic church, as befits a good Catholic schoolteacher.
A Pentecostal church.
A speaking-in-tongues church.
A faith-healing church.
One Sunday morning, the pastor laid hands on her.
And her stutter disappeared.
In a split second, Miss Moira got her life back.
She bounded off to school the following day, eager to tell her students and colleagues of the miracle the Lord had worked in her.
The reaction was not what she had expected.
The school leaders were horrified. Once they heard the big news, they hauled her into the office and told her in pinched tones that she was not to repeat the story — not to children, not to teachers, and most definitely not to parents. If anyone asked how her voice had healed, she was to skirt the question, or say something vague about speech therapy.
They didn’t say her job was on the line. They didn’t have to.
I couldn’t help but think of Miss Moira when I heard the story of the man born blind. It’s a grueling 41 verses long, so if you haven’t read it yourself, I’ll spare you the effort. The Cliff Notes go like this:
1. It’s Shabbat. Jesus heals a man born blind.
2. The Pharisees throw a big hissy fit, because faith healing is impossible, and even if it wasn’t it would still be bad form to do it on Shabbat.
3. The formerly blind guy declares himself a disciple of Jesus, saying: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know: That though I was blind, now I see.”
4. The Pharisees are all like, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And then they run the formerly blind guy out of town on a rail, metaphorically, as rails do not yet exist at the time of Christ.
Maybe it’s me, but I kind of feel for the Pharisees. Don’t you? Here they are, secure in their beliefs, sure of their place in the universe. They know exactly who God is and what he wants from them. They know how he operates in the world. This is how they get through the day.
And then this guy with a beard comes along and messes everything up.
The people in charge of my Catholic elementary school were good, kind people and faithful Christians. But faith healing was just too foreign to them. They already had a pretty good handle on how God operated in the world: He might cure a stutter through brain surgery, or speech therapy, or electroshock treatment.
But some scruffy street preacher laying on hands?
It would have made more sense to them if she had begun handling snakes.
I didn’t sleep much that night.
I would look at him and think: You can’t be the messiah. Jesus is the messiah.
But you’re working miracles left and right.
Are you the messiah? Am I wrong about Jesus?
Are YOU Jesus?
I’m not sure what I would do.
Would I stick by my faith, like the Pharisees?
Would I take a chance on this new stranger, who might or might not be Jesus?
Thinking about it too long gives me the creeps.
I’m not ready to have my world shaken up like that.
This story asks a million questions that I may never be ready to answer. But when I read it, I can hear Miss Moira’s voice in the back of my mind, soft but clear as a bell. With no trace of a stutter, she says to me: “One thing I do know: That though I was blind, now I see.”