The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” John 9:8
Some of those who’ve known me only in my recovery, find it hard to believe the story of my disaster. All they know is sober me. They weren’t there and they weren’t hurt by my toxic behavior. Honestly, I find a little affirmation in their disbelief. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.
But it was that bad. In my addiction I hurt others in a way that is difficult to repair. With many, I’ve been able to make amends, but reputation is a slow thing to change. I still occasionally meet patients who mention the past, “Weren’t you that doc who was in the paper?” Unfortunately, addiction isn’t my only life problem. Even in sobriety, I’ve sometimes made poor choices. I may not hear it out loud, but I still feel the condemnation, “You’re still acting like an addict.”
I can’t complain. I made my reputation. I can’t expect people to forget such a calamitous event. This is simply the nature of reputation. Once we know a person for a specific label, that label sticks, and it’s difficult to remove.
This appears to be what happened in today’s passage. In the story, Jesus healed a blind man who soon discovered that his neighbors didn’t recognize him. They knew him only as the blind beggar and they had a hard time accepting the change. Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him” (John 9:9). The man was transformed, but those who knew his previous life had a hard time believing it. This frustrated him as he repeatedly argued, “I am the man” (John 9:9).
We too, may be discouraged when our old life follows us. Though we should be concerned about how we reflect Christ in our lives, we cannot be overly obsessed with the opinion of others. The only thing that can and will change their view, is to repent and live a radically different life. A bad reputation may follow us for a long time, but often, we’ve earned it. Reputation, however, is not our primary concern in recovery. That will sort itself out eventually, as long as we continually abandon the old life to follow the new one. As long as the blind beggar could truly see, even the doubters eventually had to accept that he’d been transformed.