LENT IV - A - 17 JOHN 9. 1-41
“Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.”
Prior to Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, Christ has proclaimed himself as the “light of the world.” This comes in an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. The authorities questioned the source of his knowledge of God and his power to heal. They are divided in their opinion of him. The division remains even more so after he heals the blind man.
Neither was there not a little exchange between Jesus and the religious rulers over the subject of sin, which his disciples have taken in. So that when they pass by a blind man, the disciples naturally ask, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?”
Jesus rejects the common assumption in the ancient world that all troubles and maladies are a consequence of personal sin or even the sin of one’s parents. Though suffering can be a direct result of personal sin, this is not always the case.
And in this case, Jesus says, “neither this man or his parents, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” To which he adds, “ as long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.”
We know what happens next. Jesus makes the clay and anoints the man’s eyes and sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash his face. The pool was on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a considerable distance from the Temple. He goes as a blind man. It is not until he washes his face that he returns able to see.
This is when the story really gets interesting. If the religious leaders were divided in their opinion of Jesus, the people who knew the man as being blind now are divided over whether or not it is the same man, since he is now able to see. They question his identity but can’t decide, or else are afraid to. So they take the man to the Pharisees. It is the Sabbath.
Naturally, the Pharisees want to know how it happened and who did it. The man told them plain enough. “He put mud on my eyes and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” I went and washed and received my sight. “Where is he? They asked. “I don’t know.”
But the Pharisees will not let it go. They ask again. Again the man tells them plainly. Unable to accept the man’s explanation, they refuse to believe that he was blind in the first place until they call his parents to verify the fact. His parents are afraid of saying more, for fear of being expelled from the synagogue, and bow out of the conversation leaving their son to fend for himself.
Refusing to let go of the issue, the Pharisees interrogate the man once more. “Give God the glory. We know that this man is a sinner.” A Sabbath-breaker could not have such power from God, they thought. Again they ask him how it happened. The man turns the tables on his inquisitors and defends Jesus. “If this man were not from God he could do nothing.” The Pharisees respond by denouncing the man as a sinner and excommunicating him from the synagogue.
Isn’t it amazing that the religious authorities question Jesus’ ability to heal while totally ignoring the fact that the man was healed. They could not see the glory of God through their own prejudices. What troubled the Pharisees most was that it had never been done before.
Jesus’ healing of the blind man was a confirmation of his divinity. This was one of the signs of the coming of Messiah, (Is 35.5; 42.7) and a power belonging only to God. Yet they could not see it that way.
Jesus’ presence divides the world into those who come to the light and allow it to change, heal and direct their lives, and those who resist the light and choose to remain in darkness, even while, in some cases, declaring blindly that they see everything clearly.
That could have been the end of the story, but of course, it was not. Jesus hears that the man has been driven out and finds him. The real “good news” is not in the fact that the man was healed of his blindness, but in his ability to see Jesus, and his acceptance of him as Son of Man.
Having opened the blind man’s eyes, the Lord also opens his heart and illumines his spirit. The man responds in thanksgiving for having been healed by worshipping him. The blind man symbolizes all of humanity; all need illumination by Christ.
There is more than one blind person revealed in the story. The disciples are at first blinded by their misunderstanding of sin; the neighbors are blinded by their puzzlement; the parents are blinded by their fear and the Pharisees are blinded by their refusal to step out of the darkness created by their own religious system and step into the light.
What about us? The story speaks to the many dark places in our own world today; and no doubt to the many dark places in our individual lives, where fear, resentment, shock and anxiety, cripple our understanding, restrict our faith, and stifle our love.
Like those in the story we too can create our own blindness by adhering to narrow viewpoints, being short-sighted, and holding to a limited vision. We can also join in a common blindness of prejudice. And then there are some who never see themselves as being wrong. And even if they did, they would never admit it.
They create a closed world, like a sealed room, into which no light can come from the outside. They have locked themselves into a way of thinking and living that systematically excludes God. They live in a different reality having locked themselves into a darkness of their own devising.
If the story tells us anything it is that man’s needs give God’s grace its opportunity, and Jesus, as God’s agent, seizes the opportunity. This story of an earthly healing of a man’s sight is a parable of spiritual pilgrimage to unshakable faith. Christ has come to bring light into darkness; to give us a new vision; to enable us to see as God’s sees.
The act of baptism, however, doesn’t complete our own illumination, nor does confirmation or even ordination. As children of light, we must walk in the light, as St. Paul says, illumined by God’s Word and Holy Sacraments.
The man born blind is all of us. His story is our story. Though he did not know who Jesus was and where Jesus was; Jesus finds him and comforts him with the need to make a personal commitment of faith in the one who gives him vision.
“Who is he sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
The gift of enlightenment, the baptismal light, comes to us from the word, who calls us to faith, for faith comes by hearing, a way of seeing, and hearing by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. AMEN+