Reflection – “Blindness and Light” by Fr John Campion, Salesian, UL Chaplain
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A – Lectio divina on John 9,1-41
Chapter nine of St John’s Gospel is a masterly account that has no parallel in the synoptics (even though there are several instances of the blind being healed: Mk 8,22-26; Mt 9,27-31; Mk 10,46-52; Mt 20,29-34; Lk 18,35-43!). The meeting between Jesus, light of the world (9,5), and a man born blind describes a precise journey of faith (9,184.108.40.206) and also an unstoppable march towards incredulity (9,2.34.41). The episode opens with a question from the disciples: is blindness a sin? It concludes by showing that the sin of blindness is not the inability to see with one’s eyes, but lack of belief in Jesus, the light of the world.
Following the account of the miracle (9,6-7) there is a lengthy conversation with various speakers. Jesus and the blind man are present throughout. It develops into an investigation into the identity of the blind man. The focus of attention moves, however, from the man born blind to Jesus the light of the world. The blind man, a known beggar, gives evidence of his cure to the people who knew him (9,8-12). He is interrogated by the Pharisees (9,13-17.24-34), and his parents also are questioned (9,18-23). The healing poses questions for some. Others try to find reasons to deny the evidence (9,16). The blind man receives the gift of sight first (9,7), then the gift of faith (9,35-38). He finishes up being expelled from the community (9,34). In fact, in the process instituted by the authorities against the man who could now see, the sentence is passed, not by the judges, but by the accused, Jesus, in absentia. (9,40-41).
At that time: 1 As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8 The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.” 10 They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, `Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them. 17 So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue . 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from. 30 The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshipper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshipped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, `We see,’ your guilt remains.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying focussing on how it says it
As he went along Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth, a man who had never seen the light. Although it happened apparently by chance, the meeting resulted from an initiative of Jesus. When Jesus saw the man, the disciples asked why he was blind. Healing came from the meeting with Jesus. The theological discussion was the result of the disciples’ question.
Jesus does not explain the origin of the man’s blindness but exonerates him from any blame. He was not at fault. His blindness was not a sin but an occasion for God’s salvation to be made known, and Jesus, obedient to the Father, brings the man salvation. Evil becomes an opportunity and a motive for God to do good. Before giving light to the blind man, Jesus says that he himself is the light of the world.
After revealing his identity as light of the world, Jesus performs a miracle. It is related simply, in sober terms. The gesture of Jesus recalls God’s creative act (Gen 2,7). Only one who is light can give light. He does so in a completely gratuitous act. He does not ask for faith nor does he expect gratitude. Before the man begins to see, he begins to obey. He goes and washes himself in the pool of Siloam. This is the first stage in his journey of faith. At Siloam he can see – obedience which obtains healing is his way to begin to believe.
The first to be amazed were those closest to the blind man. His acquaintances have doubts about the man’s identity but no one doubts that this man can see. He will have to tell them how the miracle happened, to prove to them that he is the same blind man they knew before. Opening the eyes of the blind is the work of the messiah who is to come (cf. Is 42,6.7; 49,6.9). The blind man can tell what happened to him, but he does not know who his healer is. In this way, they, his neighbours and acquaintances, becomes witnesses of the miracle, even though they are not believers.
His testimony of what he experienced is the second stage towards faith. It does not matter if he has to face a long investigation and punishment. The Jews, who are opponents of Jesus, not of the blind man, cannot deny the fact so they try to discredit its author. God is not with one who violates the Sabbath. They base their argument on God while denying the works of God!
The man who was cured miraculously is not believed and he remains alone. Even his parents abandon him. But he cannot believe that the man who healed him is a sinner. Disagreement develops over him, another stage in the slow process towards faith. The blind man calls Jesus a prophet. In John this title is used only to refer to Jesus’ mission (4,19; 9,28). The fact remains that the judges do not accept the evidence, but the man who was cured continues his slow journey of faith. Professing faith in Jesus can lead to family disagreements and social rejection.
The man has to face further investigators, harder and more insistent than the first. Now, they say, he must give glory to God…, by denying the works of God! He makes no judgement. He simply states the facts; he was blind, now he can see. His interrogators know, however, that this wonder-worker is a sinner, but they don’t know where he comes from. As the interrogation proceeds, the blind man is drawing ever closer to faith (9.11.17), and closer to being condemned by those who want to see the facts (9,34). Their sin can be seen in their blindness (9,41).
Jesus returns to the scene (9,35-38) to meet again the man who was driven out because he defended Jesus. In this second encounter – the central stage – he comes to true faith. At first he knew his benefactor only by name (9,11), then he considered him a prophet (9,17), a man who comes from God (9,30-33), and finally he declares him the Son of God (9,35), in accordance with the experience promised to the disciples (John 1,51). In a passage typical of John, for him to reach faith (9,36) he had to be with Jesus, who allows himself to be seen by those who believe (9,37). Faith allows us to see not only Jesus, but also his true identity and his mission.
And so the journey of faith of the man born blind reaches its conclusion. It began with his eyes being opened to the light, and ends with an explicit profession of faith in Jesus (9,38), the Son of Man (9,35) and light of the world (9,5). Without the words of Jesus (‘you are looking at him’) the blind man would have continued to see but would not have come to believe. This man’s reaction is that of an authentic Christian: he sees and believes, he believes and he adores (9,38), regardless of the consequences.
The final saying of Jesus clarifies the whole episode (9,41). There are those who cannot see, like the man born blind, and there are those who do not want to see, like the Pharisees. Those who cannot see are not blameworthy, but, for those who do not want to see, their sin remains. This kind of blindness is the result of sin, the obstinate refusal to accept Jesus as the light of the world. (9,41; cf. 9,4-5).
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The scene opens with Jesus and his disciples meeting a man afflicted with a disability. Jesus sees the man in need of salvation while the disciples are asking whether or not he is to blame for his situation – two contrasting ways of seeing the evil that afflicts a neighbour. Some see the suffering and do what they can to help. Others concern themselves with reflecting on the possible causes. Who am I like – Jesus or the disciples? What reaction do I have on seeing evil? Do I judge and condemn those who suffer, or do I think about their salvation?
Before he could see, the blind man had to obey an unusual command given him by a stranger he did not know. Jesus did not require faith before healing him, but ‘blind’ submission to his command. Light will come to his eyes immediately, but faith comes only after a journey of obedience and testimony. Could it be that it is because I lack obedience to God that I cannot see myself freed from my evils? Is not lack of docility to God the cause of my evils? And do I not find it significant that Jesus freed the man from his sickness before he gave him the gift of faith?
‘Blind’ obedience was enough for the blind man to be healed, but to believe in Jesus he had to give witness repeatedly in front of a hostile crowd. Believing in Jesus is not easy. Anyone who really believes, even if he still has some uncertainty and very little light, may have to face misunderstanding and calumny, alienation from family and rejection from society. What price do I pay for my belief? What price am I prepared to pay to have Jesus as my Saviour?
The blind man also has to pay another price for his new light, his faith in Jesus. In the central part, the longest part of the gospel account, Jesus disappears and leaves the blind man to defend the truth of the miracle and the identity of Jesus. Not only does the man make his enemies angry, he is also alienated from his parents. He remains alone, with his faith, testifying to what happened. We all want to see, we also want to be freed from our evils. But are we ready to pay the price to obtain more light, even if it means losing the esteem of the people closest to us? Faith in Jesus is a gift, but it has uncomfortable, even dangerous, consequences.
The works of God were made manifest in the sickness of the man born blind. Jesus revealed himself as ‘the light of the world’ by giving light to a blind man. Evil always has a reason, even if it harms those who suffer and leads others to think wrong. God is the enemy of the evil in man, just as light is the enemy of darkness. Where evil has the upper hand, God is about to come, as surely as day follows night. How do I perceive the evil in the world, in my neighbours, in myself? Do I see evil as Jesus did? Do I approach the sick in the way he did? When people are suffering, is it an occasion for me to reach out to them and do them some good?
III. Pray the text. Desire God’s will: What do I say to God?
Lord Jesus, light of the Father, we kneel at your feet, like blind people unaware of our infirmity. Look upon us, Son of David, as you looked upon the blind man you met on your journey. Kindle your light in our hearts. Grant us faith in you, and we shall be radiant. Heal us, Lord Jesus, with the touch of your hand, and with your word which opens our ears and our hearts to your light. Send us, Lord, to the pool where we can be washed clean and receive new life. Give us the strength to obey what you command. Protect us, Lord Jesus, when our faith is put to the test, and if you leave us alone, do not leave us without faith enough to respond to those who do not believe, nor without courage. Even if we lose the support of our loved ones, may we never lose your light. Let the light of God shine in us, Lord, till we cry out like the blind man, “Lord, I believe!”