Vol. 6, No. 27
Daughters of Mary Commentary
21 March 2017
John 9: 1-41
“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). This is the theme of our gospel reading today. The symbolic use of light and dark is used throughout the old and new testaments to represent good and evil, wisdom and falsehood. Although it was taught that illness, death, and other physical infirmities were the direct result of sin, the Jews were still divided on whether a person born with an infirmity was responsible for his own sin, or if the sin of his parents was to blame. The identity of Jesus was also a conundrum for the Jews, because of his audacious claims to be healing and preaching with the authority of Yahweh. Jesus did not fit their understanding of the prophecy of the messiah, he took liberties with Sabbath laws that they revered, and most offensively, he alluded to his oneness with Yahweh. It was the Pharisee’s understanding that the God of Abraham, the God who has preserved their chosen race, would never allow a sinner to perform such works in His holy name, and so Jesus must be using the power of evil. The conclusion made by many, was that Jesus was a sinful blasphemer that was deluding the public and he needed to be stopped. When they question him, just prior to our healing story, Jesus has refused to submit to their claims, and he has narrowly escaped their murderous wrath. It is in the context of these two societal debates – the Jewish understanding of sin and the identity of Jesus – that we find the story of the healing of the man born blind. Jesus addresses these two questions in the action of his healing, and in doing so, deepens our understanding of discipleship. By contrasting the faith of the blind man with the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, John reveals the heart of a true disciple, one who is fit to follow Jesus him from this earthly life, into the light of eternal life.
Jesus notices a blind man as he is walking with the disciples, one whom he knows to be blind from birth. The disciples, curious of their teacher’s understanding of his sin, propose the question of who is responsible for the sin, the blind man or his parents. Jesus answers “It was not that this man sinned, or that his parents sinned, but that the works of God be manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus doesn’t deny that his blindness was a result of sin, but redirects their thoughts away from wanting to blame someone for the sin, to the redemptive nature of suffering. In the blind man’s suffering, the glory of God, which always triumphs over evil, will prevail. There is no healing of a man born blind anywhere in the Old Testament; this healing would have really confused the Pharisees, because of the power over sin it displayed. This healing sets Jesus even further apart from the Old Testament prophets, as his power and wisdom are unlike anything they have witnessed before. Jesus is showing his disciples through this very act of healing, that he is truly working through, with, and in his Father, and that the true nature of his Father is love and mercy. Instead of being preoccupied with the sin, like the Pharisees were, he is encouraging them to look upon the blind man with the eyes of God. “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” This is from the first book of Samuel, our first reading in this Sunday’s gospel. John portrays Jesus as being THE just judge, the one who sees as the Father in heaven sees. This is a lesson we heard last week, too.
We know from last week’s gospel, about the Samaritan woman at the well, that the Father gave Jesus the ability to read our hearts, to judge them worthy of eternal life, and so there must have been something about this blind man’s inner voice, his heart, that compels Jesus to heal him. Like the woman at the well last week, we are given a glimpse into the personal conversion of the man born blind. John follows his faith from first encounter with Jesus, where after Jesus anoints him with clay but requires an act of faith (go and wash) and he acknowledges him as a prophet, to full conversion of heart, when he identifies Jesus as Lord at the end of the passage. What is John teaching us about true discipleship? What is it about the inner nature of these future disciples that Jesus knows to be fit for the kingdom of his Father? Let’s imagine the inner voice of the blind man in this passage for clues to his heart.
Born into darkness, I am blind from birth. I have never known light, I have no hope, only disgust for myself. I am a sinner and deserve nothing. I will never be accepted, I will never amount to anything, I have nothing to contribute to the world. I am a pariah, a burden to society, always with my hand out, begging for something to take away the emptiness. One day, I encounter a man who mercifully reaches out and offers me hope. Even though the world mocks him, I listen, and with faith I obey. I wash myself with his water because I can’t afford not to… I am choosing death if I don’t. I wash my eyes in his water, and suddenly I have a new life- The darkness is gone. I can see for the first time, but the world looks nothing like I expected. Everyone has so many questions, …how can you see the world this way? When I try to explain the light, they mock me and cast me out. They refuse to believe. I am again on my own, and I notice that when my thoughts turn away from my gratitude to the light, the darkness keeps trying to blind me again. My mind is re-playing all the voices that question me, reject me, and my new light is beginning to fade…. But suddenly I hear another voice. My healer has found me again. His message is full of mercy, he will not abandon me, he has come to save me and others from the darkness forever. I believe he is Lord because I see and I see because I believe….without him, I am just a blind man, wasting away in the dark.
Like the woman at the well, and unlike many of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, the man born blind acknowledges his sin. He must have had a deep longing for it to be taken away. He recognized that something was missing in his life, and once he met Jesus, he realized his dependency on him. The blind man’s heart is full of humility, openness, and desire for what is good. The Pharisees are blind to their deepest spiritual needs, they claim to see perfectly, but their closed and hardened hearts prevent them from seeing the truth about Jesus, and their own sin of pride. The blind man is also unafraid to speak the truth about the reality of Jesus work in his life. Facing pressure from the world to deny Jesus, he is still an outcast, but no longer seeks the approval of the world. He will now wish to serve only Jesus, his new master, to whom he realizes he owes his life. As a true follower, he will bring the light of Christ to others.
We are all born into darkness, into the sin of our fallen world. Jesus has rescued all of us from our sin and we are reborn into life with God the Father by our Baptism. However, it is in our desire to know him better that we become true disciples. In order to know him better, we must be realistic about our sinfulness. We have to acknowledge that we don’t have it all figured out, that we, by ourselves, are very unjust judges of others. Some of us have only just encountered Jesus, and are still unsure who he is, and how he is working in our lives. Others met him long ago, have been following him closely for years and are close friends. The important thing is not where you are, or what you know right now, but where you are going. Your desire is what makes you a disciple, a friend of Jesus. That is the beauty of DOM. We are a room full of seekers, all at different stages in our discipleship, all with the same desire to know Christ more intimately. No one in this room is a finished product. We are all somewhere in the process of being perfected by Christ. That brings me to the importance of Lent….
This Sunday will be the 4th week of Lent. We will be a little over halfway through our Lenten journeys. How are we doing this Lent? Are we becoming better disciples? Have we really let go of all of those disordered attachments that keep us from putting God first? Have we let the enemy convince us that we are doing ok on our own? Or is it in fear that we remain in the dark this Lent. “There is no way I can give that up” is something I hear a lot. It is something I say myself. What does this do to Jesus when we say this? How little faith this shows. Of course we can give it up! He will help us! We give power to those “things” we are afraid to give up. It is those disordered attachments or “false idols” that call our name, and compete with the saving voice of God. Jesus offers us true freedom from the pull of earthly temptations. Freedom is the fruit of our sacrifice, of our faith that he really can heal,…..and freedom tastes better and feels better than all the red wine, chocolate, and home décor shopping I could ever do. We must put the discipline back into our discipleship. Lent is the time for all of us to sharpen our wills against our true enemy, the one who wants to bury us in the blindness of our own sins. We must acknowledge our dependence on Jesus and stay close to him and his glorious light. We must pray for him to shine his light of truth into our hearts, to show us our sins, especially the ones we pretend don’t exist. Most importantly, we must bring these sins to the light of the confessional, repent, and give thanks to our Lord our God that we can finally see. [i]