The Man Born Blind – Fourth Sunday of Lent
The Gospel for today is John’s story of the man blind from birth. John has some wonderful stories that are often not found in the synoptic Gospels. Our Gospel today is an account of a miracle performed by Jesus on the Sabbath. But the actual healing is overshadowed by a theological debate about sin.
Before the man was healed, Jesus’ disciples asked their master: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answers, Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
The healing takes place and not long after the Pharisees and townspeople engage in a debate, eventually dragging in the man and his parents. Jesus is a frequent topic in the debate, but he never actually makes an appearance. He is present at the start and finish of the Gospel.
The account is highly imaginable. As a matter of fact, Franco Zeffirelli uses it with great effect in Jesus of Nazareth. Blindness and sight in this story are not entirely about the physical health of the man’s eyes, but about sin, morality, and spiritual blindness. Commentators often point out that in Jesus’ time, people tended to attribute moral causes to physical evils and sicknesses or to natural disasters.
I don’t think that it is helpful for us to get into the finer points of the debate, nor into the question of the cause of illnesses or disasters. I want to focus on Jesus’ statement toward the end of the reading:
I have come into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind. He occasionally makes comments about not seeing and not hearing what he is saying in his parables. We know that such senses are not just physical.
There is a spiritual blindness or deafness whereby we either cannot or will not bend from our stubbornness and open our eyes and ears. The man born blind was presumably cured from a physical ailment.
The frequent insistence of his new sight reveals his frustration with the authorities. I have told you already and you would not listen. His statement is pretty well what we sing in Amazing Grace: [I once was] blind, but now I see.
Most of us have no difficulty understanding what it means to see in a new way, to be illuminated on something. It is one of the most common images used to speak of insight, whether intellectual or spiritual.
We know what it is to go from being blind to that aha moment. I say to myself, Oh! Now I see where my impatience comes from. Now I see why I get angry at incompetence.
It’s the second part of Jesus’ statement that is more curious – that those who do see may become blind. Obviously, Jesus never takes away someone’s physical sight, thus making them blind.
I think that Jesus is speaking in the same way that St. Paul does about weakness and strength. It’s when I am weak that I am strong. Likewise, Jesus is saying that my own conceit makes me blind. I think that I have such great light or knowledge, but little do I know how blind I am.
We continue our Lenten journey. Let us pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.