Freed from Blindness
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” – which means Sent –. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said “I don’t know.”
They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does ne now see?” His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” Has parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”
So a 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.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sins; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
It is hard for me to comprehend what it is like to be blind. Reading today’s Gospel reminded me that, unfortunately, I take my ability to see for granted. My heart goes out to those who are blind. I just can’t imagine not being able to see a child smile, watch the snow fall, gaze at a sunset or ponder the artist Caravaggio’s “Calling of St. Matthew.”
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus heals a man born blind. His life must have been filled with heavy burdens. He had suffered from this affliction all of his life. In addition, the man was considered by many in his day to be an outcast because blindness was mistakenly understood to be the result of his sin or the sin of his parents. He did not have the helpful resources and services that are provided today for the blind in the western world. It brings me great delight to imagine the overwhelming joy he must have known when Jesus spat on the ground, made clay with the saliva, smeared the clay on his eyes and gave him sight.
On a spiritual level, we are all blind. Without God’s assistance, we are unable to see God as He truly is, grasp the true dignity of our human lives or view clearly the Gospel path that leads us to the abundance of life. Without Jesus, we wander around this world, stumbling like the blind trying to find our way, bumping into all kinds of obstacles and falling into all kinds of pits. Without Jesus, we are truly lost and desperate.
Jesus takes away our blindness and brings us into the light. He is the light of the world. He grants us the grace to see with the eyes of faith the beauty of God, the blessing of being made in God’s image and likeness, the Gospel way of life that brings lasting joy and peace. Jesus reveals to us the face of God, our Father, and invites us to plunge into the depths of His amazing love and mercy. Jesus sets us free from the chains of sin and from aimlessly wandering this earth wondering if there is any meaning to our toil.
After first being inspired by Jesus’ personal concern for the blind man, I am also stirred by the courage of the man who is healed. After his cure, the scribes and the Pharisees begin to search for this man and to initiate an investigation into his life and the cause of his healing. Observers of the miracle are afraid to testify before the scribes and Pharisees, including the man’s own parents. His mother and father confirm that their son was in fact born blind, but they are afraid to speak about Jesus, the One who gave their son the gift of sight. The fear of religious and social persecution from the Sanhedrin for anyone who supports Jesus is strong. “For the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.”
In contrast, the man with the new gift of sight is without fear. He stands up to the scribes and Pharisees. He calls Jesus a prophet. In the face of a biased inquiry, the healed man demonstrates surprising wisdom and notable courage. He states to the religious leaders, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does His will, He listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything.” As a result, they threw him out of the synagogue.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, hears that the man was being persecuted and tossed out of the synagogue, and so He seeks him out. Upon finding him, Our Lord reveals Himself and His full identity as the Son of God. The man who can now see offers a simple and beautiful response, “ ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshipped Him.” Jesus came to him in the darkness of his blindness and healed him. Jesus came back to him in the darkness of persecution and gave him faith and strength.
Our Lord’s compassion for the blind man is extraordinary. So is the Lord’s compassion for you. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:19).
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