April 3, 2011 — Fourth Sunday of Lent
“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). What His statement means for actual living is illustrated in today’s Gospel reading from John 9 and applied in the Second Reading from Ephesians 5.
The Gospel narrative of the man born blind is familiar – Jesus and his disciples pass a beggar, a man born blind. The disciples ask whether the blindness is the result of either the man’s sin or that of his parents. Jesus replies that it’s not the result of sin, but so that God’s works may be made visible. And then, making clay of the roadside dust and putting it on the man’s blind eyes, He sends him to wash his eyes in a nearby pool. When the man born blind returns, he is able to see.
This entire narrative simultaneously proceeds at two different levels. On one level, it is a straightforward report about a healing done by Jesus for a man blind from birth. The ensuing events and discussions then proceed with both rejection of Jesus and ironic humor. After the healing, the man undergoes repeated hostile interrogation because the healing took place on the Sabbath (and healing was considered work which should be done on another day). He is attacked because he will not declare that Jesus was a sinner. Even his neighbors and his parents are interrogated. Finally, the man formerly blind asks the Pharisees if they’re questioning him so much because they too want to become disciples of Jesus. With that, they expel him from the synagogue.
But, as is often the case in the Gospel of John, this account moves on to a second level, as well. Just as the blind man received a physical healing, so he could see the world around him, he also received a spiritual healing, so he could see spiritual realities. He recognized his healing came from God and came to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah with his words recorded in the narrative. “He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him” (Jn 9:38).
The contrast between the blind man who gained his sight and the Pharisees was dramatic. They persisted on insisting that Jesus must be a sinner, since he healed on the Sabbath, even while admitting they wondered how he could heal, as they knew God doesn’t listen to sinners. Their spiritual blindness prevented them from being able to recognize the action of God in the healing of the man born blind.
Writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul urged the Christians, those who recognize that Jesus is the light of the world, to “live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph 5:8-9). He knew that Christ Himself is the light, but the light of Christ radiates out through those who have turned to Him. The person who responds to Jesus’ invitation is like David, whom Samuel anointed in God’s name. Just as “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David” (1 Sam 16:13), the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian to shine forth with goodness and truth.
We may not all be learned theologians, or be able to explain all the fine points of Catholic doctrine. However, we should be able to do as the man born blind did, and that is to witness to what Christ has done in our lives. When he was being questioned in a second interrogation, when the Pharisees were trying to get him to condemn Jesus as a sinner, the man proclaimed, “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see” (Jn 9:25). It is hard to argue with people’s personal experience with God.
The man born blind experienced physical healing. We who have been given healing from spiritual blindness by Christ should also worship Jesus and use the time, the talents, and the treasure entrusted to us in ways that give evidence that we, too, believe that he is Lord.