As he walked along, 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 this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”
But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 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 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”
Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
The irony in this Sunday’s Gospel begins with the “sinner” in question. According to the Jewish Law, blindness, or any other physical handicap, resulted from either the person’s sin, or that of his or her parents. This blind man we hear about naturally provokes Jesus’ largely Jewish disciples to ask: Who’s sin is responsible for the man’s blindness? Jesus redirects his disciples’ question, however, punning to make his point: It is no one’s sin, but rather this man’s healing, that action that makes Jesus visible as the Messiah, that ought to be their focus.
The irony builds. Enter the Pharisees, the guardians of the Law, who now must account for the blind man’s healing, while also condemning this Jesus who heals on the Sabbath. But why merely condemn Jesus to their followers when they can discredit Jesus to the formerly blind man and let him condemn more convincingly on their behalf. Compared to the Pharisees, what knowledge can this once-blind man – a sinner – have of God’s Law?! What follows illustrates how Christ’s authority supplants that of Moses, representative of the Jewish Law. In the process, the supposed know-nothing blind man effectively shuts down the Pharisees’ efforts with a one-line response: “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see,” (Jn 9: 25b).
The overall irony is that it takes a blind man to point out the Messiah in the Pharisees’ midst. And still, they do not see. But, do we? Lent affords the opportunity to not only repent for our sins, but to call upon Jesus for forgiveness and grace that we might see. This Lent we fix our gaze on Jesus, the light that dispels all darkness.
—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province serving as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.
Lord God, in the midst of all the darkness around us, at a time when we may find it difficult to see beyond the fear and uncertainty in our midst, help us to fix our eyes on you, knowing that you are here with us. Amen.
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