From the very beginning of John’s Gospel, the question of origins pervades the story. Where is Jesus from? Who sent him? What rabbinical school did this son of Nazareth attend? Where did he get all of this? Where did he learn to break God's law? Such questions permeate the provocative Gospel story of the healing of the blind man in John’s Gospel (9:1-41).
The story of the blind man’s healing takes exactly two verses; the controversy surrounding the cure, thirty-nine verses. It is the controversy that is the rest of the story! In response to such questions about Jesus’ origins, the formerly blind man replies, "He restored my sight. Where do you think he's from?" The blind man progresses from darkness to light: he regards Jesus as a man, then a prophet, and finally confesses that he is the Son of God. The Pharisees first appear to accept the blind man's healing but then begin to doubt and finally deny Jesus' heavenly origins. The blind man's simplicity confounds the wise. They end up refusing to see – rendering themselves blind. It is not difficult to sympathize with the Pharisees. They were only attempting what many of us have been trained to do: observe, analyze, describe and explain the phenomena.
The formerly blind man did not know all the correct religious phrases with which to interpret his salvation. He was not pious in the traditional sense or even respectful of his elders. What he knew for sure was that once upon a time he sat in darkness, and now the whole world was drenched in sunlight. And he acknowledged that. "One thing I know." As if the most insignificant thing he happens to know is who saved his life!
The man who has now recovered his sight does not start with special knowledge but with acknowledgment. Jesus is the one who gives him life, who saves him, who removes his blindness, who gives him hope and courage. Jesus – he’s the one! He’s it! We know that the blind man is not the only one to admit “Jesus is it!” The blind man’s spiritual descendents are legion throughout history!
Attempts to solve the question of suffering and death have often brought about greater suffering than the initial pain and anguish that one experiences. "Why me?" "Why must suffering exist?" "Whose fault is it?" "Can suffering have any meaning?" "Of what value?" "Who causes this?" "Why does such an evil exist?" "Why am I being punished so?" Often we use the metaphor of blindness to describe our inability to grasp the meaning of the suffering we endure.
If we read this story as an ironic comedy and nothing more, we miss the loneliness of its final scene in which Jesus and the man converse outside the synagogue. The man's profession of faith has a terrible consequence for him and for all of us. He is cast out of the synagogue. He is cut off from the Torah, from his family, from the Friday evening Sabbaths with his family and friends, from the certitude of the Law – all because he gazed deeply and directly into the Light. And yet, it was his persistent gaze that brought him a strange form of healing and sight.
Many of us are very reluctant today to even acknowledge the source of our salvation, the bringer of our hope, the cause of our joy. We are afraid to name him for fear of what others will say. Or is this reluctance perhaps because we aren’t convinced that Jesus is the one, that he’s it?
If I ever get near heaven, I look forward to a long, unrushed conversation with the stars of the Gospels of these three weeks of Lent: the woman of Samaria (John 4), the blind man (John 9), and Lazarus (John 11). They were very fortunate and blessed people to have been made new again through Christ’s personal words, his consoling touch, his loving gaze, his compassionate words. I would like to ask each of them four questions: “Where did this guy come from? What did you experience when you looked him in the face? What did you feel when he spoke to you? How did you know that he was it?”
A Prayer for Sight
May the Lord Jesus touch our eyes,as he did those of the blind.Then we shall begin to see in visible thingsthose which are invisible.May He open our eyes to gaze not on present realities,but on the blessings to come.May he open the eyes of our heart to contemplate God in Spirit,through Jesus Christ the Lord,to whom belong power and glory through all eternity. Amen.-Origen (185-253)
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation