The episode of the healing of the man born blind presents several themes from both a theological and an anthropological perspective.
It highlights the sanctity of God’s creation from the beginning. Genesis account recalls that God made the human being out of clay (Gen. 2:7). Jesus makes clay with his saliva and smears the clay on the man’s eyes to restore his sight. It is not just about the sight but about bringing him to wholeness.
The man born blind symbolizes the human weakness. This weakness in turn reveals God’s strength in healing that which is broken and wounded by the darkness of sin.
Jesus is the new creation in this encounter. He is the “Pool of Siloam which means Sent” (Jn. 9:7) from whom “blood and water flowed” (Jn. 19:34), the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). This man “went and washed, and came back able to see,” a strong depiction of the cleansing which takes place at the baptismal ritual.
His healing demonstrates the preeminence of the dignity of human life. The mission of Jesus is captured here, that humanity may gain life in full.
God meets us where we are, amidst complications and obstacles.
The first reading highlights God’s choice of the King David. God sends the priest Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Jesse’s assessment kit for his kids uses only the scale of physical stature and appearance. He does not include little David and David’s name is not mentioned. Then, Samuel wonders, “Are these all the sons you have?” The revelation that comes from that passage is that God's assessment tool is different, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). God shows up through human weakness to perfect his gifts.
Imagine what is going on in the minds of the disciples when they question Jesus about the man born blind in the gospel, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In the Old Testament, a person is believed to suffer either as punishment for the sins of his parents or is paying for their own sins (Cf. Job 22:5). Either of these can be a justification for this man's suffering, to which Jesus replies, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn. 9:3).
In our own circumstances, it can equally be hard to remain present to suffering friends or relatives without sometimes trying to give answers or speculate about the causes of such problems. How many times do we hold such thoughts in our minds, that someone may be suffering for what the person did either directly or indirectly? And how does that inform our ability or inability to empathize? Jesus reframes the problem as an opportunity to show God’s supremacy. God sent Jesus to restore what is broken.
That the works of God might be made visible through him: Creation is God’s work. Its beauty is the human person, for in his image and likeness God created man. God would do anything to free humanity from the force of darkness and sin. The blind man presents as an example of this and helps the Jews to understand this divine purpose when he says, “This is what is so amazing! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes” (Jn. 9:30).
The second point is that the power of light is constantly in conflict with the powers of darkness. This man goes through series of tests, questioning, ridicule, even threats, to make him denounce Jesus. Yet, he stands his ground. The revival from the Pool and the restoration of his sight is beyond mere physical cleansing. He experiences an ontological revival and becomes a witness to Light. Jesus reveals to his followers in this encounter, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). Jesus’ mission is to remove the distortion caused by spiritual blindness, hence he restores the blind man’s (in)sight. The man makes his baptismal commitment, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped him” (Jn. 9:38). Saint Paul reminds believers that they have become light in the world characterized by darkness. With Jesus, “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
The healing of the blind man demonstrates God’s value for the dignity of human life. As in the story of the woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus meets the blind man at his point of need. God brings himself into our human situation, and heals us from there. His presence contradicts apparent selfishness of the Pharisees and perceived lack of empathy shown by the disciples in the gospel passage. When we focus on blame, judgment, and condemnation, we become blind. When we stay in the stranglehold of law or cultural imperialism, we fail to see. When we stay within the domination of our comforts, we become prisoners of the ego and self-centered idiosyncrasies. Against these forms of spiritual blindness, Jesus laments, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (Jn. 9:41).
The message for us is to pray against certain stereotypes, that quickness to judge as unworthy, punished, or condemned, people in different forms of sufferings or struggles. Christ teaches authentic freedom and compassion. Like the Pharisees, our defenses can blur our vision and can become instruments to discredit God’s miracle:
Minimization: “Some said, “No, he just looks like him.” But the man said, “I am.” God either shows up or he does not. No guess work with Christ.
Rationalization: They press further, “How were your eyes opened?” Human reasoning can only take us that much. It takes faith to prove miracles.
Projection: “So, some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not keep the Sabbath.” The fact that we don’t believe does not deny reality. God does what He wills.
Intimidation: They questioned the man further, “what do you have to say about him?” Christian persecution will only end up making faith stronger, and religion becomes the more popular through suffering. It deserves our witnessing.
Displacement: The evidence of the man isn’t sufficient. They invite his parents for interrogation, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” Mark the phrase, “who you say was born blind.” Even when Christians are falsely represented, the truth stays true.
Ridicule: “You were born totally in sin.” Yes, strength is made manifest in weakness. God sees the depth of the soul; humans only see the surface.
Rejection: “they threw him out” (Jn. 9:34). Better pay attention to Jesus, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
Have you found yourself caught up in a defense mode either because you want to make someone look bad or because you want to justify an obvious bad habit? How often do those actions contradict God’s will in your life? God’s message is clear from this wonderful encounter in the gospel; let’s not be the real blind ones as the Pharisees. God wants us to see love, healing, goodness, mercy, empathy, and compassion. His works must be made visible in us.
Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a; 2nd- Eph. 5:8-14; Gospel- Jn. 9: 1-41