Fourth Sunday of Lent 2020
Reflection on the Gospel: John 9:1-41
—By Fr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS
We are all the man born blind. Adam and Eve’s decision to not walk on God’s path for their life darkened their minds and twisted their hearts. We inherited our first parent’s twisted darkness and we need the light. The Gospels tells us this Sunday that Jesus is the light. How do we get enlightened by Jesus and what happens when we do? The story of the man born blind answers these questions.
In the opening scene we see the darkness of the minds of the disciples who blindly assume that God cursed this man with blindness from birth due to either his sins or the sins of his parents. While they certainly have Psalm 103:8 memorized (The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…) they still have a servile fear of God as an arbitrary and angry Father who is out to get his kids if they don’t read his mind and follow his rules perfectly. It is as if they think God is an alcoholic!
But Jesus, like a good Rabbi, shows them who God really is when he spits in the mud and “anoints” the blind man’s eyes with his own hands. Saliva was seen as a healing agent in the ancient world. However, this very earthy action, while gross from our perspective, actually showcases Jesus’ divinity hidden within his humanity. By making new eyes out of the mud Jesus points to the second creation story (Genesis 2:7) where he created Adam out of the mud of the earth. ‘Adam in Hebrew literally means “to be red” referring to the color of mud he was made from (in Zuni this of course would be purple mud).
St. Augustine says with this anointing Jesus made the man born blind a catechumen because those preparing for baptism are anointed with the oil of catechumens to strengthen them from temptation as they approach the waters of baptism.
Jesus then tells him to go wash in the pool at Siloam which is a symbol of baptism. Just imagine the blind man seeing the light of his own image for the first time in the reflection of the water at the moment of his healing. At this moment the man born blind also “sees” that God deeply loves him and did not curse him with blindness but will use his blindness to show forth or “glorify” his mercy. In the early Church baptism was called “illumination” or “enlightenment” because divine faith and the sacrament shine the light of truth on the mind of the believer banishing the darkness of original sin.
But then Jesus disappears and the man born blind is subjected to a fearsome interrogation by the religious leaders of the day. The blindness of the Pharisees in this passage borders on the comical. They can only see that Jesus broke the rules of the Sabbath when he made the mud with his saliva. Making the mud was seen as a form of “kneading” like with bread dough which was forbidden on the sabbath. How dare Jesus make a mud pie on the sabbath!!! He must be a sinner!
The man born blind is also betrayed by his parents who will not stand up for him in the court and tell the Pharisees to ask their son himself instead of them about Jesus because they are afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue for acknowledging he is the Christ. Have you ever been rejected by family for standing up for Jesus or for taking a stand for what is right and true? If so, you are the man born blind.
Another rather humorous line is when the Pharisees say they know God spoke with Moses but they don’t know where Jesus is from. Yet, as we saw on the Mount of Transfiguration two Sundays ago Jesus was the one speaking with Moses. How can you call yourself a true disciple of Moses when you deny the very One who spoke to him? The spiritual pride of the Pharisees blinds them to this irony.
Yet, despite the pressure from the Pharisees to say Jesus is a sinner, and despite his parents abandoning him, the man born blind grows bolder and bolder and witnesses to the simple fact of his healing and says that Jesus indeed must be a “prophet” or “a man from God” because of this miracle. Have you ever been pressured to deny your Christian faith? You are the man born blind.
After he is rejected by his parents, and after the Pharisees cast the man born blind out of the synagogue, he is alone and simply has nothing left. Yet, in this moment of desolation Jesus comes to him. Imagine the man born blind seeing the face and hands of Jesus his healer for the first time. Yet, he sees more than just Jesus’ physical body. For, Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. At this very moment divine faith illuminates the eyes of his heart so he can see Jesus as the Word made flesh and in response he worships Jesus as the only true God. Jesus is always there to give us light in moments of darkness.
We are all the man born blind. But Jesus illuminates our darkness with the light of faith in baptism. Our faith will indeed be tested. But Jesus will never abandon us. Go forth and shine like the man born blind.