We didn’t get to have our usual scripture reflection for this past Sunday’s readings as we didn’t have our regular Wednesday youth night last week. So before we reach Wednesday this week, I want to take a moment to highlight some things from the Gospel.
This is a powerful story found in John’s Gospel, and is one of the seven signs that Jesus works in His ministry as John relates it. John’s Gospel tends to focus on especially significant miracles to make certain points about Jesus, rather than trying to include all the miracles of Christ. In fact, John claims that the world could not contain enough books to tell everything that Jesus did on Earth (Jn. 21:25).
So what is so important about this miracle then that it ranks among the great Signs of Jesus’ ministry? There are a few characteristics that make it interesting: the first is that the man is born blind, the second is the manner of his healing, the third is how he testifies about Christ.
Being born blind to ancient Hebrews was essentially considered a tell-tale of sin – either the man or more likely his parents were sinners and God had punished them in this way. More importantly, no one had ever healed a man who had been born blind in Jewish history. In fact, not many blind healings occur at all until the new Testament, aside from Tobit. Blindness is therefore equated with sin, and spiritual disease for the Hebrews, and was beyond even the power of the Prophets.
The man is healed in a peculiar way. Jesus often heals with a mere word, or a touch. In this case, however, Jesus makes some clay with His own spit from the dust of the earth, rubs it over the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, which John tells us means, “sent.”
Finally, the man, whose name is never given, testifies to Jesus Christ with increasing certainty as the story goes on, growing in terms of his discipleship, and showing a wisdom far beyond what he could have acquired as a social pariah in Israel at the time, but he also declares something unique throughout the Gospels as well, which we will highlight.
Now, I want you to imagine that you are an ancient story teller – telling the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve. The text of Genesis tells us that the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the earth. The text says that a stream welled up and watered the dust of the ground, but think for a moment where that stream must have come from. We all know story tellers who like to embellish details to make a point, and so to make this point I’d like to draw on an embellishment of a professor at Franciscan University, Dr. John Bergsma, who imagines the ancient myth involving God, the Artisan, spitting into the dust to make the stream, and then using the resultant mud to sculpt Adam in His image.
Blindness represents spiritual disease and sin. In this sense, the blind man represents us all – all of us have sinned, we are all spiritually sick, we are all blind to God, at least at times. Jesus points out that this man’s blindness will be a means by which the works of God will be made visible. So Jesus spits in the dust, makes clay, and places it over the man’s eyes, then tells him to go wash in the pool of the Sent. Whoa, wait a second. Remember how we said this wasn’t a normal healing for Jesus? That’s because it isn’t a healing at all. It’s a renewing of Creation. Jesus is God the Artisan, again returning to the clay, re-sculpting Fallen Man in His own Image. God returns to the clay to make a new Creation. And the mark of it is that the man is told to wash in the waters of the Sent. Jesus is the One sent by the Father, these waters are the waters of baptism – which are of death and rebirth.
This is given extraordinary proof in what the blind man says of himself to those who are wondering whether he is the blind man or just someone who looks remarkably like him. He answers, “I am.” English doesn’t really capture the power of this statement. This is the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God as it was given to Moses by the burning bush, the unpronounceable and great statement of God’s own nature. Only Jesus in the Gospels ever uses this construction, because Jesus is God. He tells us “before Abraham was, I AM,” and when they seek Him in the Garden, He assures them, “I AM.” Usually people immediately follow a statement like this with hefting of stones to kill Jesus, because it is blasphemy! Yet here we have the formerly blind “man,” newly remade in Jesus’ image, returning from the waters to declare with His Master that, “I am.”
This causes quite a stir, because as usual Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath, and making clay counted as work, and the local religious authorities come into the story for the first time. They interview the man, who tells them what happened to him. First he tells how the “man called Jesus” made clay and anointed his eyes and told him to wash (Jn. 9:11). Then, as they debate what this sign can mean (work on Sabbath = evil, but how can a sinner work such signs?), they ask him what he thinks, and he now declares Jesus to be a prophet (Jn. 9:17). They think he lies about being born blind, so they bring in his parents, who tell them to ask him as they were afraid of being kicked out of the community for acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah. So they return to the man, and he now asks them if they want to become Jesus’ disciples, too. When they become angry and claim to be disciples of Moses, and not of Jesus, and are confident that Moses came from God but not of Jesus’ origins, the man seems almost to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything” (Jn. 9:30-33). The Pharisees become even angrier, and throw him out, claiming that as he was born totally in sin, he cannot teach them.
Jesus finds him once he was cast out, and asks him a simple question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (Jn. 9:35). Once it is made clear that Jesus, the one who healed him, is the Son of Man, he declares that he does believe, and worships Jesus. Do you see the progression? The man who is made new starts with the statement that Jesus is a man who healed him. Then that he is a prophet. Then that he is something more than a prophet to have healed his particular blindness, for it is “unheard of.” Jesus must be from God, and he wants now to be his disciple. Finally, Jesus Himself asks him if he believes, and once he knows who Jesus is, he believes and worships, ie he acknowledges that Jesus isn’t just a man, a prophet, or from God, but that He is God, and it is this being God that made his re-creation possible, that allows him to share in the life of the great, “I AM.”
Brothers and sisters, the man born blind is all of us. The pool of Siloam is the Sacrament of Baptism. The realization and confession that Jesus is God is one we must all come to to be His disciples. And we, like him, will share in the glory and eternal life of Jesus. Well and truly is the Sunday on which we hear this Gospel named Laetare, which means “Rejoice!” We have much for which we can rejoice – our blindness is healed, our lives renewed, our God is made man, and we will share in His nature and in His Resurrection!