To begin this morning, I would like you to do something for me. Please would you close you eyes for a moment. Thank you. Our sight is something that we often take for granted, and our lives would be very different without it. Please open your eyes. Not to be able to see, even for a moment, is difficult and disorienting. To restore sight is a precious gift, which speaks of a God who loves us, and who longs to bring healing and reconciliation to a broken world. 

Today’s Gospel begins, like last week’s, with another interesting encounter:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed 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.” (Jn 9: 1-5)

Our Lord’s disciples ask Him a question which sounds very harsh to our ears, but it was not uncommon to understand physical disability as a punishment for sin, as in fact the Pharisees do later on in the passage. Thankfully Jesus corrects them. He is the Light of the World, who has come to bring light to those who sit in darkness, both physical and metaphorical. 

Christ spits on the ground, makes some mud, and rubs it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash himself in a nearby pool. This the man does, his sight is restored in miraculous fashion. End of story? No, in fact, this healing miracle is just the beginning of the narrative, which, as we have just heard, develops in some extraordinary ways. 

Something amazing has happened, a man who was unable to see now can. This miraculous healing is a demonstration of God’s power, and God’s love, but will be used by St John to explore ideas of blindness and sight on a metaphorical rather than a purely physical level. The people ask for an explanation:

So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” (Jn 9:10-12) 

The man tells them what happened, and who healed him, and how. They ask him where Jesus is, and he does not know. An important factor in this account is the fact that the healing happened on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, when no work was supposed to be done. For this reason the man is brought to the religious authorities. 

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. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” (Jn 9:13-17)

The Law of Moses forbids a Jew from working on the Sabbath. What exactly is work? In Jewish terms almost everything is. So if Jesus is breaking the Sabbath, how can He perform such miracles? It is easy to see how this situation could provoke fierce debate. 

The interrogation continues:

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (Jn 9: 24-25)

The man does not make a judgement about Jesus, he simply states the facts: he was blind, and now he can see. In other words, something miraculous happened, that is all that really matters. The problem is that a man who could not see now can, while the religious authorities are in fact blind, though they can see. The Pharisees are blind to the workings of God, and obsessed with minutiae.

The conversation goes downhill from there, and while the Pharisees refuse to recognise what has happened, the man who was born blind is becoming more well-disposed towards Jesus:

The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing 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 if anyone is a worshipper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (Jn 9:30-33)

The man who has been healed and given his sight is convinced that a miracle has taken place, and he is happy and grateful. However, at one level the encounter does not end well:

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (Jn 9:34)

The Pharisees double down on their original position. They call the man a sinner and throw him out, making him an outcast from society who should be shunned, just like the Samaritan Woman at the well last week. This then leads to a second encounter with Jesus:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”, and he worshipped him. (Jn 9:35-38)

Jesus asks him a question, which he answers honestly, the man is given more information, and ends up believing in who Jesus is, and what He does. He has been on a journey from blindness to sight, from a lack of belief to belief. With the gift of sight has come the journey towards faith, which ends in the worship of God. What we are presented with is a metaphor for the journey which brings us through baptism to a relationship with Our Lord, which grows into faith and finds its fullest expression in worship. We have come to be close to Christ, to be nourished by Him, and to enjoy eternal life with Him. 

The Religious Authorities, however, do not fare so well:

Jesus said, “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see’, your guilt remains.” (Jn 9:39-41)

The Pharisees have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, by God, who is Judge of all. They are blind, proud, and arrogant, yet accuse the blind man of suffering because of sin. The ones who should be able to see what is going on, who have studied the Scriptures are blind — they cannot recognise the wonderful works of God in their midst. A man who has never seen before this day has, through an encounter with Jesus, been brought to faith.

As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, through prayer, fasting and works of charity, we prepare ourselves and our lives to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We should be encouraged that at its heart what we are preparing to celebrate is the self-giving love of God, poured out on the world to heal us, to restore our humanity. So that we, like the blind man, may see. So that we may understand what God does for us. So that we may have life in all its fullness in Him. May we grow in faith like the man born blind and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom belongs all, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam (Brooklyn Museum)

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