Year A: Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Man Born Blind

John 9: 1-41

As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “[So] how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.” [But] others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for him self.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

So, a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So, they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “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.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where in your faith life have you been moved from blindness to sight, or experienced moving from belief in something, to knowing from personal experience?
  2. In what ways have you, like the Pharisees, been resistant to letting go of past misunderstandings, so you can grow in your knowledge of the truth?
  3. How do the rules of your faith tradition sometimes blind you from responding to spirit of God in your daily relationships with others?

Biblical Context

John 9: 1-41
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Although his contemporaries were probably little impressed with the unnamed blind beggar of this story, John presents him as the archetypical human being: “anthropos.” In typical Johannine fashion, he represents blind anthropos, a designation that implies a statement about humankind in general. John makes it clear that many of Jesus’ listeners considered themselves special, people with unique insight into God’s ways. It’s little wonder that Jesus chose the blind beggar to help him reveal the works of God, everyone else knew too much.

Just as God didn’t consult Eve and Adam about the potential benefits of creating them, Jesus approached the blind man with the earth-ointment of healing without asking him if he wanted to see. But once Jesus offered him the possibility of sight, mysterious as is must have sounded, the man did what Jesus told him to do and that led to transformation.

All might have been well if it hadn’t been for the onlookers. They represent a special brand of anthropos, people whose world goes out of whack when things go too well for others. Their cosmos had been settled and stable and they knew the necessary number of poor, blind and lame people around to assure them that they themselves were God’s blessed, whole-bodied favorites. But when the unchosen one was transformed everything went up for grabs. There’s a particular type of anthropos that need underdogs to prop up their identity: when there’s nobody under them, how can they feel important? Who could remain sure of being chosen when conditions could change with just a little mud and water? So they took the man-who-saw to the authorities, the Pharisee guardians of law and order.

After two interviews with the once-blind man the Pharisees lost their composure. The man-who-saw was incorrigible. He refused to appreciate their logic: that what had happened to him could not come from God because it was accomplished by someone who did not abide by the law. The man-who-saw had become identified with Jesus; he would have to be judged as the same kind of sinner as the healer.

Pope Francis has described the devil’s kingdoms as the places where “everything comes under the laws of competition … where the powerful feed upon the powerless” (Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel,” #53). The Pharisees about whom John wrote had become stuck in a dogmatic prison of their own making. They may or may not have understood how self-serving it was, and they surely would have denied that they had undermined the word of God, but they had assumed the authority to close revelation. Discernment was no longer necessary because all the answers had been given.

As Jesus tried to tell them, blindness is no sin, but choosing blindness, refusing to believe in God’s ongoing self-revelation and activity in the world is unforgivable because those who do so close themselves off from God.

Today’s readings call us to the discernment that is based upon openness to the unruliness of God’s word. We must accept that we are all blind when it comes to seeing the range of God’s possibilities. As we learn to do that, we may just be surprised by a brand new vision.

Beyond Words and Appearances

Fr. Mark Villano

We search for ways to speak about what life in Christ means. But it goes beyond words, so we turn to metaphors and stories.

That is why the gospel of John spends so much time with the story of the man born blind. It is, as John often calls Jesus’ miracles, a “sign.” It is a sign of what Christ brings to the world. Jesus opens us up to life in a new way. He brings a new dimension, a new depth. [For us,] it is as radical a change as what this man experiences, seeing the world for the first time. Now we can see, not just as humans see, but as God sees. We see what is most real. We see beyond appearances. We see with the heart.

The light for this kind of seeing is all around us. And it changes the way we see. We see others differently. We stop judging people by the way they look, or what they have. We begin to see others as they are, in their uniqueness. We begin to respect others and learn from them in new ways, appreciating the mystery they carry within. We see ourselves differently, too. We stop judging ourselves according to what others think of us. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us, as we are, as we are loved. And so, we become more loving toward ourselves and more free to change.

We see life differently. It’s no longer about choosing sides, or using others, or hoarding things. It’s not something we have to fight, or something we must endure. We see life as a gift. We savor it. We begin to use it differently. Life becomes an adventure. It offers one opportunity after another.

This way of seeing changes everything. It doesn’t mean that life becomes easy. There may still be hardship, pain, and suffering; but because we are different, they will not defeat us. Even there we’ll see the seeds of growth. And we’ll know that we’re not alone.

Reflection from: Give Us This Day, Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic

Fr. Mark Villano, adapted from Journey to Jerusalem. Mark A. Villano is Director of University Outreach at the University Catholic Center at UCLA. 

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