4th Sunday of Lent
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light. Ephesians 5:14
Who can better see reality, a blind man who has faith, or a man who can see but who has no faith? That is the question one has to address in today’s Gospel account of Jesus curing a man in the temple who was born blind.
Of all the miracles recorded in the Gospels, none is perhaps more extensively detailed than this one where Jesus cures the man born blind. Indeed, St. John devotes a relatively large amount of space in his Gospel to this one miracle and to the uproar that it causes, just as he did with the account of the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The evangelist must have seen a great deal of importance in both these events to devote so much space to them, just as he devoted so much space to the Eucharistic discourse in his sixth Chapter. This miracle must have been extremely important to the meaning of the whole Gospel, and that fact invites us to take a deeper look at the whole story.
In this miracle, we are confronted with two kinds of blindness, one merely physical, and the other a much more serious, self-inflicted, blindness of the soul. One is fully cured, and the other is fatal for those who suffer from it. Indeed, this miracle is so important to John, and hopefully for us, because it focuses our attention on two major themes found in his whole Gospel: firstly, that Jesus is the light of the world, and secondly that if one rejects this light, then what follows is a terrible blindness that is far worse than any physical blindness. For this much more serious form of blindness leaves a man in his sins, and places him in grave danger of eternal separation from the light that is Christ. In this connection, we should note that while Jesus could cure the man born physically blind by a miracle even without the man’s consent, curing the more terrible form of blindness definitely cannot take place without such consent. Thus, in the case of the temple priests and teachers, he really could not cure them without their consent, and that consent would signify that they truly have recognized their sins, have repented and then will freely seek the forgiveness that only Jesus can give them.
There are people today, and there have been such people from the time of Jesus, who would be happy to accept Jesus as simply a good person who taught some important moral doctrines, but they cannot bring themselves to accept the truth that he is God, or perhaps even that he actually claimed to be God. But the miracle in today’s Gospel clearly points to his divinity, but no more so than Jesus’ astounding statement that “while In am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Like the miracle itself, those words must have astounded those who were present and heard them from his lips. Astounded then as much or more than they astound us two thousand years later, and yet there they are faithfully recorded for us by St. John. These are the kinds of claims that could only have come from the lips of a mad man or the God-man – just try to say those words seriously of yourself, “I am the light of the world,” and see how they catch in your throat. Who could make such claims truthfully except the one who created the world, who is truly therefore the “light from light” who first brought light into this world in the act of creation, and whose humanity is the source of that same light.
It is precisely this kind of claim that divides men – you either believe it, or you consider the one who says these words completely mad or a terrible blasphemer. There is no middle ground left in the face of such a claim! That is why Jesus says at the end of the Gospel, “I have come into the world to divide it, to make the sightless see, and the seeing blind.” If one accepts Jesus as the light, then one is given that light to see what man cannot see with his physical eyes, for as God said to Samuel, “not as man sees does God see.” In the light of Christ only can one “see” the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, “see” the truth of His Kingdom, and ultimately “see” the Father. On the other hand, if one rejects Him as the light, rejects His light, then one becomes profoundly, spiritually blind, incapable of seeing the truth, of repenting, of finding salvation. There is no middle ground – He has come to divide mankind, and one must choose. You must either choose the light or choose the darkness. Christians have made that choice for as St. Paul says. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
Light and darkness, seeing and blindness are major themes in St. John’s Gospel, and they speak of the two paths open to us, one leading to light in God and the other away from God into the darkness. One leads to spiritual sight, the vision of faith, and ultimately to the beatific vision. The other path leads to spiritual blindness, the loss of faith, and ultimately to the darkness of Hell.
The Gospel miracle carefully portrays the path of this spiritual blindness in the way the Pharisees cut themselves off from the gift of faith by resisting the truth of the miracle itself, because they have already chosen not to come into the light of Christ. Jesus initiates the sequence of events by correcting a mistaken position held by many Pharisees, which they actually profess later in the account when they accuse the man of being steeped in sin from his birth, suggesting perhaps if he was in fact blind it would be because he or his parents brought on this condition as a punishment from God for sin. But Jesus denies this interpretation of punishment for sin and simply says that for this man his blindness was to be the occasion to let God’s works shine forth in this man.
And indeed God’s work does show forth in this poor blind man who following the miracle immediately becomes a wonderful apologist for Christ, defending the truth of the miracle, and defending the goodness of the one who healed him in the face of the most serious kinds of pressures and threats from the pharisees. This poor, uneducated man would not be intimidated by the status or learning of his adversaries. He stood his ground, and he refused to bend his mind to deny the truth. He argued with eloquence in defense of common sense itself, and when he was expelled bodily from the temple, he was found by Christ and received his reward.
Jesus, notice, sought him out, and rewarded his fidelity to the light of truth by giving him the even greater light, the light of faith, the light that enabled him to bow down and worship the one who is truly the light of the world. With this double gift, now he could see not only physically, but with the eyes of the soul, whose light is faith, and this new vision would bring him to the light of glory, so long as he remained as faithful to it, as he had been faithful to the light of reason on that day in the temple.
But what about the Temple authorities? Their refusal of the light is contained in their attempt to deny the truth of this miracle, and this results in a blindness which is much more terrible than the physical handicap this poor man had been born with and from which he was cured by Jesus. Their blindness is profoundly spiritual and willful, and it grows throughout this episode as they try to extinguish the light of truth. They accuse Jesus of sin and this man of sin; they accuse the poor man of lying about his birth defect and the miracle; they threaten him and his parents, and end up bodily expelling this poor man from the temple. As a result they remain spiritually blind, completely shut off from the light, and so, as Jesus says, their sin remains. They are without excuse precisely because they claim to see when they are blind.
How often this scene is to be repeated down through history as some simple believer defends the truth against the learned and the clever. How often Christ is ridiculed in the person of the Church, the mystical Christ who continues to say, I am the light of the world. How often today we hear the Church accused by learned scribes of being a sinner, a liar, a distorter of the truth; and yet her children, often her little ones, stand up to defend the Bride of Christ. These little ones, like Mother Teresa, or Mother Angelica, or some humble parishioner stand fast with her great ones and defend her truth, and it has always been the same down through the ages, the humble are always the great defenders of the truth and the light, even while they are ridiculed and mocked by the world.
But like the blind man, the little ones of Holy Mother Church, of high office and no office, care more for the truth than for their very self, and so they stand their ground, until Christ seeks them out and rewards them for their fidelity to the light. It was of these “little ones” surely that he was thinking when he spoke those beautiful words in Matthew’s Gospel: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”
If you and I remain faithful to that same light, in the midst of our difficult world, then those beautiful words will be spoken of us someday, that is, if we are like the man born blind, who in his fidelity to the light of his mind, defended His God in the temple one day so very long ago, and was so very richly rewarded by His Lord.