4th Sunday of Lent
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light. Ephesians 5:14
Who can see reality better, a blind man who has faith, or a man who can see but 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 a 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. So, this miracle must have been extremely important to the thrust of his whole Gospel, and that fact invites us to take a deeper look at this miracle.
In this dramatic miracle, we are confronted with two kinds of blindness, one merely physical, and a second spiritual type which is a serious, self-inflicted, disease of the soul. The physical blindness is fully cured, but the other more serious blindness persists and is utterly fatal for those who do not fight it.
So, this particular miracle is quite illuminating for John, and hopefully for us, because it focuses attention on two major themes found in John’s whole Gospel: firstly, the truth that Jesus is the light of the world; and, secondly, the truth that if one rejects His light, then what follows is an even more terrible blindness that leads to death, thus far worse than any mere physical blindness. It is deadly because this much more profound form of blindness leaves a man in his sins, and this puts 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 that more terrible form of blindness definitely cannot take place without such free consent. Thus, in the case of the temple priests and teachers, he really could not cure them without their consent, and that consent would have to signify that they truly have recognized their sins, have repented, and now 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 elevated moral doctrines, but they cannot bring themselves to accept the truth that he is in fact God, or perhaps that he even actually claimed to be God. For the open minded, the miracle in today’s Gospel clearly points to his claim to divinity, as does Jesus’ astounding statement that “while In am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Like the miracle itself, those words of Jesus must have astounded those who were present and heard them come from his lips. They must have astounded them as much or more than they astound us two thousand years later, these words so faithfully recorded for us by St. John. This kinds of claim could only have come from the lips of a mad man or from the true 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 a claim without flinching except the Lord who created the world, The Lord who is truly therefore the “light from light,” who first brought light into this world in the act of creation, and whose humanity is now the source of that same light.
It is precisely this kind of claim that divides men in every age following – one either believes it, or you have to consider the one who says these words as out of his mind, a madman, or worse, a the worst of blasphemers. There is no middle ground that remains 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’ words, then one is given that spiritual light to see what man cannot see with his physical eyes, for as God said to Samuel, “not as man sees does God see.” Only with the light of Christ, the light of faith, can anyone “see” the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and “see” the truth of His Kingdom, and ultimately “see” the Father in Jesus.
On the other hand, if one rejects His words, and thus rejects His light, then one becomes profoundly, spiritually blind, incapable of seeing spiritual truth, incapable of repenting, incapable of salvation. There is no middle ground. Jesus says that 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 positively, and the result is 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 to us of the two paths open to us, one leading to light and salvation in God and the other leading away from God into the ultimate darkness of Satan. One response, faith, leads to spiritual in-sight, the deeper vision of faith, and ultimately to the beatific vision. The other response, if not reversed, leads to spiritual blindness, the total rejection of faith, and ultimately to the darkness of Hell.
The account of this miracle carefully portrays the twisted 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, simply because they have already pre-chosen not to reject Christ, and thus to refuse to come into the light of Christ. Jesus Himself initiates this sequence of events by correcting a mistaken religious notion adhered to by many Pharisees. They confirm that they hold and profess this notion later in the account when they actually accuse the man of being steeped in sin from his birth, suggesting that his blindness is in fact due to some sin of his parents, a punishment from God for their sin. This false idea had long ago been rejected by the prophets, especially by Ezekiel 18:20. And Jesus also denies this interpretation of God punishing anyone for the sins of his parents and simply says that for this man his blindness was nor a punishment but was an occasion to let God’s mercy shine forth in this man, as well as his faith.
And indeed God’s work does show forth in this poor blind man, not only in the mercy of the miracle, but in the faith this poor man manifests following the miracle. He not only publicly confesses his faith in Jesus – “He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him.” – but even before this newly cured man becomes a wonderful apologist for Christ, defending both the truth of the miracle and 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 simply refused to be intimidated by the status or learning of his adversaries. He stood his ground and 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.
It’s important to note that Jesus sought him out and rewarded his fidelity to the natural 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 truly is the light of the world. With this double gift, he could now see not only physically, but with the eyes of the soul, whose light is faith, and this new vision would one day 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.
Now contrast all that with the response of the Temple authorities. Their refusal of the light of Christ is already forseen in their attempt to deny the truth of this miracle. And this rejection of truth, on the natural level, results in a deeper 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 both profoundly spiritual and willful, and it grows throughout this episode as they try to extinguish the light of truth on every level. 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 both him and his parents, and they end up bodily expelling this poor man from the temple. As a result, they become even more spiritually blind, completely shut off from the light, and as a result, as Jesus says, their sin remains. They are without excuse precisely because they claim to see when they are blind. Their fate is self-inflicted and ultimately tragic.
How often this same scenario will be repeated down through history when some simple believer heroically 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 profess that Jesus is “the light of the world.” How often today we hear the Church herself 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 both Christ and 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, whether of high office or no office, care more for the truth than for their very self, and so they stand their ground, until at last Christ seeks them out and rewards them for their fidelity to the light. It was of these “little ones” surely that Jesus 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 very 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 natural mind, defended His God in the temple one day so very long ago, and was so very richly rewarded by His Lord.