John 1:9-41 (4th Sunday of Lent, Year A)
|Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco, 1567|
Is the event of Jesus healing the blind man in the gospel of today a miracle? Trick question! The story does tell about a miracle, but more importantly, the event is a sign. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ miracles are always called signs. Signs are gestures or actions that are meant to convey a deeper meaning. For example, a red light is a sign which tells us to stop. The miracle of Jesus healing the blind man is supposed to function in the same way. The actions and words of Jesus and the other characters are meant to convey deeper layers of meaning. Unfortunately, we often focus only on the story of the miracle and miss the deeper meaning it teaches us. These signs of Jesus are like a layered cake. Often we just pay attention to the icing and miss out on the rest of the good stuff in the cake. Today then, lets dig deep into this sign to better appreciate what it has to offer us.
The first layer of this sign reveals to us that Jesus is the light of the world. The image of light runs throughout this miracle. For example, it is very significant that Jesus healed the blind man on the Feast of the Tabernacles. Without getting into all the details of this feast, it is important to recognize that another name for it was the Festival of Lights. This feast celebrated the Exodus, when God saved His people, leading them by a pillar of light. Just as Jesus literally brought light to the blind man by curing him, Jesus is the light of the world in two ways.
- Guide: Just as the people of Israel were led to safety by a pillar of light, by His words and actions, Jesus is our guide leading us to our Heavenly Father. Through Jesus we come to know who God is and how we should live.
- Life: Light, for example the light of the sun, also gives life. Through Jesus, the light of the world, we come to share in the Divine life.
Jesus, by being both our guide and source of life, is the true light of the world.
The second layer of this sign is a commentary on Baptism. Catch that part? At first this meaning does not seem obvious but among early Christians this miracle was given a Baptismal interpretation. Skeptical? Consider this evidence:
- Recall that light is a central theme of the sign. Early Christians described Baptism as fotismos, that is, the Sacrament of illumination. In Baptism, Christ the light of the world forever is joined to us and over time our minds should become enlightened, being able to recognize good from bad, light and darkness.
- Remember exactly how Jesus cured the blind man? First He made a paste and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. Some translations describe that Jesus anointed the man’s eyes. After this, the man washed in water. The man is anointed and washed in water. The same thing happens at Baptism.
- It is significant that in the miracle Jesus gives sight to someone who was born blind. It is not a question of restoring something that was once there and became lost. In Baptism, much the same thing happens. At Baptism we are not given something that we once had, but are given the gift of Divine Life, something that we are born without and is not ours by any right.
- Finally, notice that throughout the sign, the issue of sin is often discussed. Whose sin caused the blindness? Did Jesus sin by healing on the Sabbath? Do the Pharisees sin by rejecting Jesus? Being freed from sin is of course of central importance in Baptism.
All this evidence points to the fact that this sign of Jesus is a powerful commentary on Baptism.
On the third layer, this sign provokes us to consider how we respond to Jesus, the light of the world. In the miracle, there are three distinct responses to the person of Jesus: rejection, hesitancy, and faithful witness. Can you guess which characters fit into each category? Perhaps more importantly, which category do you fit into?
- Rejection. The Pharisees reject the person of Jesus. In fact, their opposition to Jesus grows throughout the story. In the beginning they seem to be divided as to what to think of Jesus. By the end they have condemned not only Jesus as a sinner, but also the man that Jesus has healed. Today there are still people who openly reject Jesus in this way and persecute His followers. When we look at the situation in places like Syria, Nigeria, we see that this is all too common.
- Hesitancy. The parent’s of the blind man are hesitant towards Jesus. Instead of taking a stand as to whether Jesus has worked this miracle, they pass the buck to their son. Perhaps they are afraid of what the Pharisees will think of them. Regardless, they lack courage in their convictions. This has always been a highly populated category. For example, many Catholics and Christians come to Church for cultural reasons. They are lukewarm and their faith makes no impact on how they live their life outside of their time in Church. Most people have no problem telling other that Jesus is a good man, or a prophet, but when pressed whether they believe that Jesus is truly their Savior, the Son of God, they are forever sitting on the fence.
- Faithful witness. The man who Jesus heals is an example of someone who witnesses to Jesus even in the face of persecution. He is always clear about what Jesus has done for him.
Rejection, hesitancy or faithful witness. Which category do you fall into? The gospel of today provokes us to ask ourselves this question.
The fourth layer of this sign reminds us that as Baptized Christians, we are called to emulate the faith journey of the man born blind. If you look closely at the story, you see something very significant. The man grows in His faith in Jesus over the course of the story. In the beginning, the blind man simply refers to Jesus as the man. Later on, he calls Jesus a prophet. Next he refers to Jesus as a man with power from God. Finally, at the end of the story he worships Jesus, an action that shows he thinks Jesus is God. What accounts for this dramatic change? Ultimately this transformation is a gift from God as it was Jesus who consistently reached out to this man and worked in His life. At the same time, the man responded to this grace. His story teaches us an important lesson:
The more we witness to Jesus by telling others the difference that He has made in our life, the more our faith in Jesus increases.
Each day we have opportunities to witness to Jesus both by our words and actions. For example, a simple question like, “what do you do on Sunday?” can be an opportunity to witness to Jesus. It is not easy to witness to Jesus to those around us, whether they be friends, coworkers or even family members. It can be embarrassing and there is always a fear that they will reject us. However, when we are able to explain to others why we are Catholic, why we believe in Jesus, why we take the time to pray, what difference Jesus has made in our life, we will find that our faith is strengthened. The important thing is to be authentic, if we have doubts we shouldn't be afraid to express it. The blind man was not always sure about Jesus’ identity, but he always had the courage to share with others who he thought Jesus was and what He had done in His life. As a result, his faith in Jesus grew. As Baptized Christians, we are called to emulate the faith journey of the man born blind.
This week let us challenge ourselves to witness to Jesus in some new way. Be creative in finding new ways to share with others what difference being a follower of Jesus makes in your life! Whether you witness to your family, friends or coworkers, and whether is is in a conversation or on social media, you will certainly find your own faith in Jesus strengthened. We will discover the truth that Bl. John Paul II loved to repeat: faith is strengthened when it is given to others.