John IX: 1-41
The Healing of the Man born Blind
As the Lord and his disciples passed by, he noticed a man who had been born blind. Seeing him there, the disciples wanted to know the reason for the man’s blindness, as there was a commonly held view that physical disabilities often manifested as a consequence of sin. Understanding that he could not have sinned before birth, some people believed that sometimes children may suffer in order to bring retribution to the parents, because they assumed there must be a reason for his suffering. The Lord’s answer authoritatively announces that sin is not the reason for his blindness, nor had he or his parents done anything wrong. There are many reasons for trials and maladies.
His reply that through his healing “the works of God might be made manifest” should not, however, be taken to mean that God created him blind in order to later heal him, as that would suggest a capricious and unfeeling God. St. Cyril of Alexandria, trying to clarify the Lord’s comment rejects this interpretation: “Since God is the Fountain of all righteousness, God will neither do not determine anything whatsoever in human affairs or in those of the rest of creation that is unbecoming to God or differs at all from the true righteousness of justice.” Rather, he believes that we should not curiously examine things that are too deep, or pry into those that are too hard or rashly attempt to discover those things that are hidden in the divine and ineffable counsel alone but should piously acknowledged that there are certain wondrous things that God alone understands.
The Lord speaks of the salvic mission for which the Father sent him with some urgency, and emphasises its priority over mere theological speculation. The day of opportunity passes, never to return. We should avoid speculation and instead use the time God has given us to fulfil His commands. Jesus calls himself ‘light’ because He enlightens souls, but also because He was about to open the blind man’s eyes through dust, just as He had done at the beginning of creation. The light remains in the world as long as Christ’s presence remains in the world. The brightness of Christ overwhelms the darkness.
Jesus performs this healing on the Sabbath, by which the Evangelist exposes his opponents’ real design, which was to accuse him of violating the Jewish law and thus detract from the miracle. In spite of this seeming violation, the one healed is determined to show that the power of the healer was not exerted in vain; the Pharisees’ focus remains on the violation. There is a carnal and a spiritual keeping of the Sabbath, which they do not seem to understand. St. Cyril the Great also reminds us that there was a precedent for work on the Sabbath, as this was the day when the Jewish hero Joshua captured Jericho.
In the present account, there is such a concentration on whether Jesus could do the miracle on the Sabbath that the magnificence of the miracle gets lost in the flurry of accusations. Even the blind man gets enlisted as an arbiter in the dispute among the Pharisees. Saint John Chrysostom says that the blind man’s bold declaration “shows how strong truth is and how weak falsehood is. Truth, though it grasps only ordinary people, makes them to appear glorious; falsehood, even when it is among the strong, shows them to be weak.” The Pharisees nonetheless try to hide their attack under the guise of religion, but end up blaspheming God instead.
The blind man no longer tolerates blindness in others and demonstrates that he has already become a disciple of Jesus. No matter how hard they try to disprove what happened, the miracle remains incontrovertible evidence of the power of Jesus. The Pharisees counter that God would not listen to sinners. Origen, however reminds us of the psalm, “If Thou shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (CXXX: 3) and points out our Lord’s eating and drinking with publicans and sinners and His ministry to repentant sinners. Either way, the facts prove that Jesus is not a sinner, and the testimony of the formerly blind man demonstrates the inferiority of the Pharisees’ argument as well as his own insights of faith.
Jesus evokes a confession of faith in His encounter with the blind man as a gift of life, not as a condition of healing. Jesus is the personification of Siloam (“the sent one”) for this man, since He performed the work of the Father who had sent him in healing this man. When He asked the man if he believes in the Son of man, the blind man recognises the voice of the one who healed him but still it is on the borderline between unbelief and faith. But when the Lord reveals Himself to the man, he does confess his faith, and worship follows this confession.
In this miracle we see our Lord once again dividing between the light in the darkness, between the sight and blindness of faith. Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world becomes clear in his desire to save it. Because the Pharisees refuse to see this, their sin remains. Jesus heals both the physical and spiritual blindness evident here. The passage ends with the sharp encounter of our Lord with the Pharisees about which St. John Chrysostom said,
“And then he speaks concerning their blindness. For he directs his whole speech towards this purpose, that is, so they cannot say, ‘We did not refuse to come to you because of our blindness, but we turn away and avoid you as a deceiver.’ And there is also a reason the evangelist adds, And ‘some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these words.’ He wants to remind us that those were the very persons who had first withstood Christ and then wished to stone him. For there were some who only followed in appearance and were easily changed to the contrary opinion.”
“I was blind and now I see.” This is our everlasting experience as children of the Heavenly Father. We were blind and He restored our sight so that we can behold the manifold mercies of God and receive true understanding of the Sacred Scriptures.