“If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind, and now I see.” John 9:1-41.
This is the second of three weeks, where we hear from John’s gospel and listen to the conversations of Jesus with people he meets “on the street.” Last week we witnessed Jesus speaking to the “woman at the well.”
Now we listen attentively to the story of the “man born blind.” In both cases, there were immediate reactions to the youthful Rabbi Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry.
Among the essential features of this reading is that it comes at the beginning of John’s gospel in John 9.
It is important to note that in John 3, Jesus is in dialogue with Nicodemus, where the very centerpiece of the text turns on a familiar phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone…may have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Clearly, everyone knows this phase — since we see signs “John 3:16” posted from time to time, and promoted by fans from the sidelines at football or basketball games.
So what is the gospel writer doing? John is setting up a series of conversations or dialogues of Jesus with Nicodemus, the “woman at the well,” and today, the healing of the blind man, and next week, we will listen to Martha and Mary at the raising of their brother Lazarus.
The intent on the part of our Lenten liturgy is to reach out to those so-called “religiously unaffiliated,” or those who have a hunger to hear the word of God, that they too may enjoy the healing waters of “new life,” and restored sight in Christ.
This is why we take time today to read these bible narratives because they are especially powerful for those who are about to receive these sacraments at Easter. Now on to some words about the “man born blind.”
Centuries ago, Saint Augustine, in commenting on this passage, wrote: “The man born blind stands for the human race.” And indeed so, we realize that the man’s sight was restored at the same time, we as believers have a clearer perspective and vision of the person of Jesus.
In this regard, the scripture scholar Father George Smiga notes: “Miracles are not about wonders. They are signs that can lead us to faith, and if we choose to believe, to life eternal.
Now, let’s consider a brief story of mine about faith and healing.
Some people find God in unique or particular places, maybe mountains like the Sierras, or in deserts like Palm Springs; for me, it’s the beach and the seashore. Growing up at the Jersey Shore, I’ve come to the conclusion that beaches are best in Hawaii!
So several years ago, I was on the beach on Maui, at a favorite spot, it was the day after a terrible storm. Consequently, the beach that I knew well-contained plenty of rocks and debris.
Nonetheless, I got into the turbulent waves, and a bit later, I realized that I was having a perilous time getting out of the water because to exit, you had to swim and then climb up a steep embankment of rocks and sand.
As I was being tossed underwater, directly in front of me, I caught sight of a hand, which I grasped, and my lifeguard simply yanked me out of the water and then onto the shore.
Once I got my bearing on the beach, I happened to notice that this young man who came to my assistance in his twenties or early thirties, had an artificial or prosthetic leg, made from titanium.
Of course, I immediately realized the irony; I had been rescued by someone who is officially labeled “disabled” or “physically challenged.” Naturally, I was grateful for all his help.
The very next day, I saw my lifeguard on the same beach, and I went up to thank him again, and to simply say hello.
His name was Kevin, a writer, and someone who had lost his leg either in an accident or in the military, I don’t really know. But he was in excellent physical condition, a tri-athlete, and he told me that he swims every day.
But then he went on to say something, which really touched me about him.
My lifeguard said: “I’m a believer. Oh yes, some people might be angry with God for their loss. Much to the contrary to me. After years of rehab, I thank God for the peace and the healing he has brought to the rest of my body.”
This act of faith of his reminds me of the “man born blind” of today’s gospel, “I was blind, and now I see.”
This got to thinking once again of a line from one of my favorite priests and writers, Father Jim Turro.
He once wrote: “Our trials can be made into our greatest assets. Our privileges can turn out to be our worst enemies.”
It’s in this light we can see the Christ who brings comfort and healing to the blind person. But it also permits the many of us, the so-called unseeing, to see with eyes of faith the needs and hurts of others that we too may serve in his name, and bring about those miracles so essential in building the Kingdom of God.
Again, “Our trials can be made into our greatest assets. Our privileges can turn out to be our worst enemies.”
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.
Here’s an inspiring article by Catherine Saint Louis in the New York Times (3/14/2017):