by Fabian A. Oliver
The story of the man born blind (John chapter 9)
Chapter nine of John’s Gospel is one of my favourites. The story is colourful and yet it carries a potent message about sin (perhaps one of the deadly sins of our time) and suffering. The story opens with the disciples asking who sinned that this man should be born blind. Was it him or his parents? This signals the strong belief in God’s retributive justice. Sickness, physical disability and social marginalization were seen as punishment from God for sins committed. However, Jesus denies that sin is the reason for such conditions but rather that this situation would reveal the glory of God. This shifts the understanding of suffering and sin: God does not cause suffering but more importantly, God’s work is to relieve all suffering. Suffering may exist as a result of evildoing in general, but those who suffer are not always the evil doers. Thus, Jesus reveals God’s solidarity with all suffering bodies.
As the story progresses we begin to realize that the man born blind is given sight and the blindness of the Pharisees is revealed. The Pharisees refuse to believe that Jesus could be someone sent by God. Since Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath and speaks with authority. They cannot believe him because he does things against their laws and dogma. Even when the man born blind tells them that Jesus has done something only one sent from God can do: He has given sight to the blind (verses 30-33). To this they cannot respond and choose to remove him from the synagogue. Therefore, the man born blind sheds light on the blindness of the Pharisees.
What about Sin?
If the man born blind is not a sinner, then who is? More importantly, what is the definition of sin revealed by Jesus? The Gospel’s usage of blindness is not just about physical blindness. The invitation is for us to realize we are all blind and in need of the true light of God. Spiritually we become blind when we refuse to let light permeate the innermost parts of our being. Sin becomes the refusal to accept the light/truth even when confronted with it. How often do we refuse to love unconditionally and instead choose to make value judgements about others? How often do we refuse to accept that we are all equal in Christ, but instead we choose to create hierarchal relationships of male over female, rich over poor, us over them? The refusal to understand any alternative truth is the denial of truth itself. This story reminds us that our religious laws, personal beliefs, social norms, doctrines and ideologies can blind us to what truly is.
Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello puts it this way, “You know there are times like that when the Blessed Sacrament becomes more important than Jesus Christ. When worship becomes more important than love, when the Church becomes more important than life. When God becomes more important than the neighbor. And so it goes on. That’s the danger. To my mind this is what Jesus was evidently calling us to — first things first! The human being is much more important than the Sabbath… Doing what I tell you, namely, becoming what I am indicating to you, is much more important than Lord, Lord (Matthew 7:21-23).”
Spiritual blindness can lead to idolatry; the worship of anything that is not God. If we stay away from the light of God, our religion becomes the worship of the Golden Calf. Today, in our very individualistic society, the greatest idol we can create is the worship of ourselves. Thus, spiritual blindness is a real threat… The true beauty about light is that it guides the way. There is a wonderful analogy about religious Tradition being like the light poles on the side of the street that allow us to follow the path to the splendor and mystery of God.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness”