As usual you can listen to the homily here.
Have you ever had something bad happen to you and immediately blamed God? Sudden news of serious sickness or the death of family member, something serious and painful, enough for any of us to feel that God has let us down? How easy it is to assume that God is a puppet master in charge of every little thing, controlling every event or to see Him as a kind of absolute monarch dishing our rewards and punishments as He sees fit. Bad theology leads to atheism.
It is important to understand that for the Pharisees everything came down to whether or not you kept the Law. Not just the Law as it is recorded in the Old Testament but the body of commentary and legal interpretation build up around that body of Law over the previous centuries. That version of Judaism held that being rich and healthy was a sign of God’s blessing and being poor and or sick was a sign of God’s curse. If you wanted to be blessed by God you kept that Law but it governed every aspect of people’s lives, what you could eat and when and how, how you dressed, etc and only the rich could easily manage that.
For the Pharisees this meant that the man’s blindness was a sign that he and his parents were sinners and therefore unclean. They would do nothing to ease their sufferings, in fact, they misinterpreted the Old Testament Law to forbid even doing good on a Sabbath. It is on this last point that they accuse the Lord of being a sinner because he works a miracle on the Sabbath. They considered the mixing of clay with spittle to make a paste a breach of the Sabbath because it constituted work!
This also explains why the Apostles ask about the cause of the man’s blindness. The Lord corrects their misunderstanding that it was caused by sin. In this particular case the man suffered blindness so that he could receive the greater sight. We can go further though and say that we must distinguish between so called natural evils such as earthquakes and floods and even many diseases and disabilities and moral evils, that is, real evil, evil that is the result of deliberate human acts. Moral evil covers every evil choice made by human beings: from adultery to theft, including gossip, lying and murder and everything in between and contained within them as well as all the suffering that results from them. As the early Church Father St John Chrysostom says “the evils of the present life are not evils, so neither are the good things good. Sin alone is an evil, but blindness is not an evil”. (HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 56.1). Blindness, though experienced as an evil, a deprivation, is not an evil when it occurs naturally but an absence of the good of sight.
This is at the heart of this gospel passage. The Pharisees are so keen to hold onto the sway they have over the people, so keen to keep their interpretation of the Law, that they will doing anything rather than admit that Jesus’ restoration of the blind man’s sight is a sign of God’s action in the world. They who have their physical sight and claim to be followers of the God of Israel cannot see, will not see, that the God of Israel is in their very midst.
The paradox is that the man thought cursed, the blind man, is the man who comes to faith in Christ, who has his spiritual sight restored. It does not happen suddenly. There is a process to this healing so that it differs to other miracles our Lord worked. In each miracle our Lord responds differently depending on the needs and the openness of the individual, just as He does today. Then He uses His spit and some dirt to make a paste and puts it on the eyes of the blind man. Here, as the Fathers tell us, Christ shows that He really is the Light who illumines everything, that pre-existed Creation and that He is the One who created Adam in the Garden of Eden. He creates eyes for one born blind and enlightens His soul at the same time. This is the sign that He is giving to the world but the world does not receive.
This is the beginning of the man’s journey into the light of faith. At first when interrogated he only acknowledges our Lord as a prophet but at the interrogations go on he grows further in his faith and begins to defend our Lord refusing to admit any sin in Him but rather defending the miracle than our Lord has worked. That is what we hear when he says “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything”. The poor, ignorant, former blind man ends up teaching the wealthy, learned, sighted Pharisees the obvious. Our Lord must be righteous for God listens to Him. He gets thrown out of the synagogue for his troubles.
It is then that our Lord finds him and asks the final question “Do you believe in the Son of Man.” The title ‘Son of Man’ refers to the Messiah. The man, informed that our Lord is the promised Messiah, bows down and worships. Now there are those who will claim that our Lord never claimed to be God. It is passages like this, and other parts of His teaching that tell the truth. Our Lord does not stop him worshiping for it is the proper response to meeting one’s Creator, Healer and Saviour.
The question for us this Lent is am I a Pharisee who thinks he sees but does not or am I spiritually blind and in need of Christ’s healing? Or am I a disciple who really believes? Perhaps there is an element of each of them in us all. Each of us must confront the Pharisee within and overcome him. Each of us must face up to our spiritual blindness and like the blind man we must go to Christ for healing. The only true evil is sin and to be in sin is to be truly blind, blind to our state, blind to the harm done to ourselves and to others and blind to where we are going if we do not repent. We do not have to walk in the darkness. We can go to Christ in prayer and above in the Sacrament of Confession and there let His light illumine and restore us. Remember to check your conscience daily and if you find anything that is not of Christ in your life go to Confession. Only when we choose to see by the true sight, by faith, illumined by Christ’s truth do we see correctly and clearly and will be able to follow Christ.