4th Sunday of Lent 2011

3 April 2011

1 Samuel 16:1,6 – 7,10 – 13
Ephesians 5:8 – 14
John 9: 1 – 41

A young woman was engaged to be married. Her friends told her that she was unwise to do so as her fiancé was an alcoholic. But she couldn’t see this. It seems her love for him blinded her from seeing his drink problem. Not too long before the marriage they were out for a meal. He got so drunk that he actually hit her as she complained about his behaviour. At that moment her eyes were opened to what her friends had been telling her. She broke off the engagement. Sometime later a young man she grew up with but was never attracted to, reappeared in her life and then she saw him in a completely new way. Her eyes were opened to his goodness and other qualities. Eventually they got married and are doing well.

In the gospel today we have a blind man whose eyes are opened by Jesus.  The opening of the man’s eyes symbolises the opening of the disciples’ eyes to faith. The phrase ‘opening of eyes’ appears 7 times in the story like a refrain in a TV advert. This story keeps emphasising that the man was blind from birth. To heal him meant the beginning of a completely new life, a life where he can see. The blind man is also a beggar. The prevailing thinking of that time was that his blindness was a punishment because of his own sin or the sin of his parents, as the disciples show in their question to Jesus. So others would look down upon him. He would be avoided. In the society of his time he would be an outsider. 

Jesus sees him, takes pity on him and opens his eyes. It is Jesus who takes the initiative even before the man could ask. We probably cannot imagine what this meant to him. By healing him of his blindness Jesus frees him on a number of levels. He is physically healed. He is no longer an outsider in society, he is part of it. He has received a new dignity. Jesus raises him up. Above all his eyes are opened spiritually also because as the story progresses he accepts Jesus as the Son of Man.

To heal him Jesus uses mud and saliva, which may surprise us. People believed that saliva could heal. We know now that saliva is a kind of antibiotic. That is why dogs and other animals lick their wounds. But more importantly by using mud Jesus helps us to remember that God used mud to create Adam, the first man. So here too is a new creation. Jesus is making a new man. Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam which is symbolic of baptism, when in faith we believe we become children of God.

The terrible irony or tragedy of course is that when the man is brought to the Pharisees to confirm the healing as the Law required, they do all they can to discredit Jesus the healer. The fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath was a violation of the Law so he couldn’t be from God. Yet others claimed that since he had worked a miracle he had to come from God. But many of these Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders persisted in their refusal to accept Jesus. They who should have been the first to recognise Jesus because of the miracle were blind. Like the young woman in the story at the beginning who at first was blinded to the drink problem of her fiancé, the Pharisees were blind also though a few did accept.

After his healing the man’s friends and neighbours discuss his identity. Is it really the same person because the beggar was blind and this man can see? Because he has changed some cannot accept him. We may recall St.Paul. After his conversion most disciples of Jesus found it hard to accept he had changed. Was it really the same person? They were afraid that it couldn’t be true. We ourselves may know of people who were once lukewarm Christians or had fallen away from the faith, but who later had a conversion experience and now are very committed followers of Jesus. Their eyes were opened and this led to a change in their behaviour. For you and me if we are lukewarm in our following of Jesus, do we need an identity change too? Will we ask Jesus to open our eyes so that we can see him as he really is, Lord and Saviour of our lives?  Like the blind man he will give us a new life-giving identity. But maybe we are scared of what this will demand of us as if God would ask more of us than we could give.

These Pharisees do all they can to discredit the blind man. They question him about what happened. He simply retells his experience of the cure. They don’t believe him. So they send for his parents who suggest to the Pharisees that he speak for himself. They were afraid that if they were seen to accept Jesus they would be barred from the synagogue too. Because of the blind man’s persistent confirmation that Jesus had opened his eyes, and so is from God, he is eventually rejected by the Pharisees.

Jesus, the Light of the world, hears that the man has been expelled, goes in search of him and finds him. He reveals himself as the Son of Man and the man formerly blind, bows down and worships him.  Jesus then condemns the Pharisees for being so blind that they won’t see him for who he truly is.

The Good News is that Jesus wants to reveal himself to us too and open our eyes where we are blind.

“Lord Jesus, open our eyes to all that blinds us from accepting you fully as our loving God and from letting go of all that does not lead to true peace and seeing all as our brothers and sisters too. Amen’

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA