It is difficult for us to fully comprehend what it was like to live in the time of Christ’s ministry. The sick and the poor were often seen as being punished for the sins of their forebears, or for their own sins. Sickness, poverty: these were punishments from God.
Christ came and changed this perception. At least, he tried to do so. Look at us, now, at our low toleration of the sick and the poor. We still have that mindset, based on the judgement of others. We are known to run away with a sense of judging. We are known to see events and situations before us and to make decisions about what they are for and why they are happening.
In today’s Gospel, when they see the blind man, the disciples’ first response is to bring this question up: whose fault is it? Notice, though, that Jesus’ response is compassion. The blind man is not the subject of some philosophical cultural debate. He is the object of compassion.
Notice also that there is a physical aspect to the healing process. Jesus performs a kind of ritual, one might even say a kind of liturgy, spitting into the ground and making a paste with which two doub the man’s eyes. And he gives the man a physical instruction: to go and wash in the pool.
As we have said before, Christ came with a single commandment: to love. In our own healing we often have both a physical and spiritual rite to perform. We are asked to love one another, and during Lent we are asked to extend that love as well as we can – to have an impact on people’s lives. This takes ‘doing’ things, visiting, making things available, contacting someone in need. And it is through these acts of love that we begin to glimpse our inner healing, the healing of the heart.
So it is with the blind man and Christ. The primary healing was a spiritual one. The signs that Jesus performed, the making of paste, the instruction to walk to the pool and clean himself, and the actions of the man: these are not arbitrary acts, but they are are a window into the man’s spiritual healing. They represent our putting our hand on the plough and making a start on a new life.
Later in the Gospel, the man is quizzed by the religious leaders. He becomes an object of fierce discussion, of hatred, perhaps of jealousy. He may even have felt to be in a dangerous position, with all those people around him, questioning what happened, possibly trying to trip him up. Is this not what we, also, can do with the fruits of God’s love? we are not so dissimilar from those questioning leaders, and like the disciples, who were far more interested in the letter of the law – the mechanics – than in God’s acts of love for us. Not only can we rubbish miracles and healings that take place around us, but sometimes in our religious fervour we can attribute actions and situations to God’s judgement on other people. Yet, Christ is saying that love is the answer, that he is more interested in making someone well then he is of performing a theological autopsy on the history of someone, of blaming them with illness and sickness. This is all human judgement talking, not the will of God.
The true light lives infinitely beyond human constructs. There are people who fervently believe that the current COVID-19 pandemic is God’s retribution on certain types of people. But we see in today’s Gospel how Jesus closes down the human perception of judgement, and works beyond our understanding of religious practice, and all for one purpose: to make someone well; to be compassionate. Even from his Cross, Christ loved humanity so much that he was finding excuses to forgive people.
To forgive as we have been forgiven: that is what we are asked to do. It is part of our physical instruction towards our own healing, and it requires true compassion. To forgive as we have been forgiven is our version of walking to the pool. to drop our thinly-veiled hatred of those who are not like us is our version of washing our eyes so that we may see. And Lent is a perfect time to develop, like yeast in our hearts, this burning compassion that quantifies all of the actions of Christ.
So, in this tremendously difficult time for the world, let us guard well against judgement of others. Let us see those who are badly affected, especially the ones whom society teaches us to reject – the outcasts, the homeless, the sick, the prisoners – and let us do what Christ would do do. As Paul said in the second reading today:
“Wake up from your sleep,
rise from the dead,
Christ will shine on you.”
We pray for the grace to rise from the dead of our sinfulness, our inaction, our judging selves, and to play our part in walking to that pool. Let us bring the healing of Christ to those who need it, that we may shine with the light of God. Amen
He went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.
As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
‘As long as the day lasts
I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;
the night will soon be here when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world
I am the light of the world.’
Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man. and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.
His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one’. Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him’. The man himself said, ‘I am the man’. So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.
They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see’. Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath’. Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them.
So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man. However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we don’t know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him’.
So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see’. They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from’. The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.
Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you’. The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
Jesus said: ‘It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight turn blind’.
Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’
Jesus replied:’Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, “We see”, your guilt remains.