In the Gospel of John we often find stories which are not to be found in the Synoptic Gospels. And even though we know that John’s Gospel is considered to have been written later than the others we should not give in to the temptation to think that this old man John has made the story up.
All of the Gospel writers were confronted with such a great mass of written and oral material about the public ministry of Jesus that they had to be very selective in what they included. What the Evangelists have done is to take the incidents that they regard to be the most important and included them in their Gospel and so ensure that they would be handed down from generation to generation.
You will have noticed that Matthew, Mark and Luke have many similar accounts of specific incidents from the life of Jesus. It is considered by scholars that they used a common source which is now lost; a sort of first draft of the life of Jesus written or put together at an earlier date.
But John does not seem to use this document and his Gospel differs markedly from the others. He takes the long view and his Gospel is the outcome of considered reflection over very many years. It is not that he made up those incidents that are not recorded in the other Gospels but rather that he sees the significance of particular miracles that the Synoptic writers passed over.
In fact, John stresses only seven miracles or ‘signs’ as he calls them. And each of these miracles has an important lesson to teach us. The healing presented to us in today’s liturgy is that of the man born blind which takes place at the Pool of Siloam. And the lesson we are being taught is that besides our ordinary sight there is another kind of sight, that of seeing the truth of the Gospel.
This particular miracle is about light and darkness. The man had lived in darkness all his life but through healing he comes into the light in two senses: literally, since his sight was restored; and spiritually, since he was given the gift of faith. Of course, it is this gift of faith which concerns us most of all.
After the healing there follows a series of interrogations during which the scepticism of the Pharisees only increases while the faith of the blind man develops and strengthens.
First, he claims that Jesus is a prophet, then he states that he is from God and finally when faced with Jesus once more he declares his faith in him as the Son of Man and kneels down and worships him.
They say that people who have lost, or never had, one human faculty often more acutely develop one or more of the others. This man was born blind but he is certainly not dumb. He is extremely fluent in his speech and, despite a presumed lack of education, he is clever enough to trounce the supposedly learned Pharisees and expose their plan to entrap Jesus.
He is also quite bold and forthright in his speech. Nowhere else in the Gospels do you read of a poor person speaking to those in authority in the way that this blind man does. It is clear to him that Jesus is good and truthful and that these supposedly religious men are nothing but hypocrites. They pretend to look for the truth but when he gives it to them they cannot accept it. At first, they insult him and finally chase him away.
Despite his boldness towards the Pharisees this blind man is revealed to be quite humble and not without self-knowledge. Three times he confesses his ignorance: once to the people, once to the Pharisees and finally once to Jesus. As we have seen, each of these confessions of ignorance is followed by a profession of faith.
We are being subtly told that it is only when we honestly admit our ignorance that faith can find its way into our lives.
After being driven away by the Pharisees our blind man eventually encounters Jesus once again. But actually, it is Jesus who seeks him out and who then asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. The blind man says, ‘Tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus replies, ‘You are looking at him.’
Notice the wonderful use of the senses in this brief but extremely significant exchange. This man who has been blind all his life and who has had to rely heavily on speech and hearing says, ‘Tell me who he is.’ Jesus who has given him sight tells invites him to use it and says, ‘You are looking at him.’
In the early history of the Church this miracle was thought of very highly. It was often depicted in the paintings on the walls of the Catacombs and the three-fold interrogation was taken up and used in the Baptismal Liturgy where adults were put through three scrutinies. During the last of these this very Gospel was read to the Catechumens finishing at the line, Yes, Lord I do believe.
This magnificent story tells us that light triumphs over darkness, truth over untruth, faith over disbelief. It also tells us that while physical blindness is certainly a terrible affliction how much worse an affliction is that of spiritual blindness.
This miracle tells us that admission of ignorance can open the door to knowledge of God. It tells us that the poor and the afflicted frequently have far more insight than the religious elite. It tells us that Christ the Light of the World wants to enlighten the lives of each one of us.
In our language we speak of sight and insight. We see by ordinary physical sight the things around us, even though to call this ordinary could hardly be correct since sight is in itself one of the most extraordinary aspects of creation.
But with insight we see at quite another level, we come to a realisation, we make connections that are not immediately apparent. There is a moment when the real truth of something dawns on us, the moment of insight.
But if we go one step deeper even than so-called ‘ordinary’ insight we recognise the moment of coming to faith. I am certain that almost everyone here has experienced such a moment which is something much deeper even than insight.
It is the moment when we came to realise that God exists, that he is the author and sustainer of all creation, and that Jesus is his Son and our Saviour.
And that the only appropriate thing for us to in the face of this realisation is to do just what that blind man did: kneel down and worship him.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket