Are we born blind?

Fourth Sunday of Lent

1 Samuel 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A

The LORD said to Samuel: "Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons." As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed is here before him." But the LORD said to Samuel: "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart." In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen any one of these." Then Samuel asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" Jesse replied, "There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep." Samuel said to Jesse, "Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here." Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The LORD said, "There—anoint him, for this is the one!" Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed David in the presence of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

Ephesians 5:8-14

Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" — which means Sent —. So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, "Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is, " but others said, "No, he just looks like him." He said, "I am." They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see." So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, "What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out. When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. We are invited to reflect on both the literal and the deeper symbolic significance. Jesus is performing a physical miracle, but his every action should be read symbolically as we try to uncover a deeper spiritual meaning.

As we know from the Bible, blindness is often interpreted as a symbol of sin according to Jewish tradition (Jewish Encyclopaedia, 1920). Not only does sin weaken our will, but also clouds our mind and vision spiritually. The blind man by birth, in fact, represents all of us who often fail to correctly see and are “blinded” to the deeper truth of God envisioned. We are often tempted to see this world as a collection of antagonistic individuals – our ego, being provocative, life over against one another, threat from others, or opportunities for our own aggrandizement – All of these are spiritual blindness. Even worse, many of us do not see it that way. As St. Thérèse puts it, “We must be humbled and recognize our nothingness, and that is what so many are not willing to do” (Letters to her brother missionaries VI). There are certainly many people who are unwilling to “be humbled” and recognize their “nothingness”; however, I believe the bigger problem is that so many people simply do not see it. They sincerely do not realize that they are sinners. They are spiritually blind.

So blindness to one’s sin is a big problem today. And why is it a problem? The Good News is not really “news” if we do not care about it. Why should we get excited about God’s abundant mercy for sinners if we do not really think we are sinners? Why go to confession when we fail to recognize our failures or wrong doings? At times, we must have done something wrong — and again, not just one thing, but probably lots of things. I mean, we are all sinners (see Rom 3:23, 1 Jn 1:8-10), and we all desperately need God’s mercy. Many of us may be enthusiastically agree, “That’s right! We’re all sinners!” In fact, we may even be congratulating ourselves: “Oh, thank goodness I’m not like those spiritually blind people. I clearly see my sins.” But do we? Spiritual blindness extends even to those who recognize that they are sinners. Jesus once told St. Faustina, “If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror.” (St Faustina Diary – 718)

So, how does Jesus approach this blind man, and to our blindness? He spits on the ground, and makes a mud paste – salve. The symbol is very powerful. “The spittle represents the divinity of Christ, his divine power. The earth represents his humanity. The incarnation itself is the salve that heals sin-sick eyes” (St. Augustine commentary, Tractate 44). As Jesus gently applies this healing salve on this man’s eyes, he is also healing our sight. His incarnation and his presence among us are what allow us to see!

After applying the salve, Jesus tells the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, in Hebrew it means “sent”. This is baptism. All of us are baptized into Christ, and we are washed by God’s living water. Baptism means that we are sharing Christ’s divine life. How do we learn to see today? In the Church! Once we are baptized into the power of Christ, and then become part of His Church, His mystical body, we are able to see. “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) – Jesus is the light by which we see the nature of things. He is the light that provides vision. He is also the light by which we can walk safely and soundly – how to see, to understand, and to act.

What is the man’s response to Jesus? He bows down and worships the true God. The blind man is recreated! Not only is his physical vision restored, but more importantly, his spiritual vision is renewed. That is why this is also our story when we boldly sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.” (Amazing Grace)

Posted: March 26, 2017

Ben Cheng


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