Sunday of the Man Born Blind: God’s Work Manifested

The Sixth Sunday of Pascha gives to the Church the account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In this Sunday’s gospel reading (John 9: 1 – 38), Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned that he was born blind. Was it the parents or the man? Jesus answers, “Neither this one nor his parents sinned.” Our Lord gives the ultimate answer: “[He was born blind] in order that the works of God might be manifested in him” (John 9: 3). This is an astounding answer, and it should speak volumes to us as we move through the difficulties of our lives.

We have asked this question, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” We have heard others ask the question as well. The common, unthinking — usually unspoken — answer is “I don’t know.” But, it reveals more of the person when an addendum is added to the question: “Why didn’t this happen to someone else?” To this question the answer is, “To whom would you have this happen? To whom would you wish your misfortune?” No one wants difficulties, hardships, misfortunes, or suffering. But, though unwanted, they come our way and mess up our happy lives. Thus, when the question is asked, “Why me?”, let our answer be, “In order that the work of God might be manifested in me!” When we give this answer, we answer in faith. Further, we bring to life St. Paul’s teaching: “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5: 16 – 18). With this answer and purpose in mind, I wish to offer this understanding of this day’s gospel.

Christ’s encounter with the blind man was not random. It was intended and had its purpose. And though the disciples and the blind man could not know the ultimate outcome, Christ was there even at its end to bring about its finish: “That the works of God might be manifested in him.” God has an advantage of perspective we cannot have as material beings.

Of note there is a sacramental component to this account of healing:

After saying these things, he [Jesus] spit on the ground and made mud from the spittle and anointed his eyes with the mud, and said to him, “Go to wash in the pool of Siloam…therefore, he departed and washed, and left seeing” (John 9: 6 – 7)

In these two verses we have God’s saliva [the divine] joined to the very common material of dirt. This union is smeared — anointed — onto the eyes of the blind man. In obedience to the command of the sacrament, the blind man departs to the Pool of Siloam and washes — another sacramental action. The healing sacrament of Christ applied to the eyes, and the subsequent washing bring about the miraculous healing: he left the pool seeing for the first time in his life! Now, as we move through our own testings and struggles, we cannot depart from the sacramental life of the Church. As we move through our difficulties we will need the cleansing of the sacrament of Confession. We will need the victorious, healing, and cleansing work of the Eucharist in our lives as well. By the Eucharist our faithful, relational union with Christ is strengthened as we move together in him through the difficult path set before us. But, should we depart from the Sacraments and the worshiping life of the Church out of anger or despair, we will be weakened, and likely fail to see God’s work manifested in our lives.

As the ninth chapter of St. John’s gospel continues, we read of the confrontation of, and interrogation by the Pharisees, and even the man’s betrayal by his own parents. In this trial he does not break or capitulate. He endures and remains faithful to the one who gave him sight. “One thing I know: though blind, now I see…We know that God does not hear sinners, but if someone might be godly, and might do his will, he hears this one” (John 9: 25, 31). The man’s faith, and the miracle of sight are not met with rejoicing, but rejection. The one who now sees is thrown out of the Synagogue — he has now neither natural nor spiritual family. Where is the justice in this? But, note well, he who has gone through this ordeal does not ask, “Why me?”

When we come to the conclusion of this Sunday’s gospel reading, we discover the ultimate purpose of Christ’s healing. This man, though now seeing, has lost everything. Nothing turned out “fairly” for him. However, we learn that Christ has not departed him:

Jesus heard that hey cast him out [of the Synagogue], and upon finding him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Lord, who is this that I might believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshipped him (John 9: 35 – 38).

Ultimately, the miracle of sight was not Christ’s intention. The ultimate good bestowed to the man was faith, life, and a relationship with Christ and his disciples. So it is with us and our challenges and trials. We are to move through them with faith, joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. We are to move through them with and by the sacramental and worshipping life of the Church. By them we will be tested, but we are not to break. When we reach their end, if we have moved in the ways of faith and thanksgiving, we will see Christ anew, and so worship him ever more completely.

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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