We modern people have difficulty accepting the black-and-white statements of Jesus. We pride ourselves on seeing the exceptions, the grey parts of life. Given the world’s present clumsy polarization, this is quite ironic and perhaps we can now acknowledge that Jesus has a particularly pertinent insight. He reveals who is good, bad, or ridiculous but perhaps we could better say who will be good, bad or ridiculous.
First, there is the man born blind. He is cured of his blindness by Jesus and is immediately set upon by his neighbors. They are bewildered and ask him about Jesus. All he can say is that he is a prophet. When pressured further he repeats the facts “I once could not see now I can”. He shows real courage by challenging his interrogators’ motives and asking, “if he were not from God how could he perform such a great miracle?”. When he meets Jesus again, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of Man, he calls him Lord – a name for God – and proves his understanding by worshipping him.
This man represents all the baptized. We are born blind – separated from God. In baptism, we are given sight. Note he is anointed and then bathed. John emphasizes the physical, sacramental nature of the union with Christ. We are never purely spiritual beings. As he reflects upon his enlightenment, he sees that Jesus is a prophet who knows hidden things. Yet his interrogators press him, and he recognizes that a prophet, however great, could not give him sight. For John, we are born blind, but it takes time to truly see who Jesus is and what this means.
Now let us look at his neighbors. They are right to be confused, blind people had been cured but never was a person born blind given sight. This was so extraordinary that we can understand why even people who saw him every day were so amazed and thought it might be a look-alike. They brought him to local religious leaders, the Pharisees. Some immediately thought it might be from deceit or a demon. Their reasoning was that he cured him on the sabbath by making a salve which technically was work. This revealed division.
There were many Jewish teachers of the day who although loving the law understood that it needed to be obeyed with mercy and common sense. They would have agreed with Jesus on this and many other things. There were others, however, who would only entertain the strictest interpretation. They persisted in persecuting this man even to the point of threating his parents. Many commentators suggest that when we read Jews or Pharisees after this point in the passage, we should think Jewish leaders not common believers.
The leaders claim to be teachers, but they cannot answer the most basic question: “how did he do this?” They speak of a relationship with Moses and call the man a sinner who should respect their authority. Then they evicted him from the synagogue. They were so convinced that they had a lock on truth and knowledge that they need not look at anyone or anything beyond their own circle. When they meet Jesus again, he tells them that their refusal to see who he is has made them blind.
Jesus says “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind” Jesus is always the light and reveals what is really present. The man born blind like the newly baptized has been called to make Jesus the center of his every moment and act. This is a lifetime journey, and it requires him and indeed every Christian to go through many stages and experiences to achieve deeper belief and purer worship. John and the other inspired authors understood that crystal clarity or utter darkness were destinations, and we will ultimately choose a path that leads to one or the other.
Let us not end without looking at the man’s parents. We should be kind to them. Their lives revolved around their participation in the synagogue. If they acknowledged that Jesus cured their son, they were accepting Jesus as the Messiah and would experience social death. This would have been immediately understood by John’s audience. They may very well have been expelled from the synagogues themselves and may have felt both understanding and hostility for them.
The other gospels clearly warn the disciples that they may be rejected by their families, neighbors, and friends but that they will receive houses, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers a hundredfold. (Matthew 19:29). The language of brother and sister was adopted early in church history for a reason, it was necessary to create an alternative family.
We cannot achieve the clarity of vision Jesus offers alone, we need a community. We need not only the universal church but the local parish.
Creating this kind of community is the duty of every Christian. There are many ways to do this. Today’s gospel reading reminds us of the importance of religious education. This is more than knowing what we believe but in showing what effects that belief has had on us as individuals and as a community. Personal testimony is the heart of evangelization.
We do much “post Baptism”. You have been invited to participate in many adult education activities and to place your children in our religious formation program. We have also asked you to become facilitators in the former and teachers in the latter. But we also need to develop a team to instruct and prepare families for their children’s baptisms. This is common in many parishes and frankly as I enjoyed doing it was never developed here. I have promised our new Pastor Fr Gibino that I will have one in place by the time I leave. Our director of family faith formation, Dawn Hewitt, has graciously consented to put this together and she will speak to you at the end of Mass. *
Let us take this opportunity to make the light of Christ our parish destination.
- If you would like to participate, please contact her at [email protected]