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“The blind man is the human race”

A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Detail from "The Healing of the Man born Blind" [1307/8-11] by Duccio (WikiArt.org)

Readings:
• 1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
• Psa 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
• Eph 5:8-14
• Jn 9:1-41

Scripture refers many times to the contrast between darkness and light. The first mention of this division is in the opening chapter of Genesis, in which God speaks light into being. “God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:3). Light, of course, is essential for the existence of living things, who rely upon it for everything from heat to energy to sight.

The opening of the Gospel of John intentionally echoes Genesis 1 in describing how the Word of God—Who created all things—came into the world in order to bring about a new creation. “What came to be through him was life,” the Apostle John wrote, “and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:3b-5). The intertwining themes of life and light, death and darkness, set the stage for many of the narratives and discourses in the Fourth Gospel, including today’s Gospel reading, which is the story of the man born blind.

At the heart of this fascinating narrative is a simple but powerful contrast: the man who is blind from birth knows little, but upon encountering the healing Savior learns much. The Pharisees, who present themselves as knowing everything of importance, expose themselves as men who can be taught nothing, even though they speak directly to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word (cf. Jn 9:39). Part of the initial discussion is focused on the disciples’ question about who is to blame for the man’s blindness. Jesus’ response might seem flippant—indeed, would be flippant—if He weren’t God. But it also points out that the disciples, like the Pharisees, are more interested in assigning blame than in extending mercy and healing.

Saint Augustine, commenting on the spiritual sense or meaning of the man’s blindness, simply stated, “This blind man is the human race.” Although the man’s physical blindness was not due to his sin, all of mankind is stricken with spiritual blindness, passed on to us by our father Adam due to his prideful desire to find fulfillment apart from God. That act of rebellion resulted in man’s expulsion from the Garden, into the desert of a world deformed and darkened by sin. All of us, like the blind man, are unable to heal ourselves; desiring to see, we stumble about in darkness and misery.

Blindness in first-century Palestine meant being almost entirely cut off from the ordinary life of society. Analogously, spiritual blindness consists of being separated from the life and grace of God—that divine “society” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The key question for every man is simply this: Do you really want to see? The Evangelist, in depicting the various responses to Jesus’ word and actions, reveals the clear divisions created by Christ and that His words and deeds demand an honest response. Upon having spittle applied to eyes and being told to go wash in the pool of Siloam, the blind man obeys. But that is just the beginning of the miracle of sight, for he will soon recognize, through spiritual eyes, that the man called Jesus (Jn 9:11) is also a prophet (Jn. 9:17)—and not just any prophet, but one sent from God (Jn 9:33).

But the full splendor of spiritual light is shown forth when he says, “I do believe, Lord” and worships Jesus (Jn 9:38).

In talking to the Pharisees, the blind man used simple but unsettling logic: the man who healed him must be from God since only God can perform such a miracle. The Pharisees, in response, throw him out—most likely excommunicating him from the life of the Temple and synagogue. They would rather speak for Moses than listen to God; they preferred to slumber in sin than actually be saved. But those who desire to see and to live will heed the words of Saint Paul: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the March 2, 2008, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1137 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

6 Comments

  1. Perusing this article [I love outsmarting the dangling participle sin] ‘I’ was taken by light darkness contrast. Vision and blindness good and evil. A man born blind, handicapped was often thought inflicted by a parent’s sin as indicated. Jesus in turn seizes this darkness to reveal the Father’s glory. A devotee of John of the Cross The Living Flame of Love leans heavily on this contrast used by Christ. For the contemplative darkness not Darkness is the place to find Christ. Darkness understood as shrouding the world, distancing from the sensual. Even our normal thought processes [Quietism a heresy is a form of spiritual physical languish in guise of contemplation]. Contemplation the very conscious search for God begins with charity arrives at a deep silence in the dark of interior night. A place where God speaks to the soul in language the intellect cannot comprehend. What is said comes to light in the person’s wisdom, Christlike works of charity. Augustine, I believe Pope Leo the Great speak of this interior Light given to all in one form or other [we’re all called to contemplation and most practice it without knowing]. Darkness what we experience now is a moment to seize for greater good.

  2. Thank you, brother Carl, for your article and the all-important, life and death spiritual distinction between darkness and light, blindness and sight. Given my strong belief and also personal experience that True Catholic Faith infuses EVERYTHING, this article reminded me of the old horror TV show, “The Twilight Zone”. To illuminate this, the Bible says, “Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?”, which is a question that answers itself: ABSOLUTELY NONE!!

    There’s only light and darkness, and the Compromise Zone, the Moderate Zone, the Inclusiveness Zone, the Twilight Zone, infinitely more than in the TV show, carries a lot of REAL LIFE and Eternal Life horror. In Lent and every time, we need to remember this Absolute Truth, and for that I also highly recommend this article that expands it way much better than I ever could: “God and Hell (Part Two)”, in The Catholic Thing by Father Thomas Weinandy. I did my little “copy and paste” of that article because it is worth reading again and again to keep us in the LIGHT of Christ with His Holy 20/20 VISION, with eyes, heart and mind wide open!! Yes, it’s that powerful, check it out!

  3. And yet, where today do we see the power of Christ? Where is he healing blindness today? Where is he raising the dead today? Where is he providing living water, welling up from within? His Church has withdrawn, His power is nowhere noticeable. The Church and the world cry out to no avail. The people who walk in darkness are still walking in darkness. Or today, rather, they are staying home in darkness because the government has ordered them to stay at home and the churches aren’t celebrating Mass. The only light in their lives is from their phone and computer screens. Where is Christ’s light? Someone point it out to me, where it is unmistakably present and powerful and active with results as transforming and obvious as giving sight to the blind man and raising Lazarus from the dead. I want to see, but I don’t know of anyone, not even in the Church, who appears able to be a guide. The whole Church seems impotent and false in these days.

    • Dear Henry, yours is a legitimate remark. Thank you for your honesty and your heart-rending but respectful expression. I come from a long spiritual journey that in a nutshell went like this: Catholic, atheistic, agnostic, New Age, Eastern Religions, Occultism, Protestant, Catholic. If I’m so strongly Catholic now is because I see the danger in all these other “spiritualities” as I experienced them directly and strongly as I do nothing half-way. Where was God for me in all these “lands of Egypt” I traveled and even when later I was attacked by some corrupt Clergy for standing for what was right while also losing some very dear friends? It looked like I went from bad to worse!

      I also had to carry for a very long time the deep wound from childhood that the person who initiated me into the Catholic Church was also very abusive of me. Imagine that!! I had to separate the merely human side of the formal INSTITUTION of the Catholic Church from the MYSTICAL BODY of Christ that the Church is at its very Core. When I did that, that Power of God that you, me and we all crave, started to slowly manifest in my life in small ways that grew with time. Even when Church doors were closed or the hearts of the people inside could be closed or semi-closed to me in some ways, JESUS Heart was and is always OPEN. His Heart Speaks To Our Heart!

      You see those two sides even when you check Church History, where the INSTITUTION shows the whole spectrum of dark human garbage (remember Judas Iscariot?) BUT also the Epic, Magnificent Power, Love, Mercy and Redemption of God. You say: “… but I don’t know of anyone, not even in the Church, who appears able to be a guide. The whole Church seems impotent and false in these days”. You are talking about the INSTITUTION, my friend, and that’s a good picture of it so far, but the Church has found itself THERE hundreds of times throughout History and has come out of it and flourished and thrived again and again and again for 2,000 years and will do so at any time and in the future because it IS the Body of Christ!!

      Because of our Free Will, that does not happen in those that out of wounds, pain, resentment, pride or whatever decide to focus only on the sinful human side of the Church. I INDEED was there and did that! BUT GOD… (my favorite phrase in the Bible)… decided to show me the right way to Him and I surrendered and I no longer live in total dismay at the Church’s sins which are a reflection of my very own and everybody else’s and which should make us to daily repent, seek Him and hold on to HIM much tighter and much deeper every day! Once you do that, the TRUE “guides” will show up, just like God provided me a spiritual mother in a humble, unassuming neighbor lady that guided me to the CORE of the TRUE CATHOLIC FAITH! Beware of the false ones! God bless you very mightily and all you hold dear!!

  4. Thank you , for also helping many to focus on these readings more .
    One month ago, 2/22 , was The Feast of Chair of Peter ..
    we , in the midst of a pandemic that is said to have originated with bats , bats that are noted for their blindness and in a culture that has been blind , esp. of the dignity of life , for many reasons .. rest of the world too, often having turned a blind eye to same , having missed many occasions for evangelisation , in the related lands ,may be from missing out on the Oneness , which The Lord often yearned for – the 2, to be of oneness , in mind and heart , in The Spirit , as in good marriages .. and often also looking for whom to blame – with the echoes of that lie from The Garden – ‘ is it The Father ..’ ;
    yes , it is often the father – of lies , who come to steal , kill and destroy , as the kingdom of death spirits ..
    and The Father , who respects the freedom of His creatures, may be allowing same , when called in at such massive levels … by choosing the blood thirsty bats , instead of The Spirit and the light and image of The Father that He wants to bestow ..
    there are also those mysterious words of The Lord in the above -‘ the night comes , when no one can work ..’
    would it be a night of the hardness of hearts ,that like bats have chosen to go for the sounds of the world filled with carnal voices of contempt and pride against the sacred ..
    Spring breaks as an example , often filled with young people at the beach , sleeping all day , waking up in the evening for a night of music and revelry ..now , at home ..

    Let us hope that , enough hearts are calling on The Spirit , to drive away the blood thirsty bats from the caves of the eyes and ears , with the help of holy angels too , that His voice and the spittle of the Water of Life undo the death spirits all around ..

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