As we did last week, we are reading today from the Gospel of John.
There are all kinds of things that can be said about this story of The Man Who Was Born Blind: things about sin, about blindness both literal and metaphorical, about miracles, about how societies divide themselves, the barriers we erect for those not just like us and so on. He is an outcast. He is forced by the rules of society to live on the margins of society.
Yet, the most fundamental purpose of the story as it works in John’s gospel is to illuminate, the essence of who Jesus is. The revelation comes from his own mouth: “I Am the light of the world.” John has already told us this “in the beginning.” And we need always to remind ourselves that whenever Jesus utters the words, “I Am,” we are meant to recall that sacred moment of self-revelation at the Burning Bush when Moses is being given a task and asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” The voice from the bush replies, “I Am who I Am…you shall say…I Am sent me to you.” (Ex 3:14)
The very first word God utters in creation is, “Light!” Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” This story sheds light on just what that means. And what it means is justice for all people and the need to respect the dignity of every human being.
The Jesus in John seeks to shed light on all sorts and conditions of humankind – and the artificial and often arbitrary ways in which we treat others – especially others who are not at all like ourselves.
The Man Born Blind is a figure cast into a lifetime of darkness – he must be a beggar on the streets. What he says carries no weight.
Even Jesus’ own disciples believe The Man is Blind because of his own or his parents’ sin. Note that the man does not seek to be healed. He is so marginalized that he does not even have a name. After Jesus restores the man’s sight, he seeks to shed light on what real sin exists in the world.
For the man is not a victim of his own sin or that of his parents. Rather he is the victim of an entrenched system of fear that declares some people unclean. We watch and we listen as all those people expected to support the Man Born Blind just step away. His parents disown him. The Pharisees chastise him. The neighbours pretend he is not the same man. The Man Born Blind becomes not only his own advocate, but he defends Jesus against all criticism as now he is lecturing the Pharisees, the doctors of the law of Moses.
He whose being has had no standing whatsoever in the community when the story begins is now the one who is exhorting them, the arbiters of society and religion to “see” -to see the Light of the World – The Word that was with God and is God.
The miracle is not that the man can see. The scandal is not that the Sabbath has been broken. The miracle in one part is the fact that Jesus is the Light of the World that can turn the darkness of blindness and the darkness rejection and persecution of the world into light.
But more than that, this story is meant to demonstrate that we can be people of that light. We can turn darkness into light. Just as Jesus changed the life of the Samaritan woman (John 4) by giving her dignity, by giving her purpose, by giving her a new identity, by asking her to do something for him – give him a drink – so the Man Born Blind is given a new lease on life.
Anyone, the neighbours, his parents, the Pharisees, whomever, could have granted The Man Born Blind more purpose in life, made him a more integral part of the community, rather than writing him off as an outcast. Jesus is the one who says, “There is something you can do for me.” The woman becomes the first evangelist. The Man Born Blind becomes a vocal advocate for God and a defender of Jesus The Light of the World! He now dares to step beyond the barriers the others created for him.
If the Samaritan Woman at the Well, and The Man Born Blind can do God’s work so effectively, what are we being called to do? What barriers are we willing to break down so that people like the woman, and the man can be granted personhood? How can we become advocates for inclusion rather than exclusion?
How willing are we to begin to see as God sees? Or will we, like the Pharisees, stubbornly resist any challenge to our views, saying ‘Surely, we are not blind, are we?’ In the light of our gospel today on Jesus ‘the Light of the World’, surely, we would want to keep saying to him: ‘Lord Jesus, how much blindness is there still left in me? How much selfishness do I still display? How much insensitivity remains in me, how much prejudice, how much self-righteousness, hypocrisy, pride, and how much meanness and nastiness? Lord Jesus, just how many blind spots do I have?’ Lent is a great time for us to concentrate, to focus on our vision of reality and its truth, and to sharpen our eyesight through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.