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

Psalms 23:1-6

Ephesians  5:8-14

John 9:1-41

We are now at the half-way point of Lent, and the general theme of rejoicing rules the day.  Rose vestments give us a hint of joy, as well as the permission to have instrumental music and flowers on the altar.  We rejoice, not so much that we are half done, but, rather, that we still have half a season to prepare for the blessing of celebrating Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.  The light we will celebrate on Holy Saturday, in the form of the Paschal Candle, is prefigured today in our gospel reading of a man who comes out of total darkness into the light of a world where seeing is often taken for granted.

The lengthy story of the nameless man who is born blind is relatively familiar to all of us, being read on this Sunday every Cycle A of the lectionary (and an option in the other two cycles).  I have been blessed with sight for these past seventy-three years, so it takes a special effort on this Sunday to imagine the challenges of a person with such an affliction, especially at the time of Jesus.  The tactile system of reading and writing called Braille was not invented until the early nineteenth century (1824 to be exact), so uneducated people blind from birth in Jesus’ day could only support themselves, and maybe help their parents, through begging.

It is likely that a seeing parent or friend would bring him each day to a busy corner near the marketplace.  We know nothing about this blind man except that he is blind from birth, and while we do not know his exact age, we are given the impression that he has been begging for a considerable time.  Famous artists depict this scene with the blind man being a teenager to an older man.  In any case, one senses there has been a lapse of time.  Close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like to sit on that corner and listen to the sounds all around you, imagine how vulnerable he must have felt.  Could he hear the disciples’ insensitive conversation: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus dismisses the widely held belief that physical ailments were connected to sinning, either on the part of the individual or one’s parents.  In the course of the day countless conversations surrounded the blind man, and he would call out for all to hear, grabbing the attention of a potential donor.  This is what the blind man’s life consisted of day after day.

Jesus, having proclaimed Himself the “light of the world,” intended to bring this blind man truly into the light of a world he had never known.  With His own saliva Jesus made clay, not unlike how Adam was created in Genesis, and He smeared the clay on the blind man’s eyes, and told him “to go wash in the pool of Siloam.”  Afterwards the blind man could see, and one can only imagine the jubilation felt by the blind man as he took in the sights of a world that was previously unavailable to him.

The blind man’s cure stirred up the neighborhood and all who knew him, raising the question “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”  People with untoward intentions, brought the formerly blind man to the Pharisees, who determined that Jesus was a “sinner” since He did not keep the Sabbath, the day on which the blind man was healed.  The former blind man disagreed, and he said Jesus “was a prophet.”

This story [“sign”] in John’s gospel portrays the growing tension with the Pharisees, who continue to question the blind man and try to convince him that Jesus is a “sinner.”  Because the blind man is convinced that no one steeped in sin could do such a good thing, the Pharisees throw him out of the Temple, never being able to explain just how Jesus healed him.

Jesus seeks out the blind man, and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man [a Messianic title].  Then Jesus reveals Himself to the former blind man as the “Son of Man,” and the blind man moves from seeing Jesus as just a prophet to seeing in Him the very Son of God: “I do believe Lord, and [the blind man] worshipped him.”

For those who truly encounter Jesus, their lives are radically changed.  Like the blind man in John’s gospel, they are brought out of the darkness of sin and into the radiant light of the Son of God.  Like so many figures in the gospels, there is no follow up to the blind man’s life, but, like the Samaritan woman in last week’s gospel, I would like to believe that this blind man became an evangelist, one who gave witness to what Jesus can do if you open your heart to the Son of God.  The blind man is the antithesis of the Pharisees who, although being able to see, closed their minds and hearts to seeing who exactly was present in their midst in the person of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed to us, and although we cannot physically see the Lord walking among us, we know He is present in this world of ours.  May we never miss the opportunity to have our lives changed for the better by an encounter with the very Son of God.  This is why we rejoice on this Laetare Sunday.

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