What a disturbing Gospel we have just heard! Jesus, the Light of the world, comes across a blind man whose eyes cannot see the light. He heals him; he opens his eyes not only to the light of the sun but to the light of faith. Almost immediately Jesus and the man become the subjects of a bitter controversy with the Jewish leaders who call both of them sinners.
At heart the dispute is between light and dark, truth and error, sight and blindness, innocence and guilt.
The blind man recounts the story of his healing with the same simplicity with which it occurred: The man called Jesus … made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, ‘Go and wash at Siloam’; so I went, and when I washed I could see.
The man displays a rare and admirable reluctance to say more than he knows: I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.
We are given no cause to doubt the blind man’s word or his situation. They all knew he was blind and they all know he has been healed. What more is there to say?
Jesus has healed him. In simple faith, and probably encouraged by the uncomfortable paste of mud over his eyes, the man goes off and washes. His healing brings him to faith in Jesus as a prophet, and later, when Jesus reveals himself further, he acknowledges his divinity and worships him. How compellingly simple! The entire unfolding of the man’s encounter with the Lord is as it should be – leading to a deeper and deeper faith.
Curiously, the Jewish leaders, sometimes called the Pharisees, are far more interesting in this story than the blind man; they are even far more interesting than the miracle. They show themselves to be proud, unyielding, devious, evasive and, to put it in the terms of the Gospel, blind. They are unwilling to accept either the facts or the truth. They are people who, although they pretend to want to discover the light, really want to obscure it. They want their darkness to be the light.
It is now clear that Jesus, the Light, confronts two kinds of blindness: blindness that knows it cannot see, and blindness that thinks it can. The former he has healed; before the latter he stands helpless.
In their understanding, or rather, misunderstanding of the Law, Jesus is guilty because he healed on the Sabbath. In fact, the Law of Moses had never stated that making a paste and placing it on a man’s eyes constituted breaking the Sabbath prohibition against work. This was only their interpretation and they were so fond of it they were blind to the act of divine love which set a poor blind brother free from his lifelong affliction.
Four times the Pharisees ask how Jesus had opened the man’s eyes and the clearer the truth becomes they more recoil from it. They reject it because it overturns their ‘way of looking’, the comfortable lies they had been telling themselves about their privileged relationship with God. And so the simple logic of the blind man is deeply repugnant to the Pharisees: if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.
A frightful thing is darkness, which pretends to be light, ignorance, which believes itself to be knowledge, pride which thinks of itself as humility, blindness which thinks it is sight. It’s very sad, it’s very frightening, and it’s very common. And sadly, it causes endless disunity.
Since the phobic ‘investigations’ of the Pharisees do not produce the desired outcome they have recourse to their last weapon, their power: And they drove him away.
John has already told us that Jesus is: the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.(1:4-5) Try as it might, the darkness cannot overpower the light. The blind man ends up worshiping Jesus, the Jews end up seeking to destroy him.
The Gospel, as always, makes everything clear. It shows us where the darkness actually lies, where the guilt really is, where the truth can be found. It shows us who is good and who is evil; who can see and who is blind; who is right and who is wrong.