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4th SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle A)

Readings:
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Faith and Unbelief
Life is full of controversial issues in which we are asked to take a stand.  The most important stand we will ever take is on the issue of the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.  Do you believe He is who the Bible says He is: the man/God who came to offer Himself as a sacrifice to save mankind from sin and death?  Jesus told His disciples that there is no middle ground where He is concerned; you are either for Him or against Him (Mt 10:34-36; Lk 12:51-53); you either walk in the "light" that is Christ or you are in "darkness" (the Second Reading and the Gospel).  Have you professed your faith in Jesus by becoming God's anointed (like David in our First Reading) through the Sacrament Confirmation, and have you come to the table of the Lord in the Eucharist where He fills your cup to overflowing?  It is in the restful waters of baptism that God has refreshed our souls and has made a path for us through the dark valley of sin and death by leading us to the Church, the pastures of the Kingdom of Life (Psalms reading).

This week's Gospel reading tells the story of Jesus' miraculous healing a man who was born blind.  Each group of people who hears the man's testimony has a different reaction.  Some people don't want to get involved, others are indifferent, others are opposed or do not believe, but there are others who take a stand and declare their belief in Jesus and His healing miracle.  The Gospel reading addresses each of these categories in relation to Jesus.  Which of these categories is yours?  Have you taken a stand on the question of Jesus' true identity?  Have you professed your faith and belief in Jesus, the Son of God?  Do you truly believe what you profess in the Creed or are you a hypocrite playing a part?

The First Reading 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a ~ The Lord's Anointed
1a The LORD said to Samuel: 1c "Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.  I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons."  6 As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is here before him."  7 But the LORD said to Samuel: "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.  Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart."
10  In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen any one of these."  11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?"  Jesse replied, "There is still the youngest who is tending the sheep."  12 Samuel said to Jesse, "Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here."  Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.  He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.  The LORD said, "There, anoint him for this is the one!"  13 Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

It was necessary for David to receive an anointing by the Spirit of God in preparation for his mission as God's Anointed One (Messiah).  Jesus was also anointed by God's Spirit to begin His mission at His baptism by St. John the Baptist (Mt 9-11; Mk 3:16-17; Lk 3:21-22).  The difference between David's anointing with oil and the Spirit and Jesus' anointing with water and the Spirit is that David's anointing prepared him for his mission as Israel's future king. Jesus' anointing fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet, and king (CCC 436, 695, 783). 

Jesse first presents Eliab, his tall and handsome firstborn son.  When Samuel sees Eliab, he immediately assumes that he is God's choice.  Eliab is physically impressive like Saul, the first man Samuel anointed as king of Israel who was handsome and "stood head and shoulders above other men" (1 Sam 9:2; 10:23).  The lesson God taught His prophet is that God does not see as human beings see. God is not interested in physical attributes but in the interior purity of the heart.

After meeting all seven of Jesse's sons, none of whom are the "chosen," Samuel asks Jesse if there is another son.  Jesse admits that there is an eighth son who is shepherding the sheep.  It is possible that the allusion to David as the "eighth" son has symbolic significance.  In the significance of numbers in Scripture, eight is the number of redemption, salvation, and rebirth.  David's kingship will signal the new era of Israel's Davidic kings, and David's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, will establish an eternal kingship that will bring about humanity's salvation and the birth of a new age (Mt 1:1).

The choice of the shepherd boy David isn't the first time God showed a special love for a shepherd.  Men described as shepherds in salvation history who had a special relationship with God include Abel (Gen 4:4), Abraham (Gen 13:5; 24:34-35), Isaac (Gen 26:14), Jacob (Gen 30:32-43), Moses in Midian (Ex 3:1), David (1 Sam 16:11-19; 17:14-15), the Prophet Amos (Amos 1:1), and Jesus the Lord (Ps 23:1; Jn 10:1-3, 11, 15, 17).

There is a connection between David "shepherding the sheep" and the way David will describe Yahweh as shepherding the flock of His people (for example see Ps 23:1; 80:1).  It will become a repeated image not only of God as divine Shepherd but of the role of Israel's kings as the good shepherds or failed shepherds of their people (1 Kng 22:17; 2 Chr 18:16; Jer 23:1-4; Ez 34:5, 8).  It is also an image of the Messiah who the prophets promise will come as the "Shepherd of His people" (Is 40:11; Ez 34:12, 23-24).  This image is one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the prophets.  One of the most famous passages is from the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel who lived four centuries after David: I shall raise up one shepherd, my servant David, and put him in charge of them to pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd (Ex 34:23).  This passage is a prophecy of the coming of God's anointed, Jesus of Nazareth.  See the chart on the symbolic images of the prophets

The New Testament will use the same "shepherd" to describe Jesus' role as the Redeemer-Messiah:

12 The LORD said, "There, anoint him for this is the one!"  Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.
It is both significant and climatic that David's name is not mentioned until he receives God's Spirit.  David (dvd) is not a proper name in Hebrew, and no one else in the Bible bears David's name.  Most scholars agree that in Hebrew dvd means "beloved."  This is the first of three anointings for David: anointed by Samuel as a boy (1 Sam 16:13), anointed by the men of Judah when he is 23 years old to be king of Judah (2 Sam 2:4), and anointed by the elders of Israel to be king of the twelve tribes of Israel when he is 30 years old (2 Sam 5:3).  The anointing and the resting of God's Spirit upon certain persons was the way God gave His anointed representatives the means to carry out their commissioning.

God chose David over his elder brothers as God's anointed.  The elder son being passed over in favor of the younger is a reoccurring motif in Scripture. Abel was favored over Cain, Isaac was favored over Ishmael, Jacob was chosen over Esau, Ephraim was ranked over Manasseh, and God chose Moses as the people's redeemer/lawgiver over his elder brother Aaron ( Gen 4:1-2, 4-5; 18-19; 25:25-28; 28:10, 13-15; 48:17-19; Ex 7:6).  God's choice of a younger son will also take place in David's family when God chose Solomon to succeed David instead of his older half-brother Adonijah.  This motif is also part of Jesus' parable of the "Lost Son" (Prodigal Son) in Luke 15:11-32.  Jesus' parable was a warning to the Old Covenant people, God's "firstborn sons" (Ex 4:23), not to reject their "brothers" in the human family who are the lost Gentile "younger sons" because God will favor who He will favor in order to move forward His divine plan.  It is a plan that will reach its climax in David's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, humanity's anointed Messiah-Redeemer and King of kings who began his mission when He, like His ancestor David, is 30 years old (Mt 1:1; 3:23).

Responsorial Psalm 23:1-6 ~ The Divine Shepherd
The response is: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want."

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  2 In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful [still] waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
Response:
3 He guides me in right paths for his name's sake.  4 Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
Response:
5 You spread a table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Response:
6 Only goodness and kindness [hesed] follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
Response:

The 23rd Psalm is probably the best loved of all the 150 psalms.  It is attributed to David and expresses a personal reflection on the relationship between the psalmist and the nearness of his God.  The psalm uses two metaphors: The Lord as the divine Shepherd (verses 1-4), and the Lord as divine host (verses 5-6).  In the Bible, and in the ancient Near Eastern documents, the role of a shepherd is often a metaphor for the king (2 Sam 5:2; Is 44:28; etc.).  It is the same metaphor that is used to express the role of God the divine king who is the protector and judge of His covenant people (Ps 28:9; Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-16). 

Describing the aspects of shepherding, probably from David's perspective as a shepherd in his youth, the inspired writer provides a picture of his relationship with God as he seeks to live a life of holiness (verses 2-3).  Under the divine Shepherd's constant guidance, the psalmist and his people, who are the sheep of God's flock, are led with compassion as the divine Shepherd takes into consideration the fears and weakness of His people, leading them not by the fearful raging rivers but by the quiet waters (sheep have a fear of drowning and will only drink from still waters).  His tender care gives them confidence that with God's shepherding they will reach the green pastures of God's heavenly kingdom (1 Pt 5:4; Rev 7:17).  Even in the midst of trials and sufferings, the psalmist feels a sense of security as he trusts in God to lead and protect him because, despite his enemies, God the divine Host has prepared a table for him when the time comes for him to enter into God's eternal rest.  The psalmist is overwhelmed by the abundance of God's mercy and love in the bond of His covenant (hesed).

For Christians this psalm takes on its full meaning in Jesus' statement "I am the Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20).  The table of the Last Supper fulfills the "host" metaphor where Jesus, the host of the sacred meal, offered His disciples the heavenly banquet of the Eucharist for the first time and where He continues to offer His faithful the Eucharist on the altar table at every celebration of the Mass. It is a banquet that looks back in time to the Last Supper and forward in time to the heavenly banquet in Godís eternal kingdom (Rev 19:5-9).

The Second Reading Ephesians 5:8-14 ~ Be Children of the Light
8 You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light, 9 for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.  10 Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.  11 Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, 12 for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore, it says: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

In Ephesians 5:3-7, St. Paul wrote about those Christians whose sins led them into darkness, but now he writes about the proper course for a believer enlightened by faith.  The true Christian is a "child of light" because Christ gives him insight into the kind of behavior that is pleasing to God (verses 5-10).  Instead of taking part in the unfruitful and shameful works of darkness, the Christian's right behavior exposes those bad works and makes them visible for what they are (verses 11-13).

Then, in verse 14, Paul seems to be quoting from an early Christian hymn which depicts Baptism as raising the believer from the death of sin and into the light of Jesus Christ.  It is through Baptism that one can attain new life.  Paul compares the sinner's conversion to His rising up out of the sleep of death into a new existence illuminated by Christ who radiates the light that is the glory of God.

The Gospel of John 9:1-41 ~ Belief and Unbelief in the Healing of the Man who was Born Blind
1 As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.  2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  3 Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.  4 We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.  Night is coming when no one can work.  5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, 7 and said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam," which means Sent.  So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
8 His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, "Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?"  9 Some said, "It is," but others said, "No, he just looks like him."  He said, "I am."  10 So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?"  11 He replied, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.'  So I went there and washed and was able to see."  12 And they said to him, "Where is he?"  He said, "I don't know."
13 They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.  14 Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath.  15 So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.  He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see."  16 So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath."  But others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?"  And there was a division among them.  17 So they said to the blind man again, "What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?"  He said, "He is a prophet."
18 Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.  19 They asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How does he now see?"  20 His parents answered and said, "We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.  21 We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself."  22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.  23 For this reason his parents said, "He is of age; question him."
24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, "Give God the praise!  We know that this man is a sinner."  25 He replied, "If he is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see."  26 So they said to him, "What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?"  27 He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you want to become his disciples, too?"  28 They ridiculed him and said, "You are that man's disciple; we are disciples of Moses!  29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from."  30 The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.  31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.  32 It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.  33 If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything."  34 They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?"  Then they threw him out.
35 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"  36 He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"  37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."  38 He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.  39 Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."  40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"  41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains."

Noticing a blind man, Jesus' disciples ask Him if the man's affliction is due to his sins or his parents' sins.  The implication is that God protects the righteous from afflictions and that sinners deservedly suffer from the penalty of their sins or their parent's sins.  Despite the story of Job and his faithfulness to God during undeserved trials and suffering, Old Covenant believers thought that there was a direct relationship between sin, sickness, and affliction.  In the Old Covenant, the consequences of sin were temporal, and the blessings that came from obedience to the commands of God were also temporal; therefore the Old Covenant believers saw health and prosperity as signs of God's favor. 

Jesus' response was that neither the man nor his parents had sinned.  Jesus answers his disciples' question in terms of the purpose of the man's blindness and not its cause, saying that the purpose of the man's blindness is to be an example of God's power over history and His desire that His Name be glorified through this man.  What, you may ask, could be worse than being born blind?  Unrepented Mortal sin can result in spiritual death and eternal separation from God; it is a condition which is far worse than being blind for most of one's life.  It is in this way, before the miracle takes place, that Jesus explains its significance.  Jesus' works are God's works (also see Mt 12:28; Mk 2:7; Lk 4:14, 17-22).

Then in John 9:4-5, Jesus tells His disciples: "We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.  Night is coming when no one can work.  5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  The symbolic significance of Jesus' references to "day", "night," and "work" is that there a sense of urgency in His explanation to the disciples.  The images of "day," "night," and "work" fit into the theme of the approaching "hour" of Jesus' Passion.  This is another example of "light" verses "dark" imagery.  In this passage "day" refers to Jesus' life/work on earth as fully man and fully God.  He then compares death with "night."  The urgency of His "work" is that He must fulfill the Father's will and testify to Israel that He is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah before the time of His glorification.  His "day" will last until His "hour" comes.  His "hour" is the time God has deemed for His sacrificial death.  At this point in His ministry, that time is fast approaching.

The references such as: "As long as the day lasts," "the work" and "night" were also understood by the Fathers of the Church as referring to the Day of the Lord at the end of time.  Therefore, there is urgency for the Church in carrying out her mission to spread the Gospel of salvation to the "ends of the earth" before He returns.  The Church must urgently carry out Christ's work in the redemption of mankind through the centuries by evangelization before the Day of Judgment comes and there is no more "time" to come to salvation.  And of course, in the "day" of each of our faith journeys "time" will eventually end for all of us.

Jesus declares: 5 "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  He is the true light because without Him all creation is in darkness.  Creation and mankind cannot understand itself, know itself, or know where it is going without His "Light."  In the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, 22, the Church warns the faithful: "Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light... [...].  Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful; apart from His Gospel they overwhelm us."  Jesus is warning His disciples, and us, of the urgent need to let ourselves be enlightened by His infusing and purifying "Light" while there is still time.  We are told in the prologue to the Gospel of John that The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him.... (Jn 1:9-10 NJB).  Jesus will repeat this warning in John 12:35-36 ~ Jesus said to them, "The light will be among you only a little while.  Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you.  Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light."

John 9:6-7 ~ 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, 7 and said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam," which means Sent.  So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
The Fathers and Doctors of the Church also saw a symbolic connection in the use of the dirt of the earth in this healing that will render this man a "new creation" in Christ.  Genesis 2:7 tells us the first man, Adam, was made from the dirt of the earth.  Adam's very name means "dirt/ground," in Hebrew adamah.  The symbolic parallel is that God the Father made the first man from the dirt of the earth and entered into covenant with him, and now God the Son uses the earth to heal and restore this man of Israel as a new creation of the New Covenant.

The healing of the man born blind is the 5th of the 7 public "signs" recorded in St. John's Gospel.  St. John designates these as "signs" because what each of these events signify is far greater than the supernatural event itself.

The Seven Public Signs of Jesus in St. John's Gospel
#1  2:1-11 The sign of water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana
#2  4:46-54 The healing of the official's son
#3  5:1-9 The healing of the paralytic
#4  6:1-14 The multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5,000
#5  9:1-41 The healing of the man who was born blind
#6  11:17-44 The raising of Lazarus from the dead
#7  2:18-20* The Resurrection of Jesus that will be fulfilled in 20:1-10

*this sign is prophesized by Jesus in 2:18-20 but not fulfilled until chapter 20.  Jesus' calming of the storm and walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee will be a private "sign" for the Apostles.  In total, John records 8 "signs" that Jesus is the "greater than Moses" and the promised Messiah.  In Scripture 7 is the number signifying perfection, especially "spiritual" perfection.  7 is also the number of the Holy Spirit and the number of covenant; to swear a covenantal oath is to "seven oneself.  8 is the number of rebirth, salvation, redemption and resurrection.  For more information of the importance of numbers in Scripture please see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture"

The healing takes place at the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.  It was from this reservoir that the High Priest collected water in a golden pitcher to be poured out as a libation on God's holy altar of sacrifice in the courtyard of the Temple during 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles.  The water reminded the people to look back in time to the "water" miracles of the Exodus experience and to look forward to the day when the Messiah would "pour out" his blessings on Israel (Num 11:25-29; Is 32:15; 44:3-5; Ez 36:24-30; 39:29; Joel 3:1-2).  St. John says the meaning of the name of this pool is Sent [or "the one sent"], which clearly points to the Christ, the Messiah sent by God. 

The prophets of the Old Testament spoke of the waters of Siloam as a sign of God's divine favor and protection as in Isaiah 8:6-7a and in 12:3.  It is for this reason that the water for the Water Libation Ceremony at the Feast of Tabernacles was drawn from this pool.  The connection between the healing of the blind man in the pool of Siloam and the Feast of Tabernacles is that the water of Siloam symbolized the blessings of the promised Messianic Age looked for during this Feast.  Therefore, in Jesus' case, the source of these blessings is Jesus Himself who has come to heal and restore the sight of faith to Israel. Clearly John intends us to see that this "One who has been sent" is Jesus Himself. 

This two-stage healing for the man born blind is similar to the Prophet Elisha's healing of Naaman, the general of the king of Damascus, who is cured of his leprosy when Elisha tells him to bathe in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5:1-14).  Like the healing of the Gentile Naaman in 2 Kings, Jesus' healing of the deaf and dumb man in Mark 7:31-35, and another blind man in Mark 8:22-26, Jesus' healing is done in two steps.  What these three New Testament healing miracles have in common is that in all three miracles Jesus uses natural, created matter in His healing:

  1. In Mark 7:31-35 Jesus puts His fingers into the man's ears and touches his tongue with spittle.
  2. In Mark 8:22-26 Jesus put spit on the blind man's eyes.
  3. In John 9:6 Jesus mixes dirt with His spit to make a paste which He places on the man's eyes to heal the man blind from birth.

These healings make use of the natural world and therefore the healings prefigure the gift of the Sacraments, all of which make use of matter.

The Catechism beautifully explains the depth and mystery of these gifts given by Jesus in many different passages including #1115... The mysteries of Christ's life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministers of his Church, for 'what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.'"  And in CCC 1116: Sacraments are 'powers that comes froth' from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving.  They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.  They are 'the masterworks of God' in the new and everlasting covenant.

In essence, a Sacrament is the continuation of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Christ when an invisible God made Himself materially visible to man.  It is in the Sacraments in which Jesus works, through the use of matter, to produce effects that far exceed anything matter can naturally do.  In the Sacraments He gives us His very life.  Have you ever seen someone you love suffer from ill health and wished you could give your own good health to that love one to ease their suffering or even heal them?  This is what Christ does for us in the Sacraments.  We are physical beings; it is for our sake that He became a physical being and through the Sacraments He continually makes a physical connection with us through visible matter giving us grace through His divine life to heal, nourish, and sustain us on our journey of faith.

The seven Sacraments and the physical signs:

  1. Baptism [water]
  2. Confirmation [laying on of hands]
  3. Eucharist [bread and wine]
  4. Penance [absolution by the priest in whom Christ is present]
  5. Anointing of the Sick [chrism oil]
  6. Holy Orders [Christ present in a physical, human man]
  7. Matrimony [the couple; the ring].

In each case it is Christ who confers grace through the Sacraments.  It is He who baptizes, it is He who anoints the sick, and it is He who ordains a man into holy orders.  A Sacrament is not brought about by the goodness of either the recipient or the priest but by the power of God (see CCC 1128).  The Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the miracle of healing the blind man as symbolizing the sacrament of Baptism in which the soul is cleansed through the natural medium of water and receives the light of faith.  In his commentary on St. John's Gospel, St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "He sent the man to the pool called the pool of Siloam, to be cleansed and to be enlightened, that is, to be baptized and receive in baptism full enlightenment."

John 9:8-17 ~ The Reaction of the People to the Healing:
The Pharisees latch on to the fact that the healing has taken place on the Jewish Sabbath: 14 Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath.  15 So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.  He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see."  16 So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath."  God ordained the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship but the Pharisees had attached a multitude of prohibitions concerning what was unlawful activity on the Sabbath, including lighting a fire, collecting grain, or cooking food.  Jesus had challenged them on their false interpretation of the Sabbath rest command, telling them that mercy was more important that ritual (see Mt 12:1-14).  Since Jesus' act of mercy took place on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a sinner (verse 24).

Jesus has once again fulfilled prophecy in this encounter.  One fulfillment is the prophecy was made by Simeon at baby Jesus' dedication at the Temple: ... and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted... (Lk 2:34) and the second is Jesus' statement: Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division (Lk 12:51-52).

The different attitudes of the people during Jesus three-year ministry are reflected in this episode:

  1. The blind man believes Jesus is a prophet (verses 17, 33, and 38), and some Pharisees who are moved by the evidence of His miracle see Him as a man of God (verse 16b).
  2. The man's neighbors are indifferent (verse 8).
  3. Some of the Pharisees see Him as a sinner who does not keep the Sabbath (verse 16a).
  4. The man's parents do not want to get involved (verses 18-23)

John 9:18-34 ~ The Healed Man is Questioned Again
The parents are afraid to answer the Pharisees' question about the miraculous healing of their son because they fear that they will be excommunicated from the synagogue.  The earliest Biblical reference to excommunication is found in Ezra 10:8.  The Temple in Jerusalem was the only place where the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of the Covenant could be offered, but every town and village had a synagogue where the word of God in Sacred Scripture was studied.  In Jerusalem at this time there were about 130 Synagogues, many of which were associated with professional guilds like goldsmiths or carpenters and masons.

Jesus warned that those who believed in Him would be excommunicated by their faith communities when he said: "Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude and insult you and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way" (Lk 6:22-23).

So the Jews sent for the man again and told him to Give glory to God! (Jn 9:24).  "Give glory to God" is a Biblical phrase which places a person being questioned under oath to tell the truth much like we use the phrase in our court system to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  These words mean that even though men may not be able to rightly evaluate the degree of the truth in the statements uttered by the person giving testimony, God is the ultimate judge of one's truth telling, and if one swears falsely that person is accountable to God for judgment.  They are warning the formerly blind man that he is accountable to God if he does not tell them the complete truth (also see Josh 7:19 and 1Sam 6:5).

The man is justifiably irritated by being questioned a second time with the implication that he is lying.  Jesus has not only restored this man's sight, He has restored his confidence.  You have to love his feisty, sarcastic response in verse 27 to the ridiculously repeated questioning of the Pharisees:  He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you want to become his disciples, too?"

In their exasperation the Scribes and Pharisees insult him and invoke the name of Moses in verse 28: ... we are disciples of Moses... The words almost scream out from the page!  The Scribes and Pharisees held Moses in great esteem as the great Prophet and Lawgiver, and they claim to be his disciples, but that was not the attitude of the Israelites of Moses' generation.  The Israelites of the Exodus experience rebuked Moses, disobeyed him and at times the people even threatened to kill him (see Ex 17:4; Num 12:1-3; 14:1-4, 10-11; 16:12-15; 20:3).  They never truly loved him and that was his great burden.  Now the people of this generation treat Jesus who is the Prophet who is greater than Moses even worse. 

The healed man's arguments concerning the validity of his healing being "of God" are reasonable and sound. It is ironic that the blind man now sees physically and spiritually while the Old Covenant leadership is spiritually blind.  They cannot accept Jesus' divinity which is the only possible correct interpretation of this miracle, and yet they refuse to come "into the light" and to believe.

John 9:34 ~  They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?"  Then they threw him out.
Literally they "cast him out."  It is hard to tell if the healed man is simply expelled from the assembly of the Pharisees or if he is excommunicated from the Old Covenant Church; however, his next encounter with Christ suggests the latter interpretation. 

John 9:35-39~ The Healed Man Finds Consolation:
35 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"  36 He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"  37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."  38 He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.  39 Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." 
There is such beauty in the statement: He found him.  Jesus went looking for the man just as He deliberately "looks" for each of us.  He is the promised Good Shepherd in search of the lost sheep (Ez 34:11-25; 37:24-28; Jn 10:11-16; Heb 13:20; 1 Pt 2:25; 5:4). 

Once again Jesus uses the title "Son of Man."  It is His favorite title for Himself and is a reference to the very well-known vision of the 6th century BC prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14.  It is Daniel's vision of the divine Messiah who is to receive universal kingship and world-wide worship. The Son of Man in this vision must be divine because worship can only be given to God!  This is the 9th time Jesus has used this title for Himself in the Gospel of John.  The Messianic title "Son of Man" will be used a total of 12 times in John's Gospel (1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27; 6:27; 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34 twice).  12 is the symbolic number of "perfection of governmental order" in Scripture.  It is the number of the Church, which in the Old Covenant is Israel.  The children of Israel came from 12 physical fathers who were the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel.  Those 12 tribes formed the Covenant nation of Israel at Sinai.  The blind man, although he has never been able to read Sacred Scripture and has only heard it in the readings at the Synagogue, clearly understands the title "Son of Man" identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

Between verses 17 and 38 you can see how this man's faith has deepened and how his understanding of Jesus' true identity develops:

St. Augustine writes: Now with the face of his heart washed and with his conscience cleansed, he acknowledges him to be not only Son of man but Son of God (In Ioannis Evangelium, 44, 15).

There is a continuing ironic contrast between the healed man's deepening of faith in Jesus and the condition of the Pharisees.  It is a tragedy that, as the faith of the man deepens, the religious authorities become more and more obstinate moving from:

  1. doubt in verse 16
  2. to the assertion that Jesus is a sinner in verse 24
  3. to their outrage and expulsion of the man in verse 34. 

Their sins of arrogance and pride have completely blinded them.

38 He said "I do believe Lord" and worshiped him.  The man responds to Jesus as John wants all of us reading or hearing this passage to respond, and that response is to believe and to fall on our knees before the Christ.   The word used for "worship" here is proskyneo, meaning to "prostrate" oneself.  It is what St. Paul demanded of Christians in Philippians 2:9-10 ~ And for this God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the same of Jesus...   It is for this reason that even though the American Bishops have requested that the faithful remain standing during the Communion procession until all have receive Christ in the most holy Eucharist, the Vatican nuncio has declared that the faithful cannot be told they should refrain from kneeling after receiving Eucharist.  If we wish to kneel after Eucharist we must be allowed to kneel.

It is also important to note that the title "Son of Man" associated with Daniel's vision in 7:13-14 has a theme of judgment.  This theme is reflected often in Jesus' use of this favorite title for Himself as in Luke 18:8:~ When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  This is also the theme of Jesus' next exchange with the Pharisees.

John 9:39-41~ Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."  40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"  41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains.
Jesus said: "I came into this world for judgment....  The Greek word for judgment is krima. Jesus' statements about judgment in John 5:22, 30; 8:15-16 and here in this passage seem to be two contradictory teachings.  Sometimes Christ does not pass judgment as in 5:30 and later in 12:47, but at other times He does as in 5:22 and 9:39.  In both sets of passages it is important to note that the stress is on the complete unity of the will and the action that results between the Father and the Son.  When Jesus does judge it is in the name of and as the agent of God the Father.  When He says he does not judge He means that He does not judge on His own, independent of the Father's will.  In each case when He does judge, the judgment is on the actions of the sinner not on the ultimate question of their salvation.  His judgment is calling them to repentance just as John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and Jesus' own disciples called people to repentance in preparation for Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and ascension which will result in the establishment of the Kingdom of the New Covenant Church.

The Pharisees are obviously following Jesus and hanging on every word He utters, but their attitude is one of arrogance.   One cannot come to Christ in arrogance without placing oneself in judgment. St. John wrote: If we say, "We have no sin," we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil.  If we say, "We have never sinned," we make him a liar, and his word has no place in us (1 Jn 1:8-10).

Jesus' judgment of the Pharisees is that they can see physically and they are capable of being open to seeing spiritually if they will acknowledge their sins, but they do not have the desire to see the truth.  Therefore, they are unworthy of the kind of sight He can offer.  The souls of the Pharisees are in eminent danger because they are in mortal sin: deliberate rebellion against God.  They could have received the gift of forgiveness and faith and "remained" (meni) or abided in Christ; instead they remain in sin. CCC# 588 teaches: Jesus scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners as familiarly as with themselves.  Against those among them 'who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others,' Jesus affirmed: 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'  He went further by proclaiming before the Pharisees that, since sin is universal, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves.

The encounter with Christ in the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9 is an "acting out" of the triumph of "light" over "darkness."  Just as the Old Covenant prophets of Yahweh accompanied their spoken word by symbolic actions which dramatized their message, so Jesus acts out the truth of His declaration in the previous chapter when He declared: "I AM the Light of the world" (Jn 8:12).  In addition to the contrast between the "light" and the "darkness" and "sight" and "blindness" there is a second purpose to these events and that is the issue of whether or not Jesus has supernatural powers and if He does, who is He?  That question is answered definitively for us by the man who was once blind both physically and spiritually but who now, through Christ Jesus, has perfect sight and can say: I do believe Lord! 

The blind man can be seen as a symbol for humanity.  Born in sin, the blind man is made a new creation by the saving power of Jesus Christ.  Pope Paul VI in his Homily at the Feast of the Mother of God in 1976 warned the Church: Time is precious, time passes, time is a phase of experiment with regard to our decisive and definitive fate.  Our future and eternal destiny depends on the proof we give of faithfulness to our duties.  Time is a gift from God; it is a question posed by God's love to our free and, and it can be said, fateful answer.  We must be sparing of time, in order to use it well, in the intense activity of our life of work, love and suffering.  Idleness or boredom have no place in the life of a Christian!  Rest, yes, when necessary, but always with a view to vigilance, which only on the last day will open to a light on which the sun will never set.

Catechism References:
1 Samuel 16:12-13 (CCC 436); 16:13 (CCC 695)
Psalm 23:5 (CCC 1295)
Ephesians 5:8 (CCC 1216, 1695); 5:9 (CCC 1695); 5:14 (CCC 2641)
John 9:6 (CCC 1151, 1504); 9:7 (CCC 1504); 9:16-17 (CCC 595); 9:16 (CCC 596, 2173); 9:22 (CCC 575, 596); 9:31 (CCC 2827); 9:34 (CCC 588); 9:40-41 (CCC 588).

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014