At Mass this weekend, we get an extended Gospel reading, one of the most juicy dramas in all of Sacred Scripture.
John’s purpose is not necessarily the healing power of Jesus, but more an illustration of the “sign” of Jesus as “Light of the World.” That said, the healing itself, the first seven verses of the chapter, are intriguing enough.
What to look for? The man doesn’t ask for his sight, unlike many of Jesus’ healing miracles. As the chapter begins, Jesus is answering a question that people often pose as misfortune hits: Was it my fault? The ancients often attributed blame to a previous generation. I suppose sometimes it’s apparent that a virtuous person suffers. Pagans might attribute it to one of their fickle gods. Monotheists might argue for another’s fault–parents or such. And indeed, Jewish Scriptures do mention the passing of infirmity from parents.
Jesus dismisses this out of hand:
As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God
might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works
of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world,
I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this,
he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
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.
A sick person might object to her or his suffering being the opportunity for God to be noticed in an experience of recovery. Human reason would attribute healing to medical care, good insurance, faithfulness to a discipline of recuperation, rest, medications, etc.–the more visible aspects of the natural world.
Still, we often remark on unexpected healing. The word “miracle” might be invoked. The faithful Christian might thank God, miracle or routine healing or something in between. This is a good thing.
In the context of the longer reading, we are reminded Jesus is the Light of the World. This is about more than opening eyes. It is about illuminating our lives. When a person is seriously ill, things seem dark. We question, we deny, we rage, we worry. What does it mean? Hopefully more than a bad habit come home to roost, or an injury imposed by another person. Most often, there is some opportunity present. Will we seek deeper peace, resolve to live more healthily, reconnect with people in our lives? In other words, turn to more important things. This reading might help, even the longer version that invites us to consider carefully the testimony that Jesus indeed has power over the dark and the light.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.