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Pastoral Application

The Gospel story of Jesus healing the blind man (from yesterday's readings) is always moving on many levels, but I found it especially poignant and on point in light of the recent threads on baptism (a sacrament of which this miracle story is a symbol):

As Jesus 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 groundand 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.

Among other things,Jesus neatly usesmud to turn aside what we might call mud-slinging. But both Jesus and the blind man are chased off by the Pharisees, Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath in contravention of the Law, and the blind man because he was still considered marked by sin.In his remarks on the passage at the Sunday Angelus, Pope Benedict had this apt observation:

To the blind man whom he healed Jesus reveals that he has come into the world for judgment, to separate the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they presume that they are healthy. The tendency in man to construct an ideological system of security is strong: Even religion itself can become an element in this system, as can atheism, or secularism; but in constructing this system, one becomes blind to his own egoism.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I am very glad that someone posted a thread on this Gospell because it is, to me, one of the most troubling in the New Testament (just as the killing of the first-born of Egypt is so troubling in the Old Testament) ... if we take this literally, then some poor man was made by God blind at birth for the sole purpose of serving as Jesus' prop for a miracle? That sounds truly awful and very un-Godlike. When someone does us a good deed--an incredibly miraculous good deed, in terms of giving us back our eyesight--we would naturally be extremely grateful. But what if we then learned that the very man who gave us back our eyesight was the one who took it away in the first place, adn the reason he took it away was so that we could be an example of how wonderful he was? I think we'd probably hate and resent such a person--yet certainly that is not the intent of the passge? After all, Jesus could have said that such afflictions were not only NOT the result of anyone's sin but they also are not the result of divine intervention at all, that they are just unfortunate accidents, but he dids not. If we are to believe the passge he claims the man was born blind "so that the works of God might be made visible through him." Can anyone explain how this is interpreted? Does it have a more benign connotation?

Robert, you may want to read B16's comments (which reflect his views in "Jesus of Nazareth," if I recall). I think there are many interpretations, many of them solid and interesting, out there:

Thank you for the link, David ... Benedict does explain beautifully the idea of separating "the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they presume that they are healthy," as you had quoted above ... but I'm afraid that does not address my central question: the way the passage is written, this man was deliberately made blind by God (presumably God the Father?) so that Jesus could then cure him of this blindness ... a miracle, of course, but one that might make the average person a little less than grateful, having been "set up" for the miracle, especially given that being blind in the ancient world was far, far more of a disability than it is even today. THAT is what I am asking about--the idea that God would make someone suffer so much for the sole purpose of giving Jesus someone to perform a miracle on ... again, this is not someone who jut lose his eyesight or who lost his eyesight because of playing with pointed sticks as a child--this is someone who was born blind so that the works of God might be made visible through him. Pehraps he needed a theological personal injury lawyer?

Robert,This doesn't help at all, but Raymond Brown, in the Anchor Bible volume The Gospel According to John (I-XII) says:

it was to let Jesus was asked about the cause of the man's blindness, but he answers in terms of its let God's works be revealed in him. The rabbis spoke of God giving men "punishments of love," i.e., chastisements which, if a person suffered them generously, would bring him long life and rewards. But this does not seem to be Jesus' thought here or in xi 4; rather, it touches upon God's manipulation of history to glorify His name. A good example would be Exod ix 16, cited in Rom ix 17, where God tells Pharoah: "This is why I have spared you: to show that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." That Jesus' works are really God's works is implied in Matt xii 28; Mark ii 7.

It seems to me that the Bible is full of incidents in which God is depicted as acting very unfairly by our standards. The first example that comes to mind is when Abram and Sarai go to Egypt and Abram tells Sarai to say she is his sister, not his wife. Pharoah taks Sarai as a wife, and God strikes Pharoah's household with severe plagues as a result. Pharoah says, "How could you do this to me?" Pharoah is clearly being punished by God for something he didn't know about.

I don't know if this will satisfy Robert, but while I listened, I started thinking about the story as from the blind man's perspective. Imagine you are blind. You're a beggar because you can do nothing else. Kids probably play mean tricks on you. People get sick of seeing you there. You probably stink. People don't have any sympathy for you because they think you or your parents are sinners. Your family is ashamed.Then someone comes along and says your blindness is not the result of sin at all. He says that you have been specially chosen by God to demonstrate that. All this time what everyone--and perhaps you yourself thought--was a curse will be turned into a sign that those who reviled you were wrong. You will be the one through whom God will give the lie to these superstitions. You will be the one whose cure will give dignity to the sick and afflicted. You will be touched by God and made right. You will be given an opportunity to stand before the power brokers and proclaim that, and to know, in your heart, that the Lord has worked through you.If you were the blind man--and we all are the blind man, we have all suffered--you would have a choice. You could get up every morning and go off to work resenting God for all the lost time. Or you could get up every morning praising God for having given your blindness meaning and your life a purpose.I expect the blind man was wholly transformed. I imagine he will treat others similarly afflicted in a whole new way, as Christ treated him. The blind man will become Christ to others, perhaps not with Christ's power, but certainly with Christ's love. Really, I'm the last person who ought to be making sermons about anything, and I've heard this story a million times. But yesterday's liturgy, including the hymns and homily, were put together so well that I've felt light-hearted for, let's see, 24 whole hours without feeling like grumbling!

Thanks, David G., for your reflectionsa useful reminder of the dangers of egotism in its various forms. These comments made me think of the Dutch Jesuit (and Commonweal contributor) Frans Jozef van Beecks reflections in his Catholic Identity After Vatican II: Three Types of Faith in the One Church. The following offers a taste or, better yet, some light [In the following passage, Ive substituted conservative for his pistic, and liberal for his charismatic.]:If conservatives tend to condemn, liberals tend to condone; but there is less difference between condemning and condoning than meets the eye. The arrogance of power lies at the root of both. To put the matter in psychological terms, the conservative may be blocked by dependency; the liberal tends to be blocked by counterdependence. The conservative may be prejudiced; the liberal tends to have a prejudice against all firm stances. This, incidentally, places authorities in the Church in an especially precarious position vis--vis the liberals. Treating them as conservatives, that is, summoning them to return within the boundaries, is more likely to cause alienation than compliance. Sermonizing them is likely to have no result. But in any case, both the conservative and the liberal stance must find a deeper anchorage than judgment. (pp. 46-47) Van Beeck sketches that deeper stance as one of patience and hospitality rooted in the worship of the Risen One, who moves beyond condemning and condoning into Spirit and truth. The blind man ends by worshiping Jesus. Doxology, not doctrine or morality, is the heart of Christian life.

I think you've got it, Jean. More proof that perspective can be so important.I wonder if anyone else was struck by the "police story" nature of this miracle story. Hearing it read during Mass yesterday, I couldn't help noticing how the Pharisees (i.e., the religious police) were determined to get to the bottom of the event. However, they didn't investigate in a dispassioned and unbiased manner; instead, they brought their pre-conceived notions and judgments to the investigation. They talk to the blind man, but they shrug him off as sinful because of his birth condition. They talk to his parents. They talk to Jesus. They don't accept any evidence that contradicts their pre-determined outcome. (Perhaps I've been watching too many episodes of "Law & Order."

I think Jesus' answer to the disciples' question precludes the possibility that God deliberately caused the man's blindness. The point is, that contrary to what some people thought at the time, illness is not the result of sin. Thus God did not cause the blindness as a punishment for sin. Apart from that the story does not tell us the origin of the man's blindness. When John has Jesus respond that it was so that the works of God could be revealed in him, he is speaking about the purpose of the man's blindness, not its cause. In Greek hina, "so that" can denote purpose or result. In reference to his parents sin the hina in "that he was born blind" is one of result, but in Jesus' answer the hina is one of purpose. His blindness is not the result of God's action but does have a purpose.

Shouldn't we remind ourselves that the gospels are more theology than history? As Alan points out it is not said that the blindness was a result of sin although many have thought this way and some theologians used to teach that. Some still do. This is the problem of ascribing details of events to God. Does God not hear the prayers of the losing team?As for miracles at the time of Jesus it should be noted that nobody doubted miracles at that time. How could you have a leader who was not supported by God or the gods? Contemporaries of Jesus do not dispute his claims as such. Their wonderment is why would God choose a poor person rather than a person of the nobility?Many of the claims in the gospels have to be understood in this way. It was a way of thinking at the time. Many took things as a sign from God before the enlightenment. If a vote passed in the Roman senate, and lightning was seen to flash in the sky, the Senate would often repeal whatever legislaton they just passed. Sometimes an opponent would pretend to see a lightning flash to stop something he opposed. Other than that I accept the general consensus here that it was a marvelous gospel yesterday and that God is with her people.

Robert There are many expressions like this in John. On the surface they can be disturbing. I suspect that they reflect the evangelist's belief that everything that happens is somehow part of God's plan, but the language used, usually wording like "this happened in order that such and such", is perhaps misleading.

Joseph, Another example is coming up next week. "Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.'" (Jn 11:4) ... '"Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.'" (Jn 11:14-15)I don't find easy answers here. Maybe it's like this: Death is evil. But if through death God is glorified, death's power is overcome. Because the glorification of God in the Son is a good that overwhelms any evil. (But I'm just sketching this solution, not explaining the mystery and certainly not describing how I feel. Personally I find the rotting of vegetables to be a repellent evil and am always horrified, again, when I remember death.)

Thanks, everyone, for such interesting comments. Jean's interpretation is especially useful ... I suppose it follows a similar fairness/logic as the parable about the men who were sent into the field at different times of the day, thus some worked longer and harder than others yet all were paid the same at the end of the day ... not a great example of labor relations, but a good story for contemplating the bounty of God's love (thus, some have their eyesight all their lives, others have it for part ...) .. and Alan's explanation about the Greek woird "hina" is quite helpful.

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