SUNDAY’S READINGS | MARCH 19, 2023
1 Sam. 16:1-13
The mysteries of existence, the unsolved problems, the perplexities for which there is no single and easy answer, often open a space where “God’s works might be revealed” (John 9:3). The question in John’s gospel (“Why was this man born blind?”) stands in for all suffering we do not understand, for all injustices visited upon the innocent. And because we can hardly bear the pain of a world out of balance, we search for clear and simple moral explanations.
“His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parent, that he was born blind?’” (John 9:2). This kind of reasoning persists today. We commonly hear that “everything happens for a reason,” a saying designed to protect us from a world of moral disorder. The problem with this way of thinking is that, in one way or another, it blames the victim. Some misfortunes are undoubtedly the consequences of previous moral failings and bad choices, but the exceptions to this equation are innumerable.
Why was this man born blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus says (John 9:3). Surely, the parents of the blind man and the man sinned, but sin is not the cause of the blindness. Causation aside, the man’s condition is a metaphor for all human existence and an invitation for God to act. “That blind man,” says St. Augustine, is the human race” (Tractate XLIV on the Gospel of John). Remarkably, as if to include the blind man from the very beginning, Jesus says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” indicating that we are enlightened by him and through him. Enlightenment, in this story, entails a new creation, for Jesus acts in a way that recalls the creation of the first human being from the dust of the ground. “When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes” (John 9:6). The inclusion of the blind man is further emphasized by the command, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:7). To every gift of grace, there is a corresponding fiat, a “let it be,” a “your will be done.” The blind man is a participant in his own healing!
By degrees, the man born blind, subject to several interrogations, becomes more and more confident. “The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man’” (John 9:8-9). He recalls the details of his healing, not once but twice. As the questions about this healing and whether Jesus was a man of God continue, the man, as if to say, “Here I stand,” declares, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
The man preaches to his interrogators: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:31-33). Now a disciple of Jesus, he says, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:38).
We want to explain suffering to protect ourselves from it. Jesus enters our suffering to heal us and to make us heralds of the gospel.
LOOK IT UP: 1 Samuel 16:7
THINK ABOUT IT: Learn to see as the Lord sees.