May 24 - John 9:1-38 - seeing God
IN THOSE DAYS, Jesus, walking along, 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 this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him Who sent Me while it is day, night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
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, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then the man went and washed and came back able to see.
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.” But he kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is He?” The man said, “I do not know.”
Then they brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for He does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about Him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man said, “He is a prophet.”
So the Jews did not believe that the man had been blind and had received his sight until they called his parents and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind, but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know Who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”
So for the second time the Pharisees called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether He is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” The man answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this Man, we do not know where He comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but He does listen to those who worship Him and obey 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.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven the man out, and when He found him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The man answered, “And Who is He, Sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in Him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and the One speaking with you is He.” And the man said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Jesus.
In the book of Genesis, we are told that God created everything. The act of creation was achieved by God speaking it into being, through His Word. Of all the creation of God, only man was not spoken into being, but God actually formed him into being, "the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground (or clay), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Like a potter, God shaped the human being and gave us His breath - our life.
In the Gospel lesson for Sunday we hear Christ encountering a man who was born blind. In order to heal him, the Lord spat on the ground, took the clay or mud, mixed it with His saliva, and spread it on the man's eyes. Usually, when we see Jesus healing someone, He does it either by word or touch, but never anything as dramatic as saliva and mud.
In order to understand what is going on here, we need to remember how God created man and pay attention to what Christ tells His disciples. Man was created out of the ground (mud or clay), basically the same ground Christ heals the blind man with. The book of Genesis also tells us that God continued to create for six days, and on the seventh day He rested. This does not mean that God stopped working from that point on. Whatever "rest" for God means, He continues to work and act in His creation. If nothing else, God has to work overtime because of how well-behaved we are.
Christ tells His disciples, "I must work the works of Him Who sent Me." In other words, Christ is doing the work of God. The Evangelist John in his Gospel account emphasizes the fact that God's work did not end with Him resting on the seventh day, but continued and was fulfilled by Christ dying on the Cross, where He said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Meaning, God's work of salvation of His creation is finished. And saint John also underlines that Christ rested in the tomb on the Sabbath (the day of rest) precisely because He finished God's work.
Let's get back to the mud and the saliva. This detail in the Gospel lesson implies that the man was not simply born blind, but that he was born without eyes. And so by healing the man, Christ is doing what God does - creates eyes from clay, and thus finishing the creation of this particular man.
The man clearly struggled his whole life up to this point. As a disabled person, the only means for providing for himself was begging. And yet, he is the one who recognizes God in the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, he received his sight, his eyes, but nothing was to stop him from taking his time in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. In the Gospel accounts we see people being healed and disregarding the One Who healed them. In his struggle, the blind man was able to see God, while those who claimed to be able to see, turned out to be blind.
We can assume that in his struggle, the blind man was trying to see God, trying to discern God working in his life (as hard as it might have been for him while he was blind). So when he received sight, he was able to see what he already knew. As the Lord told Thomas, "You have believed because you have seen Me. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:29).
But does this mean that those who are not struggling in this life are at a disadvantage of knowing God? It is true that not everyone is suffering physically or emotionally, but we are all living in a world full of sin. If we live in this world and if we are not struggling, then that's a bad sign. If we are not struggling with sin, it does not mean that we have no sin. This does not mean that we have to live in some sort of pain, or carry a guilty conscience all the time, or be in self-contempt. Struggling with sin, at the very least, means that we recognize that sin exists and otherwise Christ's suffering and death on our behalf is not justified. Struggling with sin means that we do not submit to it.
God is known in struggle. Identify your struggle and spend some time - days, weeks, months, however long it may take - praying and meditating, trying to see and know God.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the risen Lord,