‘You gave eyes, Lord, to the man born blind from the womb’

21 May 2023

(Sunday of the Blind Man)

The sixth Sunday after Easter and in today’s Gospel reading we hear how our Lord, Jesus Christ, cured a man who’d been blind from birth. This healing of the blind man was a severe rebuke to the Pharisees who were most unwilling to accept the words of Christ. The act of healing became the starting-point for his salvation, as this is expressed at the end of the excerpt in his confession of faith.

The reading, from the Gospel according to Saint John, tells how, when he was in Jerusalem, Jesus met a man blind from birth. Feeling pity for his creation, he made clay by spitting on the earth. This he rubbed on the man’s eyes and then sent him to the pool at Siloam to wash his face*. It should be mentioned that, at that time, the lepers, the blind, the childless and the poor were all considered to be under God’s punishment because of serious sins they’d committed. Religiously and socially they were shunned and in essence were living dead. But then along came our Lord, Jesus Christ, who gave the lie to this prevailing concept.

The cause of the man’s blindness wasn’t any sin committed by himself or his parents. He was born blind in order that the glory of God might be made manifest**. Sickness and pain aren’t always the results of our personal sins, but may be consequences of our less than optimum natural circumstances or the result of our own personal nature.

As soon as the blind man had shown complete obedience to the Lord, he gained his sight and was able to see normally. All of those who knew him wondered whether he was the blind man with whom they were acquainted. They couldn’t understand how he’d been cured, how he’d gained his sight: ‘How were your eyes opened?’ He boldly confessed the truth, saying that he’d been cured by a man called Jesus.

The man who’d been blind from birth had a very hard time of it, not only up until the moment when he was healed, but also thereafter. Before he met the Savior, he’d lived in darkness, deprived of the great blessing of light. When he encountered the True Light, then the people of darkness, the Pharisees, rose up against him, the reason being that the Lord had made the clay on the day of the Sabbath. There were at that time, 38 proscriptions regarding the Sabbath, one of which was a prohibition on making clay (mud). So, for the Pharisees, when Jesus made clay with his spittle, this was a transgression. And because of their fear of the Pharisees, the parents of the man were unwilling to confess the miracle in public.

The Scribes and Pharisees, who are projected as ‘types’ of religious conformability, had absolutely no idea of the significance of what happened in the case of the man who’d been blind from birth. They hadn’t the slightest notion of the measure of the miracles which had been performed. All they were concerned with was whether the rest-day of the Sabbath had been infringed by the healing of the blind man. They persisted in hairsplitting discussions, in a rational interpretation of the event and in explanations of the ‘what’ and ‘how’, as proof of something which they didn’t begin to understand. They really were living in spiritual blindness.

When our God, Jesus Christ, heals the ailing members of our body and restores them to health, he demonstrates that he’s also the creator of the other members. And when he says ‘That the works of God might be made manifest in him’, he means himself rather than the Father. Because the glory of the Father is already manifest**.

So the manner in which the blind man was cured is amazing. Yet the Lord could have healed him simply by saying a word, without the need to rub his eyes with clay. The reason he used clay as the means of healing was to kindle the man’s faith. And, indeed, he had faith enough, because, if he hadn’t, the miracle wouldn’t have occurred. Moreover, this action on the part of Christ would bring more people to God, because they’d see the man blind, initially, and then realize that his eyes had been opened. Another reason was so that the blind man wouldn’t recognize Jesus before he talked to the Pharisees about the Lord. Jesus created Adam from earth and from earth he created the eyes of the blind man. The Lord wanted this sign to be particularly apposite.

We can draw the following conclusions from today’s Gospel reading. In the first place, through his healing of the blind man, Christ demolishes the inhumane views of people at the time regarding the blind. Secondly, through this miracle, he bestowed light twice on the blind man. The first light was that he saw everything around him; and the second was that he gazed upon him who is the light of the world. The next conclusion is that the blind man began to see more deeply into things and beheld new truths, because he was supported by Jesus Christ, the be all and end all of the life of each and every one of us.

Today’s Gospel is irrefutable proof that, apart from being completely human, Christ was also absolutely God. He didn’t just heal the eyes of the blind man’s body, but also the eyes of his soul. The man recognizes and confesses the overwhelming power of the Risen Lord over everybody, and so has no fear of the Pharisees. As well as faith, we need to have the courage to confess this faith in Jesus Christ before other people.

The cure of the blind man is a blessed opportunity for us Orthodox to reflect on our faith and to renew the promise we gave on the day of our baptism***. Let’s allow God to act upon us as he knows best and in whatever manner he chooses. The man who once was blind is a lambent example for us of how radically we can change, if only we really wish to encounter Jesus in our everyday life. Amen

* I have absolutely no grounds to believe this is a reference to the blind man, but it is a pleasing conceit that, many years later, there was a fountain in the grounds of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, with the famous palindrome ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ (Wash the trespasses, not only the visage). Not, of course, his ‘inherited’ trespasses but his own.
**Fr. Rafail raises an extremely important point here which may not be immediately apparent. On first reading, it might seem that the man was born blind so that he could later be healed, to the glory of God. But this would be as cruel as saying that he was born blind because of sin. The point is that the man happened to have been born blind, just as the paralytic was crippled, or Jairus’ daughter died. Because of his love for the man, Christ took pity on him and cured his blindness. In doing so, the Lord necessarily revealed his power as God.
***As Fr. Rafail suggests this may be taken as a form of baptism, especially since the word translated as ‘pool’ in English is actually the same word in the original Greek as ‘baptismal font’.