Occasion: Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017
You can find the readings here. The lectio is based on part of the Gospel.
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?”
“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.
blind from birth, night is coming, works of God, sent, able to see
Why was I born blind?
I don’t mean this in a literal way, though in a sense it is true that, on account of my genetics, I was destined to grow so nearsighted that I cannot operate without glasses. In that sense I was indeed born blind.
What I mean, rather, is the spiritual sense. I was born with original sin, which I often think of as a spiritual blindness which makes it impossible to see God clearly, and thus impossible to act morally all the time. Sooner or later I will see something attractive and chase after it, heedless (thanks to my blindness) that it steers me away from God, the highest good whom I should love above all things. For that reason, I need spiritual healing before I can enter heaven.
Why was I born this way? Jesus’ answer seems to be: so that the works of God might be made visible through me. How? by healing me. Healing me of what? of my sin.
Many interesting dynamics are at work in this passage, but we will reflect on only two of them in particular, both from this excerpt.
The first regards theodicy, the attempt to explain God’s goodness in the face of so much evil in the world. The disciples ask Jesus a question that people have struggled with throughout the centuries: Why does this man suffer?
A common consensus, both then and now, is that suffering is due to sin. In this particular case, the disciples’ question assumes this consensus as settled. They want simply to know whether his parents sinned, and he suffers for their sake (or, perhaps, better, through their fault), or whether he sinned, and was born blind as a sort of preemptive punishment of that sin.
Neither, says Jesus. This is not the only time we find this in the Gospels; on at least one other occasion, our Lord asks his listeners if people who died from a water tower collapse were “more guilty” than those who live, answering his own question in the negative.
(A curious aside. The tower in Luke’s gospel is called the “tower of Siloam,” whereas here the pool is called the “pool of Siloam.” I wish I knew enough of ancient Jerusalem’s geography to say whether they were in the same area, but even if not it is a curious similarity.)
So God seems to allow suffering in order to bring something greater out of it. What that is we cannot always know, but this interpretation finds further evidence in the fact that the Father allowed the Son to suffer and die for us who had made ourselves his enemies, in order to bring about the resurrection. None of us can find particular meaning to any one person’s suffering, nor what good may come of it; we can only find general meaning, and hope, in God’s embrace of that suffering in the cross.
The second dynamic I’d like to highlight concerns a particular curiosity of this passage. In many Gospel passages, Jesus’ miracles are preceded by an act of faith. A blind man cried out for healing to the “Son of David;” a woman who suffered a hemorrhage followed Jesus and touched his cloak; in other cases, a father came to intercede with Jesus on behalf of a son or daughter. Some read too much into these episodes, to the point that they claim God is limited by our faith, or the lack thereof, and we must make an explicit act of faith in order to receive our miracle. To take an extreme example, certain televangelists abuse this idea by suggesting that the act of faith we need for our miracle is to send a $100 or $1000 check.
Nothing of that sort transpires in this Gospel, not even in the simplest request on the blind man’s part. As far as we can tell, the blind man was blissfully unaware that Jesus was on the scene until Jesus approached him of his own initiative. Some interpreters argue that the act of washing in the pool of Siloam was an act of faith. Perhaps, but, blind or nay, I wouldn’t exactly need the sort of faith that moves mountains to go and wash my face after someone smeared mud over my eyes. Heck, I might even mutter a few imprecations along the way: “Smear mud on my face, hunh? Everyone thinks it funny to pick on the blind man, hunh? Harrumph! I’d show you a few tricks with mud if I could only see…”
Be not afraid, even if your faith is weak or failing. God is at work in you at all times, waiting for your cooperation even when your are blind to his work, and he keeps his eye focused on your healing. Listening to that urge that tells you to go wash in the pool is the first step in a grand voyage of love: take it!