On the surface, today’s Gospel would appear to be about the physical healing of a blind man, but underneath lies a play on the word “sight.”
In this event, Jesus is challenging those around him, including his own disciples, to “see” the world in a new way. He points out to them…and to us…that it is entirely too easy to operate with a set of false assumptions; to be “blind” to the things of God in our lives. Like those in this account, we can think we are seeing clearly, but in fact we are blinded by our own assumptions, prejudices, and egos. Of all the characters in the story of the blind man, the only one who has the gift of true sight is the blind man himself who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah.
In this reading, we are called to ask ourselves if we see things the way God sees them or if we are looking through the eyes of the world; to examine where we might be blind spiritually; where we are looking at appearances, not reality. As God says to the prophet Samuel in the first reading: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”
This Gospel reminds us that the way we see best is through the eyes of faith, for then we see the world the way God sees it. But first we have to recognize that without Jesus, we are truly blind.
Unpack the First Reading
In this passage, God directs Samuel to take up his horn of oil and go to Bethlehem where he will point out the future King of Israel. The horn was in itself loaded with significance. The ram’s horn was blown as a signal in war and to announce religious events. Jewish lore suggests that its use in signaling the morning and evening sacrifices stems from Genesis 22 where Abraham finds a ram caught in a thicket, which God has provided as a substitute sacrifice for his son, Isaac. The horn is also a symbol of authority for the prophets Zedekiah and Zechariah. David was anointed from the horn of Samuel and then received the authority of kingship.
In the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah is struck dumb for doubting the prophecy of the Messiah and doesn’t speak again until the birth of John. At this time, he says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he…has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69). The anointing from the horn of the prophet Samuel of the first king of the house of David is loaded with significance for those of us who profess Jesus as the horn of our salvation and the anointed one of God.
Unpack the Second Reading
Paul explains in this passage not simply a Christian perspective toward immorality but a universal psychological principle. St. Ignatius makes a similar point in his Spiritual Exercises in saying that the devil will always tempt us to keep our sins secret. Sins that go unconfessed tend to grow in us.
What remains in the dark cannot be seen for what it is. Of course, neither Paul nor Ignatius would say that our sins should be made public. No Christian is required to make a public confession of sins. Some choose to do so as part of a healing process or to make restitution with a public witness of their repentance because they’ve been public in their sin.
Confessing sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is good for the soul because it dissipates our exaggerated illusions as to either the insignificance or the gravity of our sins. When confessed, all sins appear for what they are, too miserable to weigh us down.
Some sins are slight, some are grave; but when we hide them we lose the capacity to judge which is which. The very light that we shine on our sins in confessing them purifies us and turns us away from sin. As St. Paul says, “All that then appears is light.”
Unpack the Gospel
This section of John’s Gospel focuses on the division that Jesus has engendered among those who follow him and those who don’t. The argument between the factions runs like this: Because Jesus had supposedly violated the Sabbath by making clay, which he used to smear the man’s eyes, the Pharisees claim that Jesus couldn’t be from God. That is, if Jesus is a sinner, he shouldn’t be able to work miracles. They question the man born blind and his parents and find that he was indeed born blind. So they must call into question that it was Jesus who gave him sight. Failing in that, they can only throw the formerly blind man out of the synagogue since they can’t deny that Jesus must have healed him and therefore must be God.
Some say this story would’ve spoken directly to the position of the Jewish Christians who’d been put out of the synagogues themselves at the time that John’s Gospel was written. This story would’ve given them hope that their separation from the synagogue wasn’t a sign of their having been cut off from God, but the necessary result of Jesus’ mission “to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”
Video & Discussion
Please watch the short Opening the Word video for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Cycle A. Find this video at StMichael.FORMED.org on the “Community” tab. Then with friends or family, discuss the following questions:
What are some of the false perceptions the disciples had about the blind man?
What are some of the ways that the characters in this story were blind? The disciples? The Pharisees? The neighbors?
What are some of the ways that you might be blind? You don’t need to share these, but write down any insights you might have in your journal.
Digging Deeper: The Pool Siloam
The actual Pool of Siloam was discovered in 2004 when a utility crew digging a drainage pipe hit the stairs with a tractor. The pool is fed by a 1,780-foot conduit that starts at a spring, the only source of fresh water in that area of Jerusalem. The spring and the pool were heavily guarded since the time of King David so that the citizens would have water even if the city were under siege by enemies.
Reprinted from this week’s Opening the Word leader materials with permission from Augustine Institute.