The gospel of John was written decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Because readers would have known the content of the earlier writings, John’s writing focusses on the meaning of Christ that has become clearer to him in retrospect. The gospel of John strives to convey that the man Jesus, with whom the disciples ate, travelled, and lived, was, in fact, God incarnate. Consequently, the stories in John are replete with symbol and metaphor.
This Sunday’s account of the man born blind has John’s typical complexity. While the practice of blindness as a figure of speech has been problematic for individuals with impaired sight, John makes full use of it as a metaphor for being “in the dark.”
Significantly, the man and the miracle are deeply symbolic of all of us.
Christ encounters a man begging, born blind. Immediately the apostles presume the old reasoning that this fellow suffers because of a divine punishment for something he, or his parents, have done wrong. Christ simply dismisses that theory. Christ’s life persistently rejects the notion of God as a vindictive ruler, demonstrating God as Love, yet his disciples themselves are, as it were, still blind. So too, the Pharisees refuse to see Christ, clinging to their power by accusing Him of wrongdoing. In effect, people generally, we included, fail to see the Light of Christ, even though He is with us.
But what about the blind character? Unequivocally, we hear that the darkness of suffering or disabling illness is not from God; it is not punishment. We end up in darkness of many kinds for many reasons, but God is not to blame. We blame one another, ready to condemn and denigrate. John’s story points out that Christ is the light in the world. This light helps us endure the suffering of life, and this divine light shines through us when we embrace it, uniting us, allowing us to see each other as sisters and brothers, rather than “sinners”. Imagine if we, all people, saw each other and the world through the eyes of Christ. What might we see? How would we treat each other? How would we treat our natural environment?
Christ’s teaching was revolutionary to old ways of seeing God, others, and creation. Think of mud and spit. This is what we (metaphorically) sling at each other in derision and hate. In this story Christ reverses this process, taking these fundamental elements of the earth (mud) and humans (saliva) and manifesting them as healing. The blind man is able to wash away the dirt to see the light: the truth of Christ. Can we?
Every moment of our life we make unconscious choices to be in light or darkness. This reading asks us to open our eyes, as it were, to consciously recognise our choices and help each other to see and in fact to be our world transfigured through God’s love.