As he walked along, he 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. We 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 he 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." 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?" He said, "I do not know." 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." He said, "He is a prophet." The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 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 Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." So for the second time they 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?" He 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 one who worships him and obeys 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 him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He 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." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. -John 9:1-41
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Jesus makes a poultice of clay and dirt and spittle, putting it on the man's eyes. Go to the pool of Siloam (which means sent, the Gospel narrator interrupts to tell us) and wash. The man, who never saw anything before, now sees. I'm imagining the immense brain-storm of matching sensation and sound to image, the overwhelming interpretation of myriads of objects, moving things, lights and shadows, depth and dimension. But, called into vision, he's already sent beyond vision. Vision and life itself, are metaphors for that which does not darken or die.
The man born blind both loses his identity and gains it after his encounter with The Light of the World. He carries the very light which transformed him (meditation one). In Gospel terms, what is vision? Insight, perceiving purity, humility, discerning the presence of God (meditation two). What blinds me to the uncreated light dwelling within the ordinary around me? What so frightens me that I run from Light? What keeps me from letting my own Light shine? (meditation three). The Last Word offers hope.
Let your light so shine... -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) I AM
A comedy begins when the man returns, seeing, to those who had known him when he was blind. They seem not to recognize him; they argue about his identity. Finally he himself affirms, “I am” (hoti ego eimi). He has received more than sight, this man who now sees. Burning and shining within him now is something of the one who gave him his sight, and who had identified himself with those syllables reserved to God. And yet he knows only that is was the man Jesus who had given him his sight; he knows neither who Jesus is, nor what is that light, now within him, in which he himself is.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center
The Inner Light
He that has light within his own clear breast May sit i'the centre, and enjoy bright day: but he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the midday sun; Himself is his own dungeon.
-Milton from Paradise Lost
Old Man: Alack, sir, you cannot see your way.
Gloucester: I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw: full oft 'tis seen, Our means secure us, and our mere defects Prove our commodities.
-Shakespeare King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1
Wherefore Hidest Thou Thy Face
Thou art the pilgrim's path, the blind man's eye, The dead man's life: on thee my hopes rely; If thou remove, I err, I grope, I die.
Disclose thy sunbeams; close thy wings and stay; See, see how I am blind and dead, and stray, O Thou that art my light, my life, my way.
-Francis Quarles last two verses of Wherefore Hidest Thou Thy Face...
The Coming of Light
Even this late it happens: the coming of love, the coming of light. You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, sending up warm bouquets of air. Even this late the bones of the body shine and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.
The Man Born Blind, Duccio, 1308-11
Meditation Two (insight) a great vision
After the manifest healings of the body, there are also spiritual healings. For if a man intellectually blind, in that he does not see the light of God because of idolatry, afterwards is guided by faith in the Lord and gains his sight, in coming to know the only true god, is not this a great healing and salvation? … One of the brethren asked me, "Tell us one of the visions you see.". And I said to him, "A sinner like me does not ask God that he may see visions: for that is against His will, and is error....Hear all the same about a great vision. If you see a man pure and humble, it is a great vision. For what is greater than such a vision, to see the Invisible God in a visible man, His temple?"
-Pachomius c.292-346 quoted by Derwas Chitty (p.28) The Desert a City
Meditation Three (integration) ...calling us to do
Seeing is holy and immortal. Within the confusion between different levels of sight in this story lies the precious truth that all light participates in the unitive light, the uncreated light, which is the Word and Christ. Light is a grace in the world, a window, an angel of the creation, the beginning and the end burning among us.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center
To see ourselves as we truly are—a wisp of love itself—is perhaps our deepest fear. But it is also our greatest grace. If we are to be the new human, we must begin by embracing love, which always seeks to incarnate itself. Love is enfleshed everywhere. Everywhere the Holy One is shouting and whispering, ‘Let me love you.’ And all that is asked of us is to receive. In reality, that is our life’s work. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
-Judy Cannato Field of Compassion
The Last Word
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen “Anthem”
“You have seen him.” (vs. 37)
What did Jesus mean? The man had not yet seen Jesus. When Jesus put the poultice of spittle and clay upon the blind man's eyes, he sent the beggar away to wash in the Pool of Siloam. It was only then that the man was able to see. And so he had not yet “seen” Jesus.
After the man gains his sight, neighbors and others who knew him argue about his identity. He's taken to the synagogue and more arguments ensue. His parents are interrogated. They say, “He is an adult, ask him.” As the religious authorities bully him the formerly blind beggar offers wonderfully sarcastic remarks out of his sheer incredulity over the ill will of his questioners. (Part of the problem is that the healing took place on the Sabbath.) The formerly blind man says, “Whether or not he's a sinner, I don't know. But I do know that never has anyone healed a man born blind. I suppose you are asking because you also want to follow him, too?” That's when they excommunicate him.
When Jesus heard that the blind man had been driven from the synagogue, he looks for him. Like Wisdom Herself, he takes to the streets to find the beggar: “because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. (Wisdom 6:16)
But the beggar does not recognize Jesus. Now, face to face, Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him.” “You have seen him. You are looking at him now.” Does Jesus mean that the man has seen him in just these last moments, or, is Jesus suggesting that beholding the Son of Man is not contingent upon eyesight? Because this is the multi-layered Gospel of John, Jesus means both these things and probably more.
Praying this text during Lent adds another nuance. This time of fasting, praying, alms giving - attention to matters outside myself, penance- attention to the matters inside myself, heighten the spiritual senses. Paying attention to what I watch on media, what I listen to, what I eat, wear, what dulls my mind, what arouses my soul, what breaks down my poor body, what strengthens my character, awakens me to what gets in the way of my love of God and neighbor.
I suppose I should be paying attention all of the time, so that the whole of my life might incrementally draw me toward the kind of heightened sense that would recognize Jesus with bodily eyes or without. And looking forward to the stories after Easter, perhaps, like his friends after the resurrection, I might learn to recognize him in more obscure forms.
In spite of my dull perceptions and the diminishment of the powers of my body, some other kind of sense quickens even in a wretch like me. When I sing “I once was blind and now I see” the amazing grace of Lent prepares me to say in the Easter of my soul, “It is the Lord...” For Wisdom graciously appears to me in my paths, and meets my every thought.