If you look at a picture of an iceberg, you will see a small part of the iceberg above the water with the rest of the iceberg beneath the surface of the water, unseen. Today’s Gospel that I just proclaimed can be seen just like that iceberg. We see the surface of the story, Jesus heals a blind man, but beneath the surface there is a vast amount of meaning and depth that is unseen from the surface. Today I hope to break the surface of the water with you and reveal just one main aspect of the hidden depth of this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the man, blind from birth.
On the surface we can see 3 main parts of this story (pericope), we see the man, blind from birth, before his encounter with Jesus, we see the man’s encounter with Jesus and his physical healing, and, finally, we see his mission after his encounter with Jesus. Taking a look deeper I want to go through this man’s incredible journey through the lens of this man as an image of each and every Christian, throughout all of history. This lens will be particularly helpful for those who are preparing to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil, the RCIA Catechumens who are with us today and who will go through the 2nd scrutiny just after my homily. So if we see this blind man’s journey as the journey of each and every Christian, it means that each of us have a similar set of stages in our lives as Christians: our life before an encounter with Christ, the encounter with Christ and our healing, and our mission after that initial encounter with Christ.
The first stage of the Christian journey is life before the encounter with Christ. This is seen in the man born blind before his encounter with Jesus. Jesus’ disciples question Jesus about the man’s blindness, they ask Jesus whose sin it was that caused it. Jesus is firm in pointing out to them that it was not the personal sin of him or his parents that caused his blindness. Rather, Jesus, points out that his blindness, though it was not caused by personal sin nor a punishment inflicted on him by God, serves a greater purpose. Though God never wills the suffering of man, suffering and natural evil exist in the world due to fallen human nature through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This man’s blindness is a result of being in a fallen world, not of his personal sin, but Jesus also points out that it has a greater purpose: revealing God’s incredible works through his healing by Jesus that soon happens in the encounter with Jesus. Traditionally this man’s blindness symbolizes original sin: the sin every human who ever existed inherits from Adam and Eve when they sinned for the first time in the Garden of Eden. That first sin of mankind resulted in Adam and Eve becoming blind, in a spiritual sense. If you recall, in the beginning of the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God by eating of the fruit that was forbidden to them. They chose to turn inward toward themselves to determine what was good and evil rather than trusting in God their Father. In turning away from God and sinning in this way, they no longer were able to see God in the way they could before and were cast out of paradise. Being humanity’s first parents, they passed on that original sin to all their descendants, including each and every person throughout all of history, including us! As a result, when each one of us was born, we were blind in a spiritual sense because of the original sin we inherited from Adam and Eve. We were like the man who was blind from birth, we were unable to spiritually see God. Those who are in the RCIA program who are catechumens preparing for the sacraments at the Easter Vigil are in this stage of their Christian journey. They have not yet received the tremendous gift and grace of baptism, which will heal them from original sin and open their eyes to a deeper faith. This incredible moment of grace in baptism that heals us from original sin is prefigured in the second stage of the blind man’s journey in the Gospel.
As we heard, Jesus heals the blind man by spitting on the ground, making clay, smearing it on the blind man’s eyes, and telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Now, if this seems a bit crude, don’t worry, this is not how the sacraments of initiation happen at the Easter Vigil, BUT there are some striking similarities. First, let’s take a deeper look at Jesus’ actions. Jesus spits on the ground and makes clay. This isn’t just a weird thing that Jesus does, but actually has profound connections back, once again, to the book of Genesis, all the way back to the creation of the world. Jesus in making clay out of the ground is making present an act of creation. In the book of Genesis we hear that God the Father creates Adam out of the clay of the earth, “…then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Jesus, in making clay and smearing it on the blind man’s eyes, is accomplishing an act of creation, or rather, of re-creation. He is re-creating this blind man and healing him and opening his eyes of faith to see. Jesus then goes on to smear this clay on the man’s eyes. In the original Greek language, the verb used for “smear” comes from the Greek word ἐπιχρίω (epichriō), which means “to anoint.” This is the same Greek word that our word “Chrism” comes from, and Chrism is the sacred oil that is used to anoint babies right after their baptism and it is also used to anoint those who are being confirmed within the sacrament of Confirmation. So, Chrism, even now, is a consecrated oil used in the re-creation of every person at baptism and confirmation, which is prefigured in Jesus and the blind man. So in the Gospel, Jesus re-creates this blind man and then anoints him and sends him off to wash in the pool of Siloam, which is an obvious prefigurement of baptism itself. The blind man is re-created, anointed with the clay, and is washed clean by the waters of the pool with the result of his eyes being opened and he was able to see, both physically and spiritually. The same exact thing happened to each of us at our baptisms and confirmations, and this is what will happen to our friends here in the Catechumenate at the Easter Vigil. As we are baptized, we are washed clean from the original sin that we inherited from Adam and Eve and are re-created as a beloved child of God. At confirmation we are anointed with Chrism, just like the blind man was anointed with the clay, and we are strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become witnesses to Christ in the world. All of this leads directly into the third stage of the blind man’s life, since it happened to him too.
The third stage of the blind man’s journey relates his mission after his encounter and healing by Jesus. The man born blind’s mission now is to proclaim Jesus as God and source of his miracle. This makes up for the bulk of the Gospel reading. We hear the how the Jews don’t believe that this man was blind and was cured and they question him intently about the miracle. We hear a steady progression in the blind man. Although he never wavers in his newfound faith in Jesus, he gets steadily more courageous in professing it. At first he just says the facts to the Jews and reveals Jesus by name as the one who healed him. He says, “A man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’” Later, after his parents are questioned and they refer the Jews back to the blind man, the man born blind is stronger in his faith and rather than just reiterating the facts, he reveals the deeper truth about who Jesus is. He says a bit stronger, “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” Now the man born blind is not only acknowledging Jesus as a person, but is also recognizing Him as God and proclaiming it to the Jews. At the end of the story we hear of this man personally encountering Jesus again and he professes his belief in the Son of Man and worships Jesus as Lord without hesitation.
This experience relates directly to the lives of all us gathered here today after our own baptisms or soon to be baptisms. Once we are healed from original sin and re-created as a child of God, we have a mission as Christians: to share our experience of the love of God to all people, even to those who oppose the message. We do this because of the encounter each one of us has with Jesus and His love compels us to share that miraculous love with others. The love that Jesus reveals to each of us personally through his redeeming action in our lives is not just a textbook truth that we tell others, but is an encounter with God Himself that we are compelled to draw others into as well because a love this great cannot be selfishly contained but must be shared. Just as the man born blind grew in his courage and faith after his healing, we too are strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation to do the same thing, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the whole world, and that is no easy task in our culture today. Just as the Jews opposed the man born blind, so too does the culture around us oppose us as genuine disciples of Jesus Christ beginning in our baptism. And yet, as much opposition as we may face, we cannot help but be compelled to continue to mission of evangelization, this mission of proclaiming and introducing Jesus Christ to those who don’t know him to the whole world. We participate in this mission because of our encounter with Jesus Christ and His healing love in our lives, first of all through baptism, but continued each and every day by our participation in the Eucharist and our own personal prayer and relationship with Jesus Christ.
And so my friends, let us today cast out the fear in our hearts to proclaiming Jesus Christ to the whole world, to our own families, to our workplaces, to every encounter we have with other people in our world. Let us be like the man born blind who received more than a physical cure of his blindness, but was also given the gift of spiritual sight. Let us intimate Him in proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord to all we meet without forgetting to sustain a deep and personal relationship with Jesus by encountering Him daily in the Eucharist and personal prayer. And let us pray earnestly for one another that we may be ever strengthened in our faith and love of Jesus, and especially pray for our brothers and sisters who are with us today in the RCIA program preparing for the gift of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.