Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer
darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth
comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’
Throughout the Gospels there are a number of episodes in which Jesus cures people who are blind, e.g. the stories of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) and the two blind men (Matthew 9: 27-31). These episodes, like that of the man born blind, are not so much accounts of Jesus’ miraculous powers, but rather they reveal that the faith of the afflicted brought healing. Unlike Bartimaeus and the two blind men who call out “Jesus, Son of David, have pity” Jesus intervenes into the blind man’s life so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.” Once cured, he proclaims that Jesus is a prophet and under the interrogation of the Pharisees he vehemently defends Jesus’ actions as being the work of God.
This encounter not only reveals the journey in faith of the man born blind but it contrasts his attitudes to those of the Pharisees who, while not being physically blind, are blind to the true identity of Jesus. The Pharisees who proclaim “we are the disciples of Moses” view themselves as being the custodians of the Law, but through their strict observance they fail to live according to the spirit of the Law and fail to recognise the works of God. They are “foolish people who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” (Jeremiah 5:21). Hence, by seeing truth and rejecting it they will be judged.
John’s Gospel passage not only confirms that Christ came into the world for the purpose of judgement but also for transformation and restoration. Jesus is the light of the world through whom the veil of darkness will be lifted and sight restored. Not only were the blind man’s eyes opened to sight for the very first time but so too was his heart, opened to the knowledge that Jesus was the Son of Man.
Although we may not be physically blind our sight of Jesus is often obscured. We must open our eyes, ears and hearts so that we are not the foolish people spoken of by Jeremiah but instead are like the blind man of John’s Gospel who sees that Jesus Christ truly is the light of the world.
Anthony Cleary: Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation