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Lord I Believe

Lent 4     Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

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St. John 9: 1 — 41

 

Introduction

This is a lengthy but familiar story we are given to meditate on during Lent. The scholarly commentaries analyse it verse by verse in wonderful depth. For our meditation we will draw largely, on this occasion, from the Gospel Story by R Cox, and add a few explanatory notes for your assistance. It is important for us to follow the narrative closely and note our own responses to the various situations described.

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Some Notes on the Text

Part 1.

Verses 1 — 12    Pool of Siloam: Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind.

1      As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth.

2      His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his    
        parents, that     he was born blind?”

3      Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so    
        that the works of God might be made visible through him.

4      We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is    
        day. Night is coming when no one can work.

5      While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6      When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay    
        with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,

7      and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which    
        means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back
        able to see.

8      His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a    
        beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”

9      Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like    
        him.” He said, “I am.”

10    So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?”

11    He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed    
        my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went    
        there and washed and was able to see.”

12    And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

It was probably on the Sabbath following the Abraham-argument, that Jesus’ attention was drawn by the appeal for alms by a beggar, sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the temple (Acts 3: 21). The apostles, who had been silent and lost in all the deep discussions with the Pharisees, have regained their old familiar way with the Master. It is quite likely that they did not know at this time that the beggar had been born blind. So their question is twofold: Was his blindness a punishment for some personal sin? Or were his parents being punished for their sinfulness before he was born? They knew he could not have sinned before birth. The Book of Job had clearly shown that suffering may be inflicted on the innocent, but the apostles had probably not given much thought to the subject, and were only voicing the common opinion of their day.

No personal sins were responsible for his blindness (our Lord makes no mention of original sin, the cause of all suffering); he was to fit into God’s plan as a demonstration of how all blindness can be cured only by Him who is the light of the world. He represents the spiritual blindness of the educated leaders of the Jews; they can find the light of life only through faith in Jesus.

This strange procedure of Jesus in working the cure was meant as a test of the man’s faith, the usual condition of His favours. There was also a deeper meaning to it: the blind man would receive his sight only if he washed in water that bore the name of Him who had been ‘sent’ by the Father (a play on the name ‘Siloam’). This could be nothing else but a figure of Baptism, which gives a new power of seeing by the light of faith.

 

Part 2.

Verses 13 — 23    Temple Precincts: Pharisees Question the Blind Man

13      They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.

14      Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.

15      So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to    
          see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed,    
          and now I can see.”

   
16      So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God,    
          because he does not keep the sabbath.” (But) others said,    
          “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a    
          division among them.

17      So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to    
          say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a    
          prophet.”

18      Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and    
          gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one    
          who had gained his sight.

19      They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born    
          blind? How does he now see?”

20      His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son    
          and that he was born blind.

21      We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who    
          opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for

          himself.”

22      His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,    
          for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged    
          him as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the    
          synagogue.

23      For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

The blind man returned first to his own home; there the news of his cure soon spread. His identity was established, but the explanation of his cure puzzled the neighbours; so they decided to get the opinion of the Pharisees, their spiritual guides in all their problems. The people were not denouncing him as an impostor; they were merely looking for an explanation.

At first the Pharisees adopted the same line of argument as in the case of the cripple at the pool. Jesus was, they wrongly claimed, a violator of the Sabbath. But in the light of His claims at the recent feast of Tabernacles, this was dangerous ground; once accept the fact of the cure, then the conclusion was obvious: Jesus must be all He claimed to be.

So they decided to deny the fact itself. At this point of the narrative, St. John calls them ‘the Jews.’ St. John, a devout Jew, is not denigrating members of his people and Faith. The term is his ordinary name for the sworn enemies of Jesus; they are the same leading Pharisees to whom the blind man was brought first. This man was still under the spell of his recent experience; he held doggedly to his story; he was a partisan of Jesus, and so they could get no satisfaction from him. Then they hit upon the plan of summoning his parents; these simple folk could be embarrassed by adroit questioning, and intimidated through their reverence for their leaders.

But the parents saw at once that the question was loaded; they knew the hatred of the leading Pharisees for Jesus was the reason for this interest in their son; so they refused to compromise themselves. They testify to the identity of their son, and the fact of his blindness from birth; they shy clear of any discussion on the manner of his cure. Even though an admission that Jesus had wrought the miracle would not necessarily mean to confess him as the Messiah, the parents can see that the evil-intentioned Pharisees might easily read that into any statement made. ‘Forbidden the synagogue’ was the Jewish form of excommunication (see 1 Cor 5: 2). It had been resorted to during the recent arguments at the feast of Tabernacles, to frighten the common people from adherence to Jesus.

 

Part 3.

Verses 24 — 34    Temple Headquarters: The Blind Man Has His Say

24      So a second time they called the man who had been blind
          and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this
          man is a sinner.”

25      He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do    
          know is that I was blind and now I see.”

26      So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he    
          open your eyes?”

27      He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen.    
          Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his    
          disciples, too?”

28      They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple;
          we are disciples of Moses!

29      We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know    
          where this one is from.”

30      The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so    
          amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he    
          opened my eyes.

31      We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is    
          devout and does his will, he listens to him.

32      It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a
          person born blind.

33      If this man were not from God, he would not be able to
          do anything.”

34      They answered and said to him, “You were born totally
          in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw
          him out.

Baffled by the parents’ refusal to give evidence, the Pharisees call the son back into their headquarters in the temple. The parents showed signs of fear and awe in their presence; maybe the son would give way under pressure. With great solemnity they command him to speak the truth (‘Give God the praise’ is a Hebrew form of adjuration, to tell the truth); they, the learned men in Israel, have examined the case; all they need is his agreement to their finding, and they will let the matter drop. Surely he will not dare question the decision of the court! (Neither side mentions Jesus by name during the whole of this incident.)

But they have underestimated this blind beggar’s courage. In his simple honesty, he will not be trapped by theological distinctions; he stands firm on the objectivity of the fact of his cure. When they question him again to try and get him to contradict some details of his former recital, he becomes annoyed and ironical. Instead of answering questions, he attacks his questioners. They react to his taunt with insult: he can have Jesus, they follow Moses. The point of bringing Moses in is the Sabbath law, which Jesus is charged as having broken by healing the blind man. To follow Jesus, His opponents incorrectly claimed, is to be in opposition to Moses, who gave this law. Jesus came to fulfill what Moses taught, not to negate anything he proclaimed as God’s mouthpiece.

Emboldened by the effect of his irony on the Pharisees, he launches into a long speech; the Jewish leaders are so taken aback at his audacity that they listen open-mouthed. At least one point on which both sides are in agreement is the indisputable fact, obvious all throughout the scriptures, that God will pardon a sinner, but work wonders only through a saint.

 

Part 4.

Verses 35 — 41    Environs of Jerusalem: The Blind Man Finds Faith

35      When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found    
          him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36      He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in    
          him?”

37      Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking    
          with you is he.”

38      He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.

39      Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that    
          those who do not see might see, and those who do see might    
          become blind.”

40      Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said    
          to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”

41      Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no    
          sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

Our Lord would not let such a courageous defence go unrewarded. He sought him out, like the cripple, and revealed His Messianic dignity, as He had to the Samaritan. It was from the voice that he recognised Jesus; but now, in the light of faith, he believes and worships Jesus both as his Saviour and his God (‘worship’ is always used by St. John in its strict sense).

The Pharisees present were not the malevolent group of the previous interview; rather that element in the party who were wavering between adherence to Jesus and their leaders. Jesus contrasts these proud and learned men with the humble and simple man; he has found the light of faith, while they remain spiritually less enlightened. All through the gospels it is the same story: the sinners, publicans, poor and outcast have come to Jesus; they have felt the need of redemption. But the pride of many of the Pharisees has kept them blinded. These think they have no need of instruction or correction; they will not admit their sinfulness. How can they have their sins forgiven, if they deny there are any to forgive?

 

Conclusion

We know, of course, that we are just as likely to be elitist and very self-opinionated as were some of the ruling Pharisees in our Lord’s time. We can be just as blinded by our attitude of “having the truth”. If we fall into this trap we are easy prey to the more dangerous fallacy that we have no real need for on-going instruction or regular correction. The message of Lent counters this false notion. Before we call for a “great revival” to bring a wayward civilisation back on track we need to examine our own need for restoration of inner seeing, stronger faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.

In our story the answer to our needs is demonstrated in the uncomplicated humility of the man born blind. The revival needed in our times is for each person to listen to what Jesus says, and obey — even without understanding. This would be revival on a microcosmic scale: not “big”, but truly widespread and therefore truly “great”.

 

Shalom!
 

 

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Lent 4 ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

Lord I Believe

Lent 4   Year A                             St. John 9: 1 — 41

1. Jesus, called Yeshua by His family and friends, came as Messiah to fulfill prophecy and carry out to perfection the Will of His Father. This included giving sight to the blind. It also included giving insight to the spiritually blind, if they were willing to see Him as the source of New Life:

“How precious is your mercy, O God!
The children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feed on the rich food of your house;
from your delightful stream you give them to drink.
For with you is the fountain of life,
and in your light we see light.”                      (Psalm 36: 8 — 10)

These beautiful words point to our Blessed Messiah who calls us to share with
Him the family life in the Household of God.

2. The majority of Jews listened eagerly to the teaching of our Lord. The elitist
hierarchy, however, were quick to find any cause to destroy His reputation. They
charged Him with the most grievous crime of healing a poor, desperate man on
a Sabbath day. But Jesus chose very carefully where and when He would restore
people to fullness of life.

The Sabbath marks the beginning of our Lord’s healing work.
He begins the new creation where the old left off. And there at
the very beginning it is shown that God’s Son is not subject to
the Law but above it, and that the Law is not destroyed but
fulfilled. For the world was not made through the Law, but by
the Word, as we read, “By the Word of the Lord the heavens
were made.” ….. And fittingly did Jesus begin on the Sabbath,
in order to show Himself as Creator, taking up the thread and
continuing the work He had begun. If a carpenter gets ready
to renovate a house, he starts taking the old parts off at the
roof, not at the foundations. And so the Lord first puts up His
hand the task on the same day on which He had previously
left off; and He begins with lesser things and progresses to
greater.               
(St. Ambrose: From Book 4 on Luke, ch. 4, near the end)    

Jesus Christ did not break the Sabbath:— after all He created it! (St. John 1: 1 — 14).
He is the Sabbath! In Him we too can be restored, little by little, as we respond
to His call to come to Him to be healed.

3. We can be just as elitist and very self-opinionated as were some of the ruling Pharisees in our Lord’s time. We can be just as blinded by our attitude of “having
the truth”. If we fall into this trap we are easy prey to the more dangerous fallacy
that we have no real need for on-going instruction or regular correction. The
message of Lent counters this false notion. Before we call for a “great revival” to
bring a wayward civilisation back on track we need to examine our own need for restoration of inner seeing, stronger faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.

Let us pray for one another that we will all treasure being members of the Household of God and help those within our reach to see Christianity — in its Hebrew perspective — is, fundamentally, being faithful to this Family membership.

Let us help one another to celebrate our Family membership by sharing it generously with others.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these reflections

 

John 9: 1 — 41

Lent 4     Year A

 NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

1    1 As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth.

2    2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
       that he was born blind?”

3    Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the
      works of God might be made visible through him.

4    We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night
      is coming when no one can work.

5    While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6    When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the
      saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,

7    and said to him, “Go wash 3 in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).
      So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

8    His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
      “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”

9    Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said,
      “I am.”

10   So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?”

11   He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
       and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed

       and was able to see.”

12   And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

13   They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.

14   Now Jesus had made clay 4 and opened his eyes on a sabbath.

15   So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He
       said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can
       see.”

16   So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because
       he does not keep the sabbath.” (But) others said, “How can a sinful
       man do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

17   So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about
       him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18   Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his
       sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained
       his sight.

19   They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
       How does he now see?”

20   His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and
       that he was born blind.

21   We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his
       eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.”

22   5 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the
       Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the
       Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue.

23   For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

24   So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said
       to him, “Give God the praise! 6 We know that this man is a sinner.”

25   He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is
       that I was blind and now I see.”

26   So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your
       eyes?”

27   He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why
       do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples,
       too?”

28   They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are
       disciples of Moses!

29   We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this
       one is from.”

30   The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing,
       that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.

31   We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout
       and does his will, he listens to him.

32   7 It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born
       blind.

33   If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

34   They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and
       are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.

35   When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and
       said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36   He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

37   Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with
       you is he.”

38   He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.

39   8 Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that
       those who do not see might see, and those who do see might
       become blind.”

40   Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to
       him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”

41   Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but
       now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

1 [⇒ 9:1-⇒ 10:21] Sabbath healing of the man born blind. This sixth sign is introduced to illustrate the saying, “I am the light of the world” (⇒ John 8:12; ⇒ 9:5). The narrative of conflict about Jesus contrasts Jesus (light) with the Jews (blindness, ⇒ John 9:39-41). The theme of water is reintroduced in the reference to the pool of Siloam. Ironically, Jesus is being judged by the Jews, yet the Jews are judged by the Light of the world; cf ⇒ John 3:19-21.

2 [2] See the note on ⇒ John 5:14, and ⇒ Exodus 20:5, that parents’ sins were visited upon their children. Jesus denies such a cause and emphasizes the purpose: the infirmity was providential.

3 [7] Go wash: perhaps a test of faith; cf ⇒ 2 Kings 5:10-14. The water tunnel Siloam (= Sent) is used as a symbol of Jesus, sent by his Father.

4 [14] In using spittle, kneading clay, and healing, Jesus had broken the sabbath rules laid down by Jewish tradition.

5 [22] This comment of the evangelist (in terms used again in ⇒ John 12:42; ⇒ John 16:2) envisages a situation after Jesus’ ministry. Rejection/excommunication from the synagogue of Jews who confessed Jesus as Messiah seems to have begun ca. A.D. 85, when the curse against the minim or heretics was introduced into the “Eighteen Benedictions.”

6 [24] Give God the praise!: an Old Testament formula of adjuration to tell the truth; cf ⇒ Joshua 7:19; ⇒ 1 Sam 6:5 LXX. Cf ⇒ John 5:41.

7 [32] A person born blind: the only Old Testament cure from blindness is found in Tobit (cf ⇒ Tobit 7:7; ⇒ 11:7-13; ⇒ 14:1-2), but Tobit was not born blind.

8 [39-41] These verses spell out the symbolic meaning of the cure; the Pharisees are not the innocent blind, willing to accept the testimony of others.

 

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All
Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

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