Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS
The account of the Man Born Blind that we are presented with in John’s Gospel today is a very remarkable and at the same time a very human story. We can see it at several different levels. First of all, there are the straightforward facts of the story which seem to involve a lot of toing and froing with one group quizzing another.
It starts when the man born blind is pointed out by the disciples to Jesus so they can ask the question about who had sinned, the man or his parents. As a group of disciples, they want to know what Jesus thinks on a whole number of topics and so they must often have asked him many similar questions over the years. This encounter with blind man becomes simply the occasion for them to ask Jesus about a further belief commonly held by the people at that time.
Jesus says that neither of them have sinned and that this man’s blindness was to give glory to God. He then uses the blind man to provide an example of the healing power of God. He smears paste on his eyes and the man is healed when he washes it off.
It becomes a matter of controversy when the people bring the man to the Pharisees. They, of course, immediately see the healing which took place on the Sabbath as something they could use against Jesus.
The blind man is unusually plain speaking and when the Pharisees don’t get the answers they want they bring in the man’s parents who turn out to be much more reticent than their son. They are clearly happy for their son but do not want to get involved in disputation with anyone in case it results in their livelihood being put in jeopardy.
Jesus hears about the interaction between the blind man and the Pharisees and goes to find him. When they meet up, on hearing Jesus’ true identity, the blind man believes and worships him.
The whole account of the miracle comes to a conclusion when Jesus makes a pronouncement about the fact that he has come so that the blind might see and those with sight turn blind. It is at this point we realise that there is another whole layer of meaning that can be uncovered from the story.
Jesus is pointing out that there are two kinds of sight. First there is the sight that comes from using our eyes to see that which is around us and then there is the sight, which we might call insight, to see with the eyes of faith. According to Jesus it is this insight which is much more important, because it is this which enables us to see with the eyes of faith and so to attain eternal life.
The Pharisees are exposed as people who are completely blind to matters of faith. What they seem to be interested in is conformity and outward observance of the law far more than anything else. Their desire is to preserve the status quo and to come down hard on anything or anyone who threatens the current equilibrium.
The man born blind is extraordinarily forthright. He has suffered from a major handicap all his life and he is well aware precisely who has performed acts of kindness for him; and he is just as aware of those who would rather sit in judgement on him. You will note from the question that the disciples put to Jesus that his blindness was generally regarded in those days as a divine punishment for sin so there were plenty of people who despised him.
The religious authorities clearly then must have shown him very little compassion when he was blind and this might explain his rather robust responses to them. He doesn’t regard their interest in his case as being very friendly and so he gives them no respect at all.
Last Sunday we heard about the Woman at the Well to whom Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah. This Sunday in the account of the Man Born Blind we see how Jesus once again reveals himself as the one who is to come. This time he refers to himself as the Son of Man which although ambiguous is often seen as a Messianic title. The fact that the man who was formerly blind then worships Jesus inclines us to believe that he at least understands that by using this title Jesus has disclosed his divinity.
During Lent new members of the Church, the catechumens, are being more intensively prepared for reception into full membership at the Easter Vigil. These two Gospels have been put in the Lectionary at precisely this time because they have a particular relevance for catechumens since they show two important examples of people who have come to faith in Christ. In both cases, they are outsiders, one being a Samaritan and the other being a blind man and therefore regarded also as a sinner.
What is being highlighted is the importance of faith. Unlike many others these two seem to be able to recognise Jesus’ true identity. They both acknowledge that he is the one sent from God and they place their hope and trust in him. These are things that the catechumens can identify very strongly with since they have come to the same conclusion themselves.
There are differences between the two incidents. In the case of the Woman at the Well it is primarily because of the Word that she is converted. In the case of the Man Born Blind it is because of his healing. But in both cases, they give testimony before others to Jesus’ true nature.
This tells us something important; that it is in evangelising others that we become evangelised ourselves. As we transmit the Gospel to others so it takes much deeper root in our own lives. Even someone with only the sketchiest understanding of the faith and who yet communicates this to others ends up with their own faith being deepened.
This is a lesson for us all. We might feel timid about talking to other people on matters of faith because we lack the vocabulary or because we feel inadequate in some way. But we should not allow this to hold us back because, as these lessons from scripture tell us, the more we talk about the faith then the more we come to understand it.
This is especially so in our families. Explaining the faith to our children helps us to see the logic in it. Talking about the faith with our spouses helps us to deepen our own grasp of our beliefs.
Let us see in these two examples of the Woman at the Well and the Man Born Blind people like ourselves, people who don’t know very much but who are willing to share whatever it is that we do have. The result is that our faith becomes deeper and broader and stronger.
St Joseph's Catholic Church
191 High Road
18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
09.30 (Family Mass)
11.00 (Solemn Mass)
12.30 (With Hymns)
Weekdays: 07.30 & 10.00
Confessions: Saturday 10.30-11.00 & 19.00-19.30
St Joseph's Catholic Church
T: 020 8427 1955
Saturday: 18.00 (Vigil with Hymns)
Sunday: 08.15, 09.30 (Family Mass), 11.00 (Solemn Mass), 12.30, 18.00
Weekdays: 07.30, 10.00 - additional mass every first Friday at 19.00
Saturday: 11.00 & 19.00-19.30
First Friday: 18.00-18.45
EXPOSITION & BENEDICTION
First Friday: 18.00-18-45