A veteran missionary introduced himself to Roland Allen and said, "I was a medical missionary for many years in India. And I served in a region where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured."
But this missionary had developed a process which would arrest progressive blindness. So, people came to him, and he performed his operation. They would leave realizing that they had been spared a life of blindness because of this missionary.
He said that they never said, "Thank you," because that phrase was not adequate for such a healing in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, "I will tell your name." Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness.
In our Gospel text today, although the healed man had a hard time telling others of the name of Jesus because of the intimidation of the Pharisees, there are many lessons to learn from the blind man’s healing under difficult circumstances:
1. Sabbath rest is about well-being (shalom) and Jesus gave that gift to a person, but the Pharisee’s haggle over the supposed illegality of the miracle on a sacred day of rest. Because of their hardness of heart, Israel never entered into the rest of shalom, says the book of Hebrews 3:11,18 and 4:1-11. Application: Don’t forfeit your Shalom by doing unnecessary work on Sunday unless it’s about being an agent of God's wholeness for others.
2. Another lesson is that the healed man was willing to believe in Jesus, as the Christ, saying, "Who is he, sir. That I may believe in him?" Application: Commit oneself and believe, in order that one may understand, and one’s seeing will become a way of knowing God, which is ever perfecting. Seeing is believing only if we are willing to believe first. A mistake is to seek to understand first, in order that one may believe later-- doing that leads to spiritual blindness.
Spiritual blindness often has ideological roots and rational presuppositions. The Pharisees were so sure of everything—that God did not heal someone on Sundays; that Moses was God’s only spokesman, that anyone born blind had to be a sinner.
3. Just at the moment when our man feels totally rejected - by his neighbors, parents and the religious establishment - Jesus reappears on the scene, ready to act in his favor.
Application: Too often the deeply subjective spiritual experiences in our lives have to be celebrated alone. There remained only the man, and Jesus and that was enough. St. Paul remarked that "God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
4. The story of the blind man appears in early catacomb art as an illustration of Christian baptism which washes away the sins of our original blindness and sets us free unto eternal life. Baptism was called illumination or enlightenment. In the early Church, the baptized were called the illuminati (Latin). Baptized believers of every age find themselves like the man born blind, buried and reshaped in the mud of the new creation, washed in the waters of baptism. Now we see as never before, but we scarcely recognize ourselves, much less those around us. Like addicts ripped from bondage. Daily we die and rise from the mud, washed and sent out.
5. In our First Reading, despite the prosaic language, the genre is epic—Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
David’s own father, Jesse, could not imagine as David being the chosen one. The Lord surprises with His selection of David. David’s brothers were all older, tall, Kingly in stature, but all based on appearances. Saul, the first King, was physically imposing and he was chosen by popular acclamation. David was not physically imposing, however. Yet, 1 Samuel 16:12, says, “He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking. The LORD said: There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Application: We have the same divine favor! The Catechism says in 695: The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit, to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation. Now, fully established as "Christ" in his humanity victorious over death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit abundantly on "the saints."
6. Lastly, of the 183 questions Jesus was asked, he only answered 3, like this one we heard today, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him…”
This touches on God’s manipulation of history to glorify his name. Parents: don’t blame yourselves for your kids’ problems, but don’t pat yourself on the back either.
We, as humans, need to feel that our situation has meaning. As Gianpiero Petriglieri, a professor at INSEAD business school, said: "There's some pain that needs a solution, and some pain that needs a story."
Viktor Frankl, who wrote a famous book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. As a Jew, he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in a concentration camp. As a psychiatrist he noted that it was those people who lost their hold over moral and spiritual values who were the ones who fell victim to the dehumanizing influences of the camps.
He said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice."… or a story, like our story in Christ.