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Fourth Week of Lent

Jn. 9:1-41

When we start having problems with our vision we can begin to appreciate what it must be like for blind people to have lost their eyesight through illness or accident. But what about congenital blindness? We cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for a person who was born blind.

What an incredible and pleasant shock it must have been, in today’s Gospel story, for the man to have his eyes opened by Jesus - to behold the world around him for the first time. However, we must remember that, in the telling of the physical cure of congenital blindness, the evangelist St. John is drawing our attention to the deeper spiritual plane, to an even more spectacular cure.

The greater miracle which Jesus worked was in the opening the man’s eyes to recognise Him as the Messiah - the Anointed One. This is exactly what happened in our Baptism. We were born spiritually blind in the darkness of Original Sin. Just as the man’s blindness in the Gospel was not the result of his personal sin, so also the spiritual blindness with which we are born was not the consequence of any personal sin. We inherited it because of the sin of disobedience of our first parents.

It was in Baptism that, for the first time, we experienced the saving power of Christ. The spittle which Christ used to anoint the blind man in person is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It is a fluid released from a person’s mouth, and when Jesus breathed his last from the Cross, the Holy Spirit was released. In Baptism, we were anointed by the same Holy Spirit who destroyed the darkness of Original Sin and opened our spiritual eyes to behold Christ, the light of the world, symbolised by the lighted candle.

The story of the blind man’s encounter with Jesus has remarkable parallels with the Samaritan woman’s encounter in last Sunday’s Gospel. The stories tell us the way Jesus brings people to believe in Him as the Lord, and they show us the steps which we also can use, as evangelisers, to bring people to faith in Jesus.

He meets the person on a wavelength tuned in to his or her particular need. In the same way Catholic missionaries in poor countries will agree that you have to fill people’s stomachs first and then their souls. The Samaritan came to draw water so Jesus asked her for a drink. The blind man’s immediate need was sight, so Jesus begins by curing his blindness before moving from the physical to the spiritual plain, by turning the focus on Himself. What a beautiful turnaround! Having asked the woman for water to quench His thirst, He then offers her living water to quench her spiritual thirst; having anointed the blind man to open his physical eyes, Jesus then opens the man’s spiritual eyes to recognise Him as the Anointed One.

During their dialogue the Samaritan woman recognises Jesus first as a Jew, then as a Patriarch, then as a prophet and, finally, as the Christ (that is, Messiah or the Anointed one). Similarly, the blind man in the presence of his neighbours acknowledges Jesus first as His healer, in the presence of Pharisees as a prophet and then His Master, and finally in the presence of Jesus Himself as the Son of Man, and worships Him.

But whereas the Samaritan people were humble enough to listen to the woman’s testimony and come to Jesus, the Jewish Pharisees were too proud to accept the blind man’s testimony. It means the man who was once physically blind now has spiritual vision but the Pharisees who have physical vision are still spiritually blind.

When we were anointed by the oil of catechumens and washed in the Baptismal waters, the Holy Spirit came down on us, opening our spiritual eyes to recognise and accept Jesus as our Lord and Christ. The light of Christ enables us to tell the good from the evil and so to live according to God’s way. However, as we go through life, the sins that we commit become like growths of cataract which obstruct our vision. That is why God has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which our spiritual cataracts are regularly removed by the Holy Spirit and we are healed by our Lenten practises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Lord Jesus, give us the grace to keep our spiritual vision clear from the darkness of sin. And having had our vision restored, let us seek to bring others also to this light, by meeting them where they are and by accompanying them, step by step, on their journey to You.

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