The gospel for this Sunday begins and ends with a word about sin. So we might wonder where the good news is. But by the time we finish this gospel we will no doubt agree this reading is good news and that John has given us the advantage of yet another wonderful lesson in faith.
As Jesus walks along he catches sight of a man who has never enjoyed the gift of sight. He was born blind. The Lord’s disciples, apparently following his gaze, immediately jump to the conclusion that this blindness was due to sin. They are ready to cast the blame on someone. Jesus blames absolutely no one. In fact he announces—and this must have really taken them by surprise—that this man will serve God’s kingdom. Just how of course is, as they say, the rest of the story.
Jesus gives his disciples a clue about what he means when he adds that he is the light of the world. Of course he is not talking about the ordinary light by which we see each day. He is talking about the inner light that shines brightly in the human heart no matter what darkness may surround us.
From the dust of the earth Jesus makes a mud paste and smears it over of the man’s eyes. What he does reminds any reader of his Father’s creation of the first man from the mud of the earth. Perhaps John wants to us understand Jesus as carrying forward the work of his Father. After all it is in John’s gospel that Jesus says clearly that he is doing the same work his Father does (Jn 5:17). The blind man does not resist but immediately goes to the pool of Siloam, washes his eyes, and returns able to see.
From this point on in the reading things go in opposite directions. Even while so many others refuse to see the wonderful miracle that has taken place, the man himself sees more and more clearly. At first his sight is physical, but by the end of the account he sees clearly spiritually too, even to the point of believing in Jesus and worshipping him as the Son of Man who fulfills the vision of Daniel 7.
It is definitely disappointing that even some of the spiritual leaders in the reading close their eyes to obvious miracle that has taken place. They look for some other explanation. They question the man’s parents to determine if in fact he was in fact born blind. They question the man to find out just how Jesus did it. Rather than embrace the truth they dismiss the man as a sinner from the day he was born, taking us right back to what the disciples said at the start of the reading. All the while, the blind man refuses to be intimidated into going over to their side against Jesus. He defends Jesus announcing his conviction that he is from God and clearly implying that he wants to become one of his disciples.
When the reading ends Jesus tells those who refuse to believe in him that their sin remains. John’s lesson is that sin is not being born physically blind but choosing to be spiritual blind. Seeing spiritually is the theme of the first and second readings too. In the first, the prophet Samuel learns this lesson from God: he may claim to be a seer, but he must rely on God to see into the heart. In the second reading Paul tells his readers they are now children of light who must see the world differently because of their faith in Christ Jesus.