JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM - THE HEALING OF THE MAN BORN BLIND - ENLIGHTENMENT
The Johannine Gospel from where this Sunday reading comes has Jesus going to Jerusalem quite a few times for the major Jewish festivals: at least three Passovers, Tabernacle and Dedication. No doubt He would have seen Himself as a faithful pilgrim going up to the city of Zion for these obligatory feasts. Much of our Lord’s ministry in this gospel occurred in Jerusalem such as the reading for this Sunday, the healing of the blind man from birth. On the journey to Jerusalem let us be a pilgrim, like Jesus, His disciples and friends going up to Jerusalem for one of these festivals. We would be travelling in a caravan group with others from our village. Remember the last story of the Lucan infant narrative is Jesus and His family and others from Nazareth travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luc. 2. 41 – 52). As we travel along the dusty road passing sheep and goats, groves of olive trees and native flowers, our hearts swell up with the music of those psalms, known as the psalms of ascent, psalms 121 – 134, that we sing en route. As we approach the holy city take on an especial significance when Jerusalem came into view. Let’s have a look at some of these beautiful psalms. Psalm 121 is of the most beautiful of all the psalms. Imagine Jerusalem coming into view as we sing, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help.”
Jerusalem is situated in the hill country of Judea. As well as Mt. Zion, there is also Mt. Moriah and the Mount of Olives. Yet God dwells on Mt. Zion and so it is to Yahweh that the pilgrims know from whence comes their help.
The pilgrims no doubt know that passage from Joel 3:17 “So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.”
The Psalm continues - the Lord who helps me “has made heaven and earth”. The God who dwells in Mt. Zion is the creator of everything. Pilgrims would have pondered on “in the beginning” of how God made the whole world from nothing. Everything owes its existence to the Lord.
Such is Yahweh’s protection that “He will not suffer your foot to be moved: he that keeps you will not sleep.” Yahweh will protect them as they travel, but how comforting is to know that He is always dependable, never sleeping, always attentive to the needs of His children. Night time was always seen as a time for demons to be active, but knowing that the Lord is always vigilant is a great encouragement, especially on pilgrimage.
Yet it is over all Israel that the Lord keeps vigilant as the psalm continues: “The LORD is your keeper: the LORD is your defence upon your right hand.” Only Yahweh can give defence and protection from any kind of enemies so:
The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. …
The LORD shall preserve you from all evil: he shall preserve your soul.
The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
As pilgrims travel to and from Jerusalem they know that the Lord will accompany and protect them. They are completely in God’s hands and cares.
Psalm 122 is also sung en route too. Imagine how realistic those words would be when Jerusalem came into view. With that glimpse of the holy city the pilgrims would have sung lustily, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’” No doubt they thought of how David who had made Jerusalem his holy city after capturing it from the Jebusites and brought the ark to his capital, but it was his son who built the magnificent temple to house the sacred ark. Before long they would be standing in front of the outer court of the temple and in the words of this psalm, “Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.” Here we shall give thanks unto the Lord and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. What joy those pilgrims must have felt to be in the house of the Lord after their long journey.
When they sung Psalm 132 it would have reminded them of David's bringing up the ark to Zion. And the last of the pilgrim psalms, psalm 134, expresses the pilgrims’ thanks as they stand “in the courts of our God”. To praise the Lord in the sanctuary is their delight. (It is the same psalm that Christians sing at the end of the day at the office of Compline).
During festival time the temple’s worship was woven into its fabric. On their lips in expressing their joy to be in God’s house would have psalm 84. “O how amiable/lovely are thy dwellings O Lord.” It is such a beautiful psalm it is worth pausing to dwell on it. How lovely is your dwelling place O Lords of hosts. The temple was indeed beautiful, just as many old cathedrals are as they were built for the glory of God. The key words “your dwelling place”. It is precisely because the Lord dwells in his temple that makes it beautiful. You can see the parallel Christians can make with their churches. My soul longs, indeed it faints for the court of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. What a yearning there is to be in the Lord’s court- every part of my being explodes with joy because of the presence of the Lord there. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Is there a more beautiful imagery than this? Even those little creatures whose life-span is so short want to be as close as they can be to the Lord. The inner sanctuary in the temple as it is in church is a very special place, expressly set apart to denote God’s presence. Blessed are those who live in your house, ever singing of your praise. What joy there is simply being in the house of God where we can sing our praises for ever - a home where one would like to linger and linger. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion … they will go from strength to strength; the God of god will be seen in Zion. This expresses the joy of pilgrims as they set out to be in the temple of the Lord. That knowledge gives them the strength they need on that journey of many days. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! This is a petition that sums up their history, their God who has always heard the plea of His people and now He continues to hear when they and we pray just as He heard Jacob and His ancestors. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. How precious is the time we spend with the Lord; it is just so precious. One moment compensates for days anywhere else. All those days of travelling were worth it to have just one day in God’s holy place. Who would not want to be a doorkeeper in the house of God – to be in His presence at all times. What joy that would be! Have you ever pondered on that? No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. The Lord is continually showering so many good things upon us. Those who walk with the Lord will always know the goodness of the Lord. O Lord of hosts, blessed is everyone who trusts in you. That no doubt would have been the pilgrims’ prayer as they travelled towards Mt. Zion. The pilgrims knew in their hearts that the Lord would bring them safely through. Their trust would have been the rock on which they journeyed. Isn’t that the same for us too? As Christians that is a very appropriate psalm for us to use in preparation for attending Mass. One of the reasons that it is a favourite of mine is simply for that reason. When I very young I was taught to meditate on that psalm as part of my preparation to be present at the Eucharist and to be conscious that the church was a very special place, as it was God’s house, and therefore one entered the church reverently and behaved reverently the whole time.
Passover time saw much activity in the temple. By the time of Jesus the head of the householder, instead of slaying his own unblemished lamb, now had to buy it from the authorities in the temple. Imagine what it must have been like in the temple with all these animals and people coming and going to buy their lamb for Passover. No wonder our Lord took objection to how his Father’s house was being used. Festival time in Jerusalem would have looked like a refugee city of today with pilgrims setting up their tents wherever the could. Jerusalem was overcrowded of course and therefore at such times the Roman army marched in to keep order. The last thing they wanted was for someone to stir up trouble! Still in their minds that could quickly be settled. For the faithful Jew there was also the air of expectancy at Passover. Would Elijah return? Only a handful had an inkling that he has indeed returned! Jesus did not ever over expose His time in Jerusalem until it was the right moment.
For example with our next Sunday reading it was the feast of tabernacles, a joyful and festival time that brought Jesus to Jerusalem. The feast was half over before Jesus went to the temple to preach. One of His themes was “I am the light of the world: he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of the world.” Shortly after leaving the temple (escaping those who wanted to stone Him) he saw this man born blind.
Now He is going to enact His preaching in the temple.
THE HEALING OF THE MAN BORN BLIND
CH. 9 IN JOHN'S GOSPEL
Last week with Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman we noted how important it was to understand the dramatic techniques of this Gospel in our understanding of the episode. In this episode it is essential to see this as there are more people on the stage and on the wings.
The people involved in these various scenes become real characters. Unlike the blind man/men in the Synoptic who disappear after being healed, this man blind from birth develops into one of the important characters in this gospel. Once again we have the two levels of understanding words: light and darkness, belief and unbelief.
As we read this let us be conscious of these elements but also its theological teaching and catechumen instruction.
Scene I – Jesus with the disciples come across the man born blind.
Seeing this, these disciples with Jesus (were they the twelve or others?) asked the question that every Jew asked when sickness was involved. Who had sinned? The parents or the man? Remember that sickness was always equated with having sinned. Obviously it could not have been the man as he had been blind, it must have been the parents (some rabbis taught that a child could sin in the womb).
Jesus cuts across this old belief by stating it is neither. His reply is very similar to what Yahweh had told Moses to speak before Pharaoh, and to emphasise the Lord had spared him life in order that he might witness His power. “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared before all the earth” (Ex. 9. 16).
While ever He is in the world there will always be light as “I am the light” of it for the time being. Jesus shows this by making clay from spittle and dirt and pastes it on his eyes (Mark’s gospel has a spittle miracle too 7. 33). The man is sent to the pool of Siloam to wash off the clay. Then he can see.
It’s theological meaning
Jesus approached a man who has been blind from birth and has never known light, only a world of darkness; so he has never experienced the wonder of God in nature in all its magnificence and beauty. He represents each one of us, as we are all born blind through original sin, until our eyes are opened by Him who takes away the sin of the world. In this healing, Our Lord’s act is both creative and sacramental. He makes clay, a creative act to give light from darkness, whereby He is re-enacting that first act of the Trinitarian God in creating light out of darkness (Gen. 1.3). It is also sacramental as this visible sign leads to healing grace. Christ anointed the blind man’s eyes with this clay, just as the catechumen is exorcised before baptism, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam, just as the catechumen is led to the baptismal waters. John deliberately informed us, that the meaning of Siloam is “Sent”. The man is sent; he went without hesitation, the same as Christ did when He came to earth when sent by the Father. “Lo I come to do your will, O God.” Fit me a Body, for I resolve to be made Flesh” (Heb. 10. 5, 9). After washing as commanded, the man found that he no longer lived in darkness - he could see, He was a new person, just as the washing in baptism makes the catechumen a new person, the child of God and a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of God.
Scene II - The man’s neighbours and onlookers
We discover like blind Bartimeaus he sat by the roadside. On seeing him, probably no longer sitting, his neighbours look at him. Is it he? Or is it not he? Well one way of finding out was to ask him, are you the one who always sat here? “Yes I am” he said without hesitation.
“How came your eyes to be opened?” It was Jesus who healed me and he proceeded to tell them exactly how it happened. So they wanted to know where Jesus was now, to which he replied, I have no idea.”
Its theological meaning.
At this moment the man only knows Jesus as a person and obviously had not even thought of following him as Bartimaeus did when he was healed. He has to be encountered to begin the process of enlightenment.
Scene III – The people take the man to the Pharisees.
Was it because Jesus had made clay on the Sabbath? Like these people the Pharisees began to enquire how he had received his sight. The man reiterated the details except he only talked about a man healing him. As it was the Sabbath this prompted some of the Pharisees to declare immediately that this man could not possibly be from God as he broke the rules of the Sabbath. Yet others were not too sure. So they approached the man now able to see. What do you think? Jesus is a prophet.
Its theological meaning
The man who now has his sight is beginning to think through his original encounter with Jesus as he is forced to think about what happened under the pressure of others. Enlightenment for him will be gradual, yet this is juxtaposed against the judgment of some of the Pharisees who think they see but immediately prevent light to penetrate their minds and will of course remain in darkness as this would have exposed their own sins.
Scene IV – The questioning of the man’s parents.
Disbelief of what Jesus could do the Pharisees decided to interview the parents to see whether their son has indeed be born blind. They confirm this is their son who was born blind but how he received his sight they don’t want to comment on and so the son is approached once again. By this time he is becoming tired of having to repeat the event all over again. So he takes the initiative. Is it because you also want to become his disciples that you want me to repeat the details? That remarks opens one of the most interesting debates in this gospel. Scornfully, the Pharisees announced we are Moses’ disciple; it is you who is that fellow’s disciple (note how they refer to Jesus in this episode). After all we know from where Moses came from – heaven, but this fellow, who knows? Well, what a strange this for you to say, replied our man becoming more enlightened. Only a man from God could make me see as He does not notice sinners. However God does take notice of one who is devout and obedient. Can’t you people see? It is as clear as the nose on your face, that only a man from God could restore sight! How dare you lecture us, you sinner! What contempt you have was the Pharisees’ reply. Then he was thrown out! Already he has shown that he is a defender of Jesus.
Its theological meaning
In this scene we see the widening of the gap between gaining divine knowledge by the man while the Pharisees are becoming deeper entrenched in their ignorance. As he is challenged even more our courageous man is becoming even more enlightened in debate. He is revealing that he wants to be a child of light and seek more about “this man”. It is made even more remarkable when juxtaposed once again against the Pharisees who want to cling tenaciously to the law. These religious leaders don’t want to be challenged to rethink why God had given laws and how they should be interpreted. They become more obdurate in their rejection of truth. (I wonder how Jesus would react to our church laws today?) So they treat this young man as they will later with Jesus. However the throwing out of the temple/synagogue surely is a reflection as to what happened to Christians later on in the first century. Those who professed a belief in Christ were accursed and thrown out. In this situation it is interesting to note the attitude of the parents. They did not want to cause any waves in the synagogue. In this evangelist’s mind they were the ones who would not confess Jesus to others and therefore were not enlightened at all.
Scene V – Jesus meets up with the man after his expulsion
As soon as Jesus sets eyes on him, he asked him “Do you believe in the Son of Man?
“Who is he? I want to believe in him,” replied the man.
“He is the one speaking to you,” announced Jesus.
With that the young man makes his profound statement, “I do believe, Lord.”
Jesus then announces why He has come into the world for those who have not seen but want to be able to see and be enlightened and for those who think they can see but in reality are blind as they do not want to seek the truth.
Some of the Pharisees overheard what Jesus said, and commented that surely they were not blind. To this Jesus suggests that if they were blind they could not sin but as they see their sin remains.
Its theological meaning.
The man now truly sees with his statement of declaring that after seeing Jesus and being with Him, he is prepared to believe in Him as his Lord. Perhaps the statement he makes is an example of what those first baptised Christians made. He has become truly enlightened and committed to being a disciple. Light has truly triumphed over darkness. However on the other hand the Pharisees are more determined to die in their sins. Judgment has been made and the work of God has been done on this Sabbath day.
OUR JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
This will take us to our Passover – the Christian Passover that we shall celebrate at the Paschal Vigil Liturgy and indeed throughout the Easter season. It is the time when we renew our baptismal vows. In a sense Lent is our preparation time for this just as it is the last push for catechumens in preparation for their baptism. The Jewish Passover recalls the salvific acts that Yahweh did for the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, while the Christian Passover recalls the saving acts God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ. In that beautiful Exsultet we shall hear sung these words:
This is our Passover feast,
when Christ, the true lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the home of all believers
This is the night when you first saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod though the sea.
This is the night when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night when Jesus Christ
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
In another reading on this holy night from Paul’s letter from Romans we hear how we are baptised into the death of Christ and if we are crucified with Him then we shall be like him in resurrection.
It is one of the most important passages in the N.T.
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptised into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the death by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we should also live with him:
Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him;
For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives he lives unto God.
Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Christ Jesus (Romans 6.3-11).
The implication of what our baptism means for us is clearly seen in this week’s Gospel reading from John on the healing of the man born blind. As he was born blind he has lived in darkness since birth. We too lived in darkness until we too washed in the pool of Siloam. Our baptism is just the start in our journey as Christians. As most of us are baptised in infancy it means unlike the man in this reading we won’t encounter the living Lord then. Many never do sadly. Sometimes we only encounter Jesus by enduring many tests and undergoing many trials. Sometimes it is through illness. Whatever it is when we encounter Jesus for the first time, what is the response? A sudden conversion? Or is it like our man who can now see, we need to be challenged about our belief, threatened even for being Christian that will bring us to ask who is this Jesus Christ? Do I really believe in Him as my Lord and Saviour? Having to answer such questions will help us to grow in knowledge and hopefully lead to enlightenment. From the baptismal homily we know as Hebrews, the homilist informs us that enlightenment is a gift of the spirit at baptism. Once enlightened the baptised should be faithful, otherwise they shame Christ (6.4).
Once we have come and seen, remember too that we have to bring others to see the Lord. It would be interesting to know whether the man converted his parents and neighbours who passed by him everyday. Did he share with them his new life? I think he must have, otherwise this tradition would have been lost.
What a wonderful example he is for us to ponder on as we journey nearer to that moment when we shall tell the Lord once again at Easter that I do believe in Him. But we must believe in Him as “the Son of God” and “the light of the world” by whose light we are continually judged but it is also the light enables us to see our deeds, know our thoughts and perceive right from wrong.