Today’s long Gospel story of a blind man’s conversion can be quite complicated if we do not clarify some points on its background. This story in many ways describes the pattern of how conversion takes place and could very well speak of our own conversion story.
The first point that I would like to highlight is that for the Jews in the Old Testament, suffering and sin are inseparable. When a person is sick, it is because either he has sinned or his ancestors have sinned and passed down their sins to him.
This world view is not strange to many of us even today. If an accident happens e.g. a fall, a car accident, or a sudden discovery of a sickness etc, it is common to hear of people holding similar views. Only last night, when I was talking to one of my relatives, he remarked, “There were times when I could not understand why I had to go through so much pains and trials, and I ask God, ‘Lord, what sins have I committed to deserve such sufferings?” Does this ring a bell too for some of us here? Have we also not heard this before? Do we also not often hold the view that our suffering is due to our past and present sins?
The second point to highlight is that for the Jews, only a prophet, a man of God; a man who is close to God can cure through God’s powers. And that is why if someone claims that he is a prophet, he has to prove is authenticity by performing miraculous signs that he is indeed sent by God. The Jews held on to this view firmly and rigidly; understandably so because there were many false prophets, who made false claims, performed false signs for false purposes, and in the end led people astray and away from God.
The third is this. Jews believed that a person can begin to sin even when he is an embryo in his mother’s womb. And so when the opening line of today’s Gospel says that Jesus not only came across a blind man, but a blind man who was born blind from birth, it highlights even more clearly that this man is sick because he had been sinning from the time of his birth or even when he was in his mother’s womb. And this is why Jesus disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents sinned?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned.” “He was born blind so that the works of God might be shown through him.”
From these basic background points, we can now more clearly understand why the Pharisees were frantically questioning the blind man to find out who, why and what did Jesus do to his blindness. So, they asserted, “For our part, we know that this man is a sinner, “What did he do to you?” “How did he open your eyes?” And when the blind man courageously said, “I have told you this and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear this again? Do you want to be his disciples too?” . . . We can now understand why the Pharisees were furious at the blind man’s answer and were threatening him, “Are you trying to teach us? . . . and you a sinner through and through, since you were born?” And they drove him away. Let us next note that in St John’s Gospel, miracles are signs of God’s glory and power. But, in the Synoptic Gospels, miracles are signs of God’s compassion. The supreme truth that is proclaimed to us today is that through miracles, like the cure of the blind man, God is showing His Glory through His Compassionate Love for us; desiring to restore and unite us to Him so that we can gain eternal life and happiness with Him. That is why Jesus said, “He was born blind so that the works of God might be shown through him.”
Only last night I met one of my uncles who is 92 years old; let us call him uncle Peter. In between his meals and reading the newspaper from cover to cover, he says he prays twenty Rosaries every day; one Rosary for each person he wants to pray for, I obviously asked him whether he could include me in his prayers. He immediately said, “Yes.” I hope he heard me correctly and is praying twenty one Rosaries daily as from today. He also said that he could now pray the whole Novena prayer and booklet by hard.
But, before he could memorise the prayers, he one day found that he was loosing his eyesight, and the doctors were saying that it was incurable. So, he told God in his prayers, “Lord, if you don’t cure my eyes I cannot read, and if I cannot read, I cannot pray. Soon after that his eyesight improved and he could read again. Then, later he became quite sick and had to go for some CT scans and the other medical tests. He then prayed to God, “Lord,” he said, “If I fall sick, I cannot drive and if I cannot drive, how am I to go for Mass every day?” The doctors were surprised to find that soon after that he recovered and his sickness disappeared without medical attention. Uncle Peter tells me, “Every day, I talk to God directly and I tell Him everything that I feel in my heart.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, like uncle Peter, we have to believe firmly that God constantly shows us His Compassionate Love at all times. If our relationship with God, Our Lord is personal, we will surely find that, instead of feeling depressed about our pains and trials of life, they instead bring out the strength, beauty, endurance and nobility that are within our hearts. And we will find how true it is that God indeed loves us compassionately and fully at all times.
Even as this is true of God, I can imagine that for many of us, we may say that our relationship with God is not so personal and can be somewhat distant and we pray to him only when we are in great need or in a crisis.
Perhaps, the blind man in today’s Gospel can give us some insights of how as he progressed gradually towards his conversion, we too can take note of the pattern of conversion that we could use for ourselves, if our faith in Jesus is not yet very personal.
The blind man we know was a public beggar, and when Jesus saw him, He cured him through making a paste with his spittle, and put it on his eyes and asked him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. When he was first questioned by his neighbours, he simply affirmed that he was indeed the blind beggar who is cured by a person called Jesus.
Not being satisfied, his neighbours brought him to the Pharisees to be questioned. The Pharisees asserted, “This man cannot be from God, because He is a sinner; he does not keep the Sabbath. How could he produce such signs like this? What do you have to say? The bind beggar courageously replied, “He is a prophet.” In saying this he knew that he could be expelled from the synagogue and banned from entering it for prayers. Yet, he stood up for Jesus.
Jesus knew that all of this was happening to the blind man. And so when Jesus met him, He asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man? Sir, he blind man replied, “Tell me who he is so that I may believe in Him.” Jesus said, “You are looking at Him; he is speaking to you.” The man said, “Lord, I believe, and worshipped Him.”
If we reflect on the blind man’s conversion pattern, we find that initially, even when he was cured, he only knew that a man named Jesus cured him. There was little knowledge of Jesus, yet out of compassion, Jesus cured him. If we reflect on our lives, we too will find that this is happening to us all the time, regardless of whether we have a deep personal relationship with the Him or not. Why is this so? This is because Jesus’ Compassionate Love always cares and provides for our needs and longs that we be united with Him and gain eternal happiness. It is up to us to open hearts to Him.
In the next step of the blind man’s conversion process, when he was questioned by the Pharisees, he began to realise that, Jesus was indeed a prophet since he was able to cure him. He must have pondered daily on who Jesus is after his cure. Our realization of who Jesus must likewise be nurtured in our daily living. This will help us open our hearts more fully to His graces. Unless we do this, our relationship with Jesus would remain distant and if Jesus is a stranger to us, then like the Pharisees, even as Jesus continues to perform miracles after miracles in our daily living, we would still be blind to His compassionate love for us.
But, if we do reflect on how much Jesus loves us in our daily life, then, like the blind man and also like uncle Peter, we too will be able to see and experience deeply the glory of God’s compassionate love for us in our daily living
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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