ColumnsSunday’s Word

A man born blind

March 22, 2020


1 Sm 16:1, 6-7, 10-13

Samuel finds David with the sheep

Ps 23:1-6

The Lord is my shepherd

Eph 5:8-14

Awake, O sleeper

Jn 9:1-41

A man born blind


There are three dramatic pieces of chapter length, or almost so, in John’s Gospel. They are featured in these weeks of Lent. The first, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, was last Sunday’s Gospel reading. The second it today — the Man Born Blind. The third, the raising of Lazarus, will be next week. Each deserves more than a mere column can offer. And yet …

The story of the Man Born Blind is constructed like a drama. It separates into seven scenes, as determined by characters involved and questions asked by them. The first (9:1-7) tells the story of the healing. Were this one of the other Gospels, it would have been the entire story. Jesus and his disciple encounter the beggar, and the disciples raise a question — Whose fault is it this man’s blindness? Jesus answers no one, but this occasion will allow the world to see that Jesus is the “Light of the World.” This moves the story into the next scene.

Scene two (9:8-12) features the neighbors. They interrogate the blind man about his new condition. They have three questions. Is this the same man who was blind? How did he receive his sight? And, being told it was Jesus, where is he now? The formerly blind man has no answer to the last question. The neighbors take him to the Pharisees.

Scene three (9:13-17) begins a new phase of the story. The Pharisees discover a new aspect to the event — it occurred on a Sabbath. This becomes the focus of their inquiry, not the healing itself. The man describes the event for a second time; his hearers are divided as to whether Jesus is good or bad.

Scene four (9:18-23) has the Pharisees turn from the man to his parents. Again, they have three questions for the parents. Is this your son? Was he born blind? How is it that he can now see? The parents answer the first two, for these are the two they have knowledge, as parents. The third is not. They defer to their son to answer that one. Here we also notice that the parents are very nervous, and we realize that this entire inquiry is threatening for them. We have a glimpse into the social setting of the story, with its intimidating investigators.

Scene five (9:24-34) is the climax of the drama. The investigators return to the blind man, and repeat their questions. Exasperated, he answers again, but with an edge of sarcasm: “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Understandably, this annoys them, and they throw him out of the synagogue.

Scene six (9:35-39) and scene seven (9:40-41) are very brief, but can be distinguished on the basis of the shift in characterization. In the first of these, Jesus returns to the story. We haven’t seen him since the beginning. He returns to support the cast out blind man, and elicits from him an expression of faith. We realize that his affirmation culminates a series of increasingly insightful statements, from “I don’t know” (9:12) to “He is a prophet” (9:17), to “a man from God” (9:33), to the present affirmation — He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him (9:38).

The final scene takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees. Wrapping up the lesson, we have some remarks about faith versus blindness. We realize that in the course of the story different kinds of blindness were involved—the physical blindness of the man, the spiritual blindness which the man overcame during the course of the story, even while the Pharisees returned into blindness as the same time.

For reflection: Today’s other readings feature shepherds. Today’s Gospel story itself leads directly into the passage of the Good Shepherd (10:1-21).

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.