Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Fourth Sunday of Lent (15 March 2015)

Gospel for Fourth Sunday of Lent (15 March 2015)

As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a
sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin
remains.” (John 9:1-41 – NRSV. An abbreviated version may be read – John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38)

Introductory notes

Scholars cannot confidently give time or place for this event. Given the connections with Chapter 8 and 10, the event probably takes place in Jerusalem between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication.

The author does not indicate how he knows this man was blind from birth.

The disciples make the common assumption of the time that suffering – in this instance, blindness – is a result of sin. The Book of Job is a denial of this position. St Paul’s statement to the community in Galatia suggests he has moved beyond any simplistic connection between physical disability and sin: “You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:13. See also 2Corinthians 12:7)

“Siloam” actually does not mean “the Sent One”. It literally means a discharge of waters. Francis Moloney observes that “‘Siloam’ is close enough for popular etymology to make the link.” (Francis J Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, Liturgical Press, 1998, 297)

When the cured man declares, “I am the man” (9:9), his simple statement suggests identity with Jesus. In John 8:58, for example, we have heard Jesus declare to the religious authorities: “Before Abraham was I am”.

“A man blind from birth” is likely to be a beggar, one who is very dependent on the generosity of the community. He would not, therefore, want to upset the community or do anything that would have them exile him.

“I am the light of the world” – see also John 8:12-20. Light – and its contrast with darkness – is a favourite theme of John. Recall, for example, the moment in which Judas’ betrayal is signaled; “And it was night.” (John 13:30)

The man obeys Jesus and goes off to was himself in the pool of Siloam. He has not yet seen, but he obeys. But it is very clear that the healing comes not from his obedience but from Jesus, the “light of the world”.

It is not clear what the spittle and mud on the eyes mean here. However, it was clear in that society that human excreta – like spittle – made one unclean. Jesus is violating a fundamental cultural norm here. This is subversive behaviour. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (John 11:48)

Here is a wild question: Could this man who is cured of blindness be John himself? John certainly has a lot of detailed, inside information about this story!


This event offers us a meditation on the nature of faith.

The cure of this man is more about his soul than his eyes. “Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him’. Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he’. He said, ‘Lord, I believe’.”

The once-blind man, now cured, can in fact see this human being – Jesus – before him. But he does not yet really ‘see’ him. The healing of his spiritual blindness – something the Pharisees cannot receive – comes later, almost unnoticed. The deeper healing Jesus brings to this man is in the revelation that he is the Christ, ‘the light of the world’.

Recall Jesus’ later encounter with the doubting Thomas: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’.” (John 20:29)

We can say that faith is ‘seeing’ with the eyes of the soul. It is enlightenment. The ‘seeing’ at this level is a being taken hold of or a being seized as St Paul refers to it in his letter to the Philippians (see 3:12). The prophet Jeremiah says it is ‘like a fire burning’ in his bones (see Jeremiah 20:7-9).

Faith cannot come as the conclusion to an argument. It cannot be earned. Faith cannot be acquired by discipline and effort. Faith is gift. It is also cure – cure for our blindness, a removal of the scales from our eyes (see Acts 9:1-19). Pray for the gift to see with the eyses of the soul.