Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Great Lent Week 6, Sin
Volume 6 No. 336 March 11, 2016
We have come to the last Sunday in Holy Lent before the Palm Sunday. This Sunday, we recall the miracle of healing the blind man (Samiyo in Syriac). The episode is described in John 9:1-41.

This has to be one of the largest Gospel reading we do in church outside Passion week. (There are several composite Gospel passages (incorporating all the 4 Gospels) read on Good Friday; but then, on Good Friday we attend the service with the expectation of hearing and meditating on what happened to Jesus on that hour and also listening to long sedros. But on ordinary Sundays, usually the Gospel readings are rather short.)

I recall very clearly the first time I listened to this Gospel reading. I must have been between 5 and 7. I have accompanied my grandmother to St. Simon's church in Velloor, near Kottayam. (The photo of recently remodeled church is on the cover of this issue.) This church, being beside Kottayam-Kumily Road, was very convenient to access; so my grandmother who was very old at that time (must be in her 80s) and had difficulty walking, attended this church on ordinary Sundays.

As a kid, I was wondering listening to the long questions asked by Pharisees and priests to the healed blind man and to their parents; they almost annoy you. Makes you wonder, what is wrong with these people? Isn't it enough that a man who was born blind could see the world for the first time. Isn't it time to organize a thanksgiving service to God for this miracle than trying to find fault with the person who was healed and his parents undergoing a miracle in the Sabbath.

John's discourses are long and are often very difficult to understand. The style of presentation is very different than the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. But then John's writing is often like a Ph D. dissertation. It is well researched, has little details like where it happened etc. (When archeologists dig the area, John's descriptions come out handy in identifying the artifacts.) So, for study, it gives a gold mine of information; but the first time it is hard to read or understand, not to speak of standing and listening to the Gospel being read by an elderly priest in broken sentences on Sunday morning.

Meditating on this biblical passage nearly 60 years after I first recall hearing it, the first impression I have is the victim mentality of Jewish people at that time. According to Pharisees, when someone is handicapped, it is due to sin his parents committed or he has committed and it is God's way of punishment. So, the victim, rather than being comforted is being more traumatized. Most of these people are treated as outcasts and marginalized. [Recall the leper we read about on the 2nd Sunday.] Where is the compassion?

To this society, the son of God appears. What a welcome change! We see in several of the miracles, Jesus telling the person that his/her sins are forgiven. Of course, the priests will jump up and object to it saying that only God can forgive sins. What they didn't recognize was that God was in front of them at that time healing the sins. In a society where women are treated like slaves with no rights, Jesus showed respect to both sexes as both women and men are created in the image of God.

Jesus knew that, in addition to bodily healing, these victims also needed emotional healing. We call it holistic healing or healing of mind, body and spirit. They have to be cleansed of all the real and perceived sins and has to be "reborn." What they need is some unconditional love and compassion and reminded that God loves them.

One thing different about today's healing compared to others we study during the Great Lent is that this miracle involved Jesus spitting on the soil, making a mud out of it by mixing the spittle and the clay and then pasting the mud over the eyes of the blind man. Jesus then asked the blind man to go to the pool of siloam (which means 'sent') and wash the mud off his eyes. Obviously there was quite lot of work was involved. Jesus could have just touched him and healed him or healed him with a word like he did with others like the paralytic. So, I wonder, why all these elaborate arrangements?

First, Jesus told the disciples that this person's blindness has nothing to do with the sins committed by him or his parents (contrary to what is taught by Pharisees). So, why is he blind? Jesus said that it is so that the work of God can be manifested through him. Can you imagine how relieving that is to his parents? They were blaming themselves for the condition of their child all these years. A savior comes and tells them it is OK. Jesus said the same thing when confronted with the sufferings or death too. So, everything we face in life has a purpose for God. God has a plan for us. If we surrender to the will of God and let him do what was His plan, we would find meaning in our lives. Just like the blind man, do not try to understand what is the purpose of God, just do what God tells us to do. We will see the majesty of God manifesting in our lives.

Dr. Ray Pritchard explained this concept well:

"When we want what God wants, when we surrender our will and our agenda, when his purposes become our purposes, then our lives will be dramatically changed, and we will find purpose and meaning in everything that happens to us. Life becomes an adventure with God every day. When that happens, our lives become joyful, visibly different, and eternally significant."

Theological experts also suggest that the working with mud was a creation process. Remember God created Adam by first making a model in mud and then blowing the spirit into him. Here, Jesus spat on the clay, mixed the spittle with the clay and anointed the eyes of the person born blind. Was Jesus creating a new 'eyeball' for the blind man using the same mud we are all (and the blind man too) is made of? So, what we were observing in this miracle is the Lord's power of creation being manifested in this blind man.

This story of the healing of blind man in John 9 is linked thematically to the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the setting for John chapters 7 and 8. The Pool of Siloam, where the man born blind is sent to wash his eyes, figured in water ceremonies at the festival, and Jesus has already invited the thirsty to come to him and drink on the great day of the festival in 7:37-38. Light was also an important theme, and Jesus declares himself the light of the world at the festival in 8:12 and again in 9:5. First by "I am" statement, Jesus has declared his divinity. (God, when asked by Moses what his name is, said, 'I am who I am.' So, Israelites often associated God with "I am".) Jesus is the light that takes away darkness. Darkness is the absence of light. What better way to show the power of light than making a blind man see?

Underlying the discussion of light and sight and blindness is a question about who Jesus is, the question that we were examining in all Lenten readings and meditations as we are getting ready to partake in Jesus' passion. Alongside this miracle in John chapter 9 is the question of who is sinful and what constitutes sin. We examine sin in more detail in today's Journal.

The wages of sin is death. Jesus came to this world to redeem us from our sins by his sacrifice. We are in dark when we are under the bondage of Satan and sin. Jesus said (verse 5), "I am the light of the world." God's light has come into the world, and it is shining on everything.

Jesus, the Light, dispelled darkness, the darkness of Death by Life, the darkness of Evil by Goodness and darkness of Hatred with light of Love.

Ask God to open our eyes, let the light enter our lives. Let's walk with Jesus, in the light.

We have only scratched the surface on the themes introduced in this miracle/sign (semeia) of Jesus.

John's Gospel features seven signs that point us toward Jesus' identity. They are:

turning the water into wine (chap. 2)
healing the Galilean official's son (chap. 4)
healing the invalid at Bethzatha (chap. 5)
feeding the 5,000 (chap. 6)
walking on the sea (chap. 6)
healing the blind beggar (chap. 9)
raising Lazarus (chap. 11)

On the first Sunday of the Great Lent, we have looked at the sign of turning water into wine at Cana. Today we looked at the healing of the blind man. Next week we will look at the raising of Lazarus.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World


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