As we progress through the Lenten season towards Holy Week, we are given a Gospel that reveals the spiritual progress of a man blind from birth. The account begins with Jesus and the disciples seeing this man and discussing his situation of blindness. Blindness, like any infirmity or sickness, was considered a curse and was therefore seen as a result of sin. This idea is reflected in the insult that the Pharisees throw at the man after his cure: “You were born totally in sin….” Thus, the disciples ask Jesus if the man’s disability is due to his own sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus’ reply is decisive and instructive: one’s disability is not the result of sin but is rather a canvas upon which “the works of God might be made visible.” Against the darkness of the situation of this blind man, Jesus will reveal himself to be the light of the world. Similarly, we can say that the darkness of our sin condition, which we are addressing in Lent through prayer, sacrifice, and charity, is the backdrop upon which the bright light of Easter will shine.

To experience the light of Easter, we must go through the journey from blindness to sight, like the man born blind. The Lord himself guides us through the journey. As today’s Psalm reminds us, the Lord is our shepherd; therefore we lack nothing that we need. When we are in danger of stumbling because of our blindness, he guides us in right paths. As we walk through dark valleys, our Shepherd is at our side. Our blindness, then, or whatever weakness or infirmity we may have, is not merely a handicap, but a condition that moves us to dependence on the Lord. It sets the stage for the Lord to display his greatness.

Jesus uses clay and then washing as the means of healing the blind man. Mention of clay recalls the story of creation, where “God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). This image reminds us that whatever blindness we are experiencing, it is not what defines us. The truth of our personhood is that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and this truth is at the source of our vision. The action of washing is a reminder of Baptism, the precious gift by which we were submerged and brought to life again through Jesus Christ. We rose from the font healed and filled with grace, empowered to live a new life, free from sin. Like the blind man, through clay and washing – through our creation in God’s likeness and our new creation in Baptism – we are able to see!

After being prodded to say more about Jesus, the man cured from blindness declares, “He is a prophet!” The Jews had a long and respected tradition of prophecy. The prophets of old spoke in the name of God. Sometimes they were referred to as “seers” because they saw things from God’s perspective; they also enabled those who listened to them to “see” the will of God. One of the first great prophets in the Old Testament was Samuel, whom we see in action in today’s first reading.

The Lord tells Samuel to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. But the instructions are incomplete: Jesse has eight sons; which one has the Lord chosen? Samuel cannot tell on his own. In order to be faithful to his mission, he must abandon any tendency to judge by appearances. God has a different standard: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” The chosen son is the one whom everyone considered the least qualified, the youngest, David. Samuel knows it because the Lord reveals it to him. The prophet can “see” and reveal because he listens. When the man in the Gospel declares that Jesus is a prophet, he also takes on the role of a prophet. He who can now see is revealing Jesus to them. This is also our call: as the Lord gives us new sight, we are to share it with others.

The man’s journey is not yet complete. Jesus is more than a prophet. Alas, worldly people find it hard to comprehend and accept spiritual things. The man healed from blindness is relentlessly challenged, maligned, discredited, and shamed. But all the insults and threats bear fruit: he recognizes and accepts Jesus more and more deeply. Only when he is thrown out of the temple can he complete his spiritual journey. Jesus finds him in what looks like a cursed situation and invites him to take another step of faith. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?… the one speaking with you is he.” The man receives his spiritual sight, expresses his faith, and worships Jesus as Lord. Worship of the Lord is the ultimate destination of our spiritual journey.

What made it possible for the man healed from blindness to progress to the point of deep belief? Mysteriously, it was the experience of being rejected and thrown out. We can understand this to be his conformity to Jesus Christ, who will himself be rejected, attacked, discredited, and shamed. Like a cursed man, he will die on the Cross. The way of the Cross, the path of following Jesus, is the underlying truth of our Lenten journey. Lent leads us to the Paschal Triduum. In this journey, we discover – if the eyes of our hearts are open – that suffering can lead us to deeper vision, to knowing Jesus, and to true worship. St. Paul proclaims to us: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light!”

Do I experience my blindness – any weakness or infirmity – as a means to become dependent on the Lord? How does this lead me to a deeper knowledge of Jesus? Why do I tend to judge on appearances and not by the actions of another?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.