A New Vision
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday). Fr Timothy Calvert preaches on the gift of sight to the man born blind.
This Gospel does not tell of the healing of a blind man, as we find in the other Gospels, but of a man blind from his birth. What’s the difference? I can imagine losing sight, although it’s hard to begin to appreciate the courage it would require to live with the loss of what is so easily taken for granted. But how does a person born blind experience the world? How do they imagine things known through the other senses, but never seen, never looked upon?
That this man in the Gospel is born blind is no peripheral detail. He has not lost a capacity for light; he did not have it from the beginning. He does not deal with light, darkness, shadow and reflection. Jesus will not restore sight to this man: he will grace him with a capacity he has never had. This miracle does not point just to the restoration of our human nature, but also to its total re-creation.
‘Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.’
What Jesus is to do will bear a resonance of the very beginnings of creation: he will reach into the very origins of human beings, and do something that has never been done before, restore their capacity for the light which shines in the darkness.
As God made man from the dust from the ground, so Jesus remakes the man born blind with the dust of the Jerusalem street, and forms him anew. As the first man received the breath of life and became a living being, so this man is anointed with the dust mixed with spittle from the mouth of Jesus, and becomes transformed beyond recognition.
His neighbours will ask of him ‘is this the same man who used to sit and beg.’ Like Jesus manifested after his resurrection, he is not easily recognisable, so deep and profound is the transformation that has happened to him.
Until this point the man has been a passive witness in the story — almost ‘without form and void’! Now he finds his voice, and begins to speak for himself. His parents refuse to answer for him — his present state is beyond anything he received from them. He even begins to question the Pharisees who have come to question him: with his sight has come an increasing insight into who Jesus is, and the gift he brings.
So the man owes his new being not to his parental origins, or to his pedigree in the Law of Moses, but to the sudden unearned gift of the encounter with Jesus. Falling down to worship Jesus, he recognises him not just as the source of his sight, but more importantly as the origin of a whole new way of being.
In Jesus we are elevated into a new life. As the man born blind received a new capacity, a new way of experiencing the world, so too we receive a new capacity for a deeper way of life, to come to experience the familiar world around us in the unfamiliar light of Jesus, who is forever the Light of the World.
Our parents in the garden had their eyes opened, but they saw how far we had fallen from God, saw their nakedness and were ashamed: we have our eyes opened in a new way, as did the disciples at Emmaus when they saw the Lord in the scriptures and the breaking of bread; and we perceive the new clothing of our humanity with the divine nature.
We have received the capacity for living this new life in our baptism, when the Lord anointed us with his own Spirit. But this capacity in us weakens through sin: we become more accustomed to darkness than to this new divine light. And so each year we pass through this holy season of Lent, when we open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus, and prepare once more to see the world anew in the blazing furnace of the paschal fire: a light lit in a darkened tomb two thousand years ago, nevermore to be put out.