On the Healing of the Blind Man from Birth
5th Sunday after Pascha | 6th Sunday
The blind man from birth.
“When he washed in the pool he was baptised in Christ.”
This is the Fifth Sunday after Pascha, also known as the Sunday of the man blind from birth who, according to St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great and St Irenaeus, was born without eyes, and that after washing his eyes in the holy pool, the clay was not removed but was fashioned into eyes instead.
We see that this Sunday has many themes in common with the two previous Sundays: namely the Sunday of the Paralytic and of the Samaritan woman. Firstly, we note that ‘water’ is a running thread between these three events. The paralytic of Bethesda was waiting for 38 years by the edge of the pool of Bethesda to be healed. The Samaritan woman met Jesus at Jacob’s well to draw water where Christ spoke to her saying; “Give Me a drink.” As for today’s miracle, Jesus implored the blind man, whose eyes He had just smeared with mud, to “go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. These repeated mentions of water could possibly reference the image of Baptism.
Secondly, we note a common subject of faith and obedience to the Lord. Jesus said to the paralytic: “Rise, take up your pallet and walk”, and he obeyed, went to the temple to pray, then told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. The Samaritan woman left her water jar at the well and went into the city to preach to her people that the Messiah is here. As for the blind man, he obeyed with the fullness of faith by washing in the pool of Siloam as Christ had asked him.
Thirdly, we note a gradual knowledge of the person of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer. Prior to these miracles, Jesus would have been viewed as just an ordinary person; the miracles gradually revealed Him to be our saviour. We can see that the paralytic had no knowledge of who Jesus really was through his response, “Lord, I have no man.” After his healing, he met Jesus in the temple and immediately knew Him to be the Saviour, so he went and spread the word to the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. As for the Samaritan woman, Jesus would have appeared to be a strange Jewish man asking her for a drink from the well. It was only after Christ dialogued with her that she discovered that He was a prophet. After Jesus revealed to her the secrets of her life and enlightened her by the light of divine knowledge, she became Photini (the enlightened) well and truly, and went and preached to her people saying: “Can this be the Christ?”
When the Pharisees asked the blind man “How were your eyes opened?”, he responded with: “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes.” After the blind man realised that God does not listen to sinners, he recognised Him as the prophet. But after he met him in person and asked Him “Do you believe in the Son of God?” he said to him: “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
The image of Jesus as “the Light of the world” and “the Living Water” are two images that dominate the Gospel of John the Apostle.
In Chapter 9, the theme of Christ as the Light of the World returns in the miracle of healing the man blind from birth (John 9: 1-37). This miracle comes after the Jews tried stoning Jesus after He announced to them, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” (John 8:58). So, He disappeared and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, until he saw a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples questioned the plight of this man: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This question sprang out of the opinion of the ignorant multitude, who thought that diseases were the punishments of sin.
Who sinned, this man? Saint Cyril supposes that by this question the disciples were imbued with the error of Pythagoras and Plato, who thought that souls existed before their bodies, and that for their sins they were thrust down into bodies, as Origen afterwards held. But this is a philosophical position that was not easily known by the simple and right-thinking Galilean fisherman.
Or his parents? Perhaps this is a reflection of the proverb that was prevalent in the Old Testament that says: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge”. This was a popular proverb, but the main concept of this parable transcended many misconceptions, the most important of which is that God punishes children for the sins of their fathers. God vehemently rejected this myth in the Old Testament when He spoke through Prophet Ezekiel saying: “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord GOD, you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die”. (Ezekiel 18: 2-4).
According to Jesus the Teacher, sin was not the reason why this man was born blind. Instead, Christ highlights the cause to be so that “the works of God should be made manifest in him”. God has always and continues to provide an alternative or unexpected answer, different to that born out of human folly or ignorance. The Lord says: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” (Isaiah 55:8).
In this Gospel we read that Jesus “spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay”. By using the clay, the Lord showed that it was He who fashioned Adam out of clay as written in scripture: “Then God formed man out of dust from the ground,” (Genesis 2: 7). Saint Chrysostom says: “The symbolic reason was to signify that He was the self-same (God) who formed man out of clay and that it was His work to form and fashion again (by restoring his sight) a man who was formed by Him but deformed by blindness”.
After this, the Master ordered him, saying: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So, he went and washed and came back, seeing. We understand that Christ used spittle to give sight to the blind man before He sent him to the pool of Siloam in order to make it clear that He, not the water of that spring, was the source of the miracle. Blessed Augustine says: “Christ anointed the eyes of the blind, but he did not see, for when He anointed him, He most likely made him a catechumen. He sends him to the pool of Siloam. For being baptised in Christ he is illuminated”.
The blind obeyed with faith, went, was washed, and received sight! Jesus did not send him there because his eye sockets were covered in clay, nor did the pool have healing power, but instead to test his faith and obedience. After being washed, the blind man received sight of twofold significance: physical sight, by means of which he saw the world around him, and spiritual sight, by which he recognised the Creator of the world.
The neighbours and those who had been witness to this man as a beggar said: “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”, followed with incredulous questioning, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.”
The blind man had possibly learned of Jesus’ name from bystanders, yet was still ignorant of the fact that Christ was the Saviour. The blind man would have esteemed Jesus as a holy man or prophet, forming this opinion perhaps from the somewhat indistinct rumour concerning Him that went about all Jerusalem.
So “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” The multitude took the now-seeing man to the Pharisees for them to bear witness to the miracle with their own eyes, which they could not deny. The multitude’s purpose was to glorify God, but the Pharisees, on the other hand, sought to divert attention from the importance of this great miracle and turn it into a reason for the condemnation of Christ, saying that He did not respect the sanctity of Sabbath. Not once do they mention the good deed, but only the violation of the Sabbath.
Furthermore, the Pharisees did not believe that this man had been blind from birth and was now all-seeing. They summoned his parents who admitted that he had been blind and that now he wasn’t. However, they denied their knowledge of the miracle of their son’s sight, and of the one who had fashioned their son’s eyes and gave him sight. This is most likely due to fear of being expelled from the synagogue “for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God”. (John 12:43).
To further implicate Jesus and highlight their supposed accusation of Him, the Pharisees called the now-seeing man to interrogate him and involve him in the same ‘guilt’ with Christ: “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” This was their attempt at masking their judgement with feigned interest in the miracle itself, further compelling the once-blind man to admit that Jesus had made clay and healed him on the Sabbath.
A division then split the Pharisees over the person of Jesus. A man was once blind since birth and now he sees; the miracle is as clear as day. How can a sinner perform such a miracle? Here, the man who was once blind and now, having received his physical and spiritual insight, answered them with a decisive theological answer, saying to them: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” We see that he theologises after being inwardly enlightened. He was inwardly enlightened with the light of divine knowledge after being baptised in the pool of Siloam, and now he is witnessing the Light and Truth.
His answer made him vulnerable to ridicule and insult from the Pharisees. They mocked him saying: “You are blind because you were born in utter sin”. Here they see and deny the works of God because of their pride and spiritual blindness.
Lord Jesus found him after they put him out of the synagogue, and asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said: “Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” Then Jesus said to him: “You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks to you.” The Lord Jesus reaffirms what He had previously said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM” but He has now proven it by word and deed.
The Lord opened not only the physical eyes of the blind man but also the eyes of his soul (or the Nous), of inner spiritual insight. The blind man saw and knew the Lord and worshipped him, but “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Amen.
“Since my soul’s noetic eyes are blind and sightless, I come unto Thee, O Christ, as did the man who was born blind. And in repentance I cry to Thee: of those in darkness Thou art the most radiant Light”. (KONTAKION FOR BLIND MAN SUNDAY).
+ Metropolitan Basilios