Pastoral Reflections

4th Sunday of Lent – 2017

In Suetonius’ De Vita Caesarum (The Life and Exploits of Julius Caesar, section 37), upon entering Gaul, (modern day France) Caesar is quoted as saying, “veni, vidi, vinci”. Translated from the Latin into English, Caesar’s words are: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The blind man in today’s Gospel, when he was asked how his eyes were opened, answered, “I went, I washed, I saw” (John 9:11).

No doubt, Jesus could have healed the blind man instantly when he met him, just as he instantly performed so many other healing miracles. Instead Jesus sends the blind man to the Pool of Siloam to wash. Obviously Jesus wished to teach the blind man something, much as he wants to teach us something.

It is when the blind man washes his eyes in the Pool of Siloam that he receives his sight again. A number of times previously in John’s Gospel Jesus taught about the necessity of baptism as a condition for entry into the Kingdom of heaven. For example, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…no one can enter the kingdom of God without (first) being born of water and the Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) Jesus said to the woman in Samaria, “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) During the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus proclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” (John 7:37-38)

To make sure that we know Jesus is talking about baptism, John adds his own comment, “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.” (John 7:39) In today’s Gospel Jesus sends the blind man to Siloam, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:4). Here again John adds his own comment to make sure we understand what is really happening; he wrote, Siloam means “Sent.” In any other New Testament book this might not be so significant but in John’s Gospel every word is noteworthy, as he is the only one of the evangelists that was a direct witness to Jesus.

John’s word “sent” is certainly significant because many times in John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus has been sent by the Father. John records that Jesus’ food is to do the will of him who sent him (4:34). John states that whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (5:23). John records Jesus saying, ‘these works that I perform testify…that the Father has sent me’. (5:36) So when John tells us that the blind man washed in the Pool of Siloam which means ‘Sent’, and came back seeing, he wants us to understand that the blind man washed himself in Jesus and came back seeing. In other words, what happened is that the blind man was washed by Jesus.

Jesus taught three times earlier in this Gospel about the gift of the Spirit during baptism, and now this blind man washes in Siloam – that is, he really washes in Jesus - and is cured of his blindness.

The blind man does not yet have faith in Jesus but after that event, that will also now change. The man who had been blind is put through a series of tests by the Pharisees. During this interrogation we see two things happening; as the blind man grows in his understanding of who Jesus is, simultaneously the Pharisees grow more and more blind to who Christ is. The trials and tests that the Pharisees put the blind man through did not weaken him but only strengthened and emboldened him. We see this above all in the way that he spoke about Jesus. At first, when questioned about how he received his sight, he simply says, “the man called Jesus…” (9:11); then he says Jesus is a prophet (9:17), then he says Jesus is from God (9:33). The blind man will come to full faith in Jesus when he meets him for the second time, but his faith in Jesus has already been crystallized through a series of trials before that second encounter.
The blind man’s parents are also questioned but they do not have the strength to stand up to the Pharisees and simply say, “We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes”. They go on to say, “ask him…” (9:21)

So we have the Pharisees going deeper into darkness, becoming more and more blind, as the drama progresses. On the other hand, the man who had been blind continues to grow in his understanding of Jesus, while his parents are afraid to witness to Jesus. The Pharisees continue ridiculing the man and eventually throw him out.

Jesus meets the man for the second time after he has been expelled by the Pharisees and now we reach the climax of our drama. Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man (9:35) and the man asks who is the Son of Man (9:36). The term ‘Son of Man’ was a contemporary euphemism for the term Messiah. Jesus reveals that he is the Son of Man and the man responds in faith, “I believe Lord” and he worshipped Jesus (9:38). In the Greek version of John’s Gospel, John clearly indicates that the man went down on his knees before Jesus. Going to the Pool of Siloam to wash was only a preparatory journey. The man would make an even bigger journey, a journey to faith in Jesus, as he was tested. We can see this chapter being played out all around us today, as people now act in the same way as the Pharisees, the blind man and his parents. There are those like the Pharisees who are blind to Jesus and live in darkness. They persecute and ridicule those who have faith in Jesus. There are others like the man’s parents who are afraid to witness to Jesus because they don’t want to disturb the comfort of their lives. These are people who say, ‘yes, I am a believer’, but keep it a secret. They advocate for the world view of things and say, ‘what right do I have to impose my personal beliefs on others’? They want Jesus but they do not want the discomfort of the cross. What about us?

We have been washed in the Siloam of baptism. Like the blind man, we have hopefully grown in our faith in Jesus through trials and tests just as the blind man went from saying “the man called Jesus, to Jesus is a prophet, to Jesus is from God”. The crosses and trials that have come our way have hopefully helped us to grow like the blind man so that we are not afraid to witness to Jesus no matter what.

Today, Jesus stands before us and asks for our everything, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Are we prepared to say, “Yes Lord, we believe and we unequivocally worship you!” Are we prepared to get down on our knees and worship Jesus like the blind man did?

As we continue in our Lenten journey, let us pray for God’s grace to be that refined witness of Jesus in a world that needs him more now than ever. The reality is that we are one generation from atheism in our world. Are we willing to openly advocate for Jesus no matter what, no matter the pain or ridicule, or will we not risk our losing our comfort and be content with the fading of God and Christianity from our midst?

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