Opening the Word: Spiritual vision

Streams of light shine brightly and streaks of darkness run deeply throughout Scripture, beginning with the opening verses of Genesis: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness” (1:3-4). 

St. John’s Gospel opens with a parallel, describing the Incarnate Word as the “light of the human race,” explaining, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). “I am the light of the world,” Jesus proclaimed, “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).  

In today’s Gospel, the story of Jesus healing the man born blind reveals how some choose to embrace light and life while others submerge themselves in darkness and death. Whereas God in Genesis separated the light from the darkness in creating the world, St. John describes the God-man separating the light from darkness — first, in performing a physical miracle and, then, in shining the light of faith on the blind man. The man born blind embarked on a journey into the light, even as the Pharisees stumbled further into the darkness. 

Jesus’ act of making mud from his spittle and smearing it on the man’s eyes was completely gratuitous; the man had not said anything. Rather, he listened and obeyed, matter-of-factly telling his astounded neighbors that Jesus had told him to wash in the pool of Siloam, “So I went there and washed and was able to see.” He knew Jesus had healed him, but little else. Yet he must have spent time mulling over the miracle, for when the Pharisees pressed him about the identity of Jesus, he said, “He is a prophet.” 

This growth in spiritual vision paralleled the physical transformation from being blind to having sight. And it continued, for when questioned a second time by the Pharisees the man mocked their refusal to accept his testimony and the obvious miracle. They, for their part, unwittingly admitted the truth: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” 

So, the man born blind initially knew little, but grew in true knowledge, while the Pharisees, who claimed to know much, demonstrated how they could be taught nothing about God — or by God. The man made an astute theological deduction: Since only someone from God could heal him of blindness, Jesus was from God. Rather than admit their mistake and acknowledge their blindness, the Pharisees labeled the man a sinner and cast him out. 

There was one final step for the man to take into the light of faith. Again, it was Jesus who sought him out and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” God, the lover of mankind, keeps offering faith, often through prodding questions: Who am I? Do you believe in me? Do you need me? The man, upon learning that he was gazing on the face of the Son of Man, simply said, “I do believe, Lord” — and worshiped Jesus. 

The final chapter of the Bible, describing God’s servants worshiping the Lamb in heaven, states, “They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light” (Rv 22:3-5). At the end of history, the Son of God separates light from darkness, for all of eternity. 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.