The Bible is filled with numerous references to light. The contrast between darkness and light is highlighted in key passages, beginning with Genesis 1: “God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness” (Gn 1:4). The separation of light from the darkness opens the way for the creation of water and land, plants and animals, man and woman. It is the doorway to life, for light is essential for the existence of living things, who rely upon it for heat, energy and sight. Without light, there is no life.
That simple, primordial theme is ingrained in many narratives in the Gospel of John. The fourth Gospel’s prologue (Jn 1:1-18) mentions light nine times, referring to the incarnate word, Jesus Christ, who is creator. It does so in the context of the divine life: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The healing of the man born blind is a sort of creation account, the story of light overcoming the darkness, opening the way for spiritual illumination. There are three forms of darkness portrayed in the dramatic — and sometimes humorous — story: the physical darkness experienced by the blind man, the spiritual darkness exhibited by the Pharisees and the relational darkness of the man’s parents. All of these are the result of the Fall, for physical afflictions, spiritual failings and relational malfunctions all have their roots in the original sin of Adam and Eve, which resulted in man being separated from the light and life of God (cf. Gn 3:23-24).
But, as Jesus made clear, the man’s blindness is not the result of his personal sin or the sins of his parents. Yet all are in need of light. No matter how nice and caring people can be by their natural lights, everyone needs supernatural life — life given by God who said, “I am the light of the world.”
Paradoxically, the man who is blind from birth knows little, but upon encountering the healing Savior learns much. The Pharisees, who present themselves as knowing everything of importance, are actually men who can be taught nothing, despite speaking directly to the incarnate Word! “Surely,” they say, “we are not also blind, are we?” They ask the question, but they’ve shown how little they care about the answer.
Just as God had created Adam from “the dust from the ground” (Gn 2:7), the God-man “spat on the ground and made clay” and placed it on the man’s eyes. Many of the early Church fathers, in giving a spiritual reading of this story, saw the blind man as a figure of the entire human race — blind, alone, desperate. None of us are unable to heal ourselves; desiring to see, we stumble about in darkness and misery.
The blind man progressed from physical blindness to physical sight, then from spiritual darkness to spiritual light. He initially identified his healer as “the man called Jesus.” Then, questioned again, he stated, “He is a prophet.” After a lengthy and contentious exchange, he reckons that Jesus must be “from God.” Jesus later asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” The formerly blind man, with eyes of faith, exclaimed, “I do believe, Lord,” and then worshipped Jesus. You were “once in darkness,” Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, “but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light ...”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.