An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A, John 9:1-41, April 3
During the presidency of Arroyo, a power outage hit the entire Luzon amid loud blasts, fueling rumors of coup d’etat. But National Power Corporation (Napocor) officials were quick to explain that the blackout was due to a short circuit that occurred when an overhead groundwire in a Tayabas substation snapped. According to Jo Maglina, Napocor corporate communication manager, when the groundwire fell, it hit the conductors connecting the 230 kilovolt Tayabas-Kalayaan line with the 500-kv Tayabas-Dasmariñas line, both of which bring power from generation plants in southern Luzon to the rest of the island. The general blackout not only resurrected fears for destabilization plots that the military immediately sought to allay. It also put businesses to a standstill and paralyzed the operation of many plants. Life in Luzon almost came to a halt. At night, people lived in darkness, and some could only move because improvised light guided them. Many might have felt they were living the life of the blind--scared, threatened, immobile or almost, and removed from the joys of normal living.
We recall this power outage because today’s Gospel is a story about a man born blind whose physical impairment Jesus cured (John 9:1-41). If this narrative occurred in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), this would have been treated as a miracle story, and the wondrous cure by Jesus would have been considered an evidence of the coming of the Kingdom of God. But far from taking it as a miracle, John simply calls this particular act of power as sign, and in the entire Gospel, this is the sixth of the seven signs. As a sign, it points to a greater and deeper reality. It gives the recipient, and those who witness the wondrous deed an anticipation and foretaste of what Jesus can give when his hour, that is, the hour of his passion, death and resurrection, comes to pass. From a material sign, one is led to a spiritual reality. In last Sunday’s Gospel, for example, the water from the well of Jacob is a sign of the supernatural water, God’s wisdom that Jesus, after his resurrection, gives to those who believe in him. In today’s Gospel, the physical blindness of the man is meant to teach us about our spiritual blindness, and the sign of the healing of the man born blind is intended to lead us to spiritual light that shines in darkness.
In the Old Testament, the light that shines on in darkness is none other than the word of God inscribed in the Law. The Law regulates a form of life that a Jew must live if he is to attain salvation. Hence, the Psalmist sings: “A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). In the New Testament, however, the light that shines on in darkness is none other than the Word made flesh. That is why, if John tells us about the story of the healing of the man born blind, it is his way of asserting that the true light is not the law but Jesus himself. Says Jesus: “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5b); and John claims that Jesus is the light that gives light (John 1:4). But if he is the light of the world, this implies that people who live apart from him dwell in darkness. And in John’s theology, darkness represents the kingdom of wickedness and evil; it is the realm of sin, and one who lives in darkness lives in sin and wickedness. “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked. Everyone who practices evil hates the light; he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19b-20). Hence, if one lives outside the Christian environment, he is like the physically blind who lives in darkness; he lives a life of sin and wickedness. Just like Manila when it experienced the Luzon-wide power outage, people like him are blind, scared, unable to move for lack of a guiding light. They are removed from the joys of living with electricity; that is to say, they do not live authentic life. They simply exist, but they do not have real life.
This raises the question: how does one acquire real or authentic life? In the present narrative, the blind man was given sight because Jesus smeared mud on his eyes and commanded him to wash at the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7). In John’s symbolism, this curing of the blind man by washing and the use of spittle is a symbol of baptism. In other words, for John, true light, which is the real or authentic life, is communicated to the believer through Christian baptism. Notice that we say “believer”—for the story assumes that the blind man has an initial faith in Jesus. Strictly speaking, John asserts that one who lives in sin wickedness receives the light of life through faith and baptism. In Christian theology, one who is baptized belongs to Christ; he no longer lives in sin that makes it impossible for him to be saved, but receives the light of grace that saves him.
The reception of true light, however, implies a moral imperative—once one receives light, he no longer walks in darkness. Despite the attempt of the Pharisees to persuade the cured man to renounce his belief in Jesus, he stood his ground. Though he experienced excommunication and suffered rejection in the hands of authorities, he demonstrated his courage in defending his gradual understanding of Jesus—he is a man called Jesus, a prophet, one from God and finally the Son of Man. It is in this sense that we can understand when Jesus says: “I have come to the world as its light to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark” (John 12:46), or when he declares: “He who acts in truth comes into the light to make clear that his deeds are done in God” (Jon 3:21). This teaching recurs in other New Testament writings. In a letter attributed to Paul, for example, we are told: “Now you are in the light of the Lord. Then, live as children of light. Light produces every kind of goodness and justice and truth” (Eph 5:8-9). Matthew expresses it differently: “Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16). This simply means that a Christian is to identify himself with the blind man who, having been cured, gives witness to Christ against the hostility and bullying of powerful authorities, even if this implies abandonment of one’s friends, family and the society to which he belongs.