The miracle that Jesus works in the Gospel reading this week is an example of what God wants to complete in each of us – to cure our blindness, to make us whole, and to embrace life with Him. As Jesus is walking along the way, He stops to approach a man who had been born blind. Jesus stoops down, spits on the ground, and spreads the mud and saliva mix on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus tells the man to wash in the nearby pool of Siloam, and upon his return, the man can see – a man who had lacked sight his entire life can finally see.
Now, all of Sacred Scripture is pregnant with meaning, and this passage is no different. Jesus works this miracle in an incredibly physical manner – while Jesus could have simply said, “be healed, and go on your way,” and the man certainly would have been healed, Jesus instead uses physical material to assist in the process. He spits on the dirt and mixes it into a paste that He smears on the man’s eyes! While there are numerous explanations for why Jesus might have done this, one of the interpretations that I find incredibly compelling is that Jesus is foreshadowing the conquering of our spiritual blindness through the form and matter of Baptism; being washed with water that purifies both our bodies and our souls.
This miracle isn’t the end of the story, though. The rest of this Gospel passage describes how the community reacts to the miraculous healing of the once-blind man. Last week, in the reading of Jesus and the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman goes back to her community after encountering Jesus, and they follow her to the Lord. In stark contrast, this week we see a community who responds critically to the physical and spiritual changes that the blind man has experienced. Rather than following the man to Jesus and becoming disciples themselves, the Pharisees interrogate the man, and condemn Jesus for healing him on the sabbath. The healed man even goes so far as to ask the Pharisees if they want to become disciples of Jesus, and he is met with ridicule and derision, and driven away. There is a hard lesson to be learned here – when we encounter Jesus Christ we will not be the same person that we were before, and sometimes the changes that Jesus makes in our lives will cause us to be rejected or disbelieved by those around us. How can it be that a man born blind can finally see? How can it be that a public sinner could be changed? While it can be hard to believe, all things are possible with God, even the conversion of the hardest of hearts. The possibility of rejection doesn’t absolve us of the obligation to go out and baptize all nations, though! People might respond to us like the woman at the well, and follow us to Christ, or like the man born blind, and reject us – but either way, Jesus heals us and sends us out to proclaim Christ crucified and risen to our friends, our neighbors, and even those who we might think are our enemies.
The good news here is that, even if we are rejected, Jesus will never abandon us. Our Gospel reading today concludes with Jesus seeking out the blind man after he was rejected, and the blind man responds with a stalwart faith in Christ. It’s my hope that our response to both success or rejection will be a deeper reliance and faith in Jesus, echoing the words of the blind man, “I believe.”