In the gospel reading set for today, John 9:1-39, St. John presents us with an enigmatic encounter between Christ and a blind man. Christ, walking with his disciples, stops in front of a blind man. He gazes at him intently, so much so that his disciples take notice. Perplexed, they ask Him, "Who sinned - this man or his parents?"
Why would they ask such a question? In answer, just a short time before, Christ had healed a paralytic, saying, "Go, and sin no more," linking sin and illness. The apostles draw the (mistaken) conclusion that all illnesses and disabilities are caused by sin. Yet they look at this man, blind from birth and are confused: "If illness comes from sin, how could this man's blindness come from sin? If he has been blind from birth, then how could his sin have caused it - he could not have sinned before being born, surely? Was it then caused by his parent's sin?"
Christ answers that neither the man's sin, nor that of his parents' had caused this. But why, then, was he born blind?
"That the glory of God should be manifest," He says.
This is a difficult answer. Just as I begin to breathe a sigh of relief that the blindness is not from sin, I am presented with a more challenging question: Has God made this man blind from birth for His own glory? Has the man suffered his whole life, deprived of sight, just so he can be another miracle of Christ's? Surely, this is not the answer - but I will leave the question hanging for a bit.
Christ, after saying this, spits into the dust, making clay. With it he anoints the man's eyes, then sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash, at which point the man is able to see for the first time in his life.
Christ chose the method of this miracle quite purposefully. With it, He shows the Jews that He is not just some miracle-working teacher, but God, the Creator.
The Jews knew that God made man from the dust of the Earth. Jesus purposefully takes up this same dust, adding His own spittle, and with the clay, creates new eyes for the man, as it were. He is revealing Himself by means of dust and a miracle, not just finding a new and interesting way to heal blind people.
It is not just that He was bored with His other methods of healing, and said, "Hey, why not mix things up a bit and use clay this time?"
No. With this clay, He says, "I AM." Through clay and a blind man, God reveals His glory; The man participates in this glory through the touch of the Creator. This is partly what Christ is talking about when he says "that the glory of God should be manifest."
Like all things Christ says, though, His meaning is multilayered.
The blind man, sent to the pool with clay on his eyes with no explanation, responds with faith, without question. He gains his sight in such a public manner that it causes a great commotion, and so he is brought before the Pharisees.
Here passes one of the more entertaining dialogues recorded in the gospels, in which the formerly blind man thoroughly schools the Pharisees, but I will skip this, and move to the end of the story: The man has been thrown out of the synagogue by the Pharisees for refusing to defame Jesus. He is left alone, having suffered. He might be tempted to complain at this point.
It is at this time that Christ seeks him out, and asks him "Do you believe on the Son of God?" The man does not complain, but responds with faith, "Who is He, Lord, that I might believe in Him?"
Finding out that it is this same Jesus, the man worships Him, and becomes His disciple.
Here is the answer to the question of why the man was born blind. He was born blind so that he might be healed, participating with God in the revelation of God. He gained his sight, a phenomenal miracle. Yet that is small compared to what he has really gained, for he has gained Christ, the True God, the Creator of all. Here, in Christ, he has found the One Thing necessary, the only True Good.
He has traded all, his family, his good public standing, to worship and be with Christ God.
This is the revelation of the glory of God. Through the man, Jesus revealed Himself as God to all; Through this healing, He revealed Himself as God to this man; Yet finally, this man revealed Christ as God to us through the testimony of his actions.
This man is the conduit, the receptacle and the disseminator of the grace of God: The manifestation of the glory of God.
Fr. Jesse Philo serves as Deacon at St. Silouan Russian Orthodox Church in Walla Walla. He can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.