From the early days of the Church, the story of the man born blind is read in Lent. The reason is easy to understand: in the story of the man born blind every Christian can easily recognise their own story. Before meeting Christ, he was blind, then the Master gave him his sight.
Everyone had asked why this man was born blind or in other words, why good people suffer. At the time of Jesus it was believed that, in his infinite justice, God would reward the good and punish the wicked in this world.
To explain the birth of a disabled person, it even came to suppose that they had sinned in their mother’s womb.
For Jesus, the blind man is not born that way through his own guilt.
The blind man does not recover immediately. He has to go and wash in the water of Siloam. John notes that this name means Sent.
The reference to Jesus—the One sent by the Father—is explicit. He is God’s water, that which was promised to the Samaritan woman, who cures the man’s blindness.
Enlightened by Jesus, he becomes unrecognisable and is completely changed. Even neighbours, who for years have lived next door, ask themselves: “Is this the beggar who used to sit here or not?” It is the image of the man who, from the day he became a disciple, is transformed to such an extent as not no longer seem the same person.
The water which is the word of Christ has opened his eyes. It made him discover what a meaningless life he led. It created a new and enlightened man.
The starting point of the spiritual journey of the disciple is the awareness of not knowing Christ and feeling the need to know something more. That is why the blind man confesses that he does not know the man who healed him.
The religious leaders are blind but convinced that they can see.
The position taken by these Pharisees is a reminder of the danger of anyone who starts to know Christ. He clings to his own securities and convictions.
He stubbornly refuses any change and will remain a slave to the darkness. The blind man who is conscious of not knowing, instead believes that Jesus is a prophet.
In the next interrogation the parents show fear in standing by the blind man. It is the story of anyone who is enlightened by Christ. He is no longer understood, is abandoned and sometimes even betrayed by the people most dear.
When the religious authorities call the blind man back for a final time, in his replies and attitude we can grasp the characteristics that distinguish those who are enlightened by Christ.
He is first of all free. He does not sell his head to anyone. He confesses what he thinks. He is a prophet in spite of the Pharisees pushing him to call Jesus a sinner.
He is brave: he rejects any form of subservience, not intimidated by those who are abusing their power, when they insult, threaten and resort to violence (vv.24ff).
He is sincere: he does not hold back from telling the truth even when this is uncomfortable or not welcomed by those who are at the top, who are used to getting approval and applause from those who flatter.
Father Fernando Armellini SCJ