The first thing God created was light. “Let there be light.” But the book of Genesis says that before there was light, “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Our Gospel reading today evokes these same things. Jesus creates light for the man born blind. He does so through the Spirit when the man goes to the pool to wash his eyes. St. John, the evangelist, by hinting at the connection with the creation is leading us to believe in Jesus as the Creator, the Creator who is himself the true Light. He uses the physical condition of blindness from birth as a sign of every human being’s sinfulness from birth. He is referring here in another way to original sin which is the formless and empty darkness into which mankind was thrown back as the result of our first parents’ “no” to dependence on God.
It’s perhaps useful to recap a little on the Church’s teaching on original sin and on Christ’s liberation of humanity from that, and all sin, by the love of his death on the Cross. We look at such things not to get bogged down in the negative, but so as to understand how high the stakes are, the magnitude of both what went wrong and of the stupendous love with which God put it right.
God created mankind out of love in a state of freedom, justice and goodness. By definition, man’s condition depends on God and on the order of creation which God put in place for our good. Enticed by the evil one, man abused his freedom at the very start of history. He rebelled against God, and sought to give a meaning and purpose to his life apart from God. We don’t know historically what the material act of sin was. The story of the forbidden fruit is a parable. The point is that at a certain stage of awareness of what was right and wrong by the will of God, the man chosen by God to be the head of humanity freely and knowingly chose wrong. The effect was cataclysmic. It introduced a rupture in the order of creation of such magnitude that it brought death into the cosmos, chaos in the relationship between God, humanity and the angelic world and the prospect of humanity being destroyed through submission to the Evil One.
By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God. God had given these to Adam not only for himself but for all human beings. In the mind of God, humanity forms across space and time one corporate body, and Adam as the first figure-head of that corporate humanity, had been entrusted with God’s grace to be passed on to us all. Instead, having thrown it away, Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants a human nature wounded by their own first sin. We were handed down a humanity deprived of its original holiness and justice. This deprivation is what the Church has always called “original sin.”
As a result of original sin, human nature was weakened in its powers. It became subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death. It also was infected with an inclination to sin. This inclination is called concupiscence. It does not take much effort to see how original sin and personal sin affects our world today. Original sin is passed on from generation to generation by procreation, the means by which we become members of the one human race. We don’t learn original sin as if by watching and imitating others. Rather, we find ourselves born with it. But the Lord did not abandon us to the power of death. Indeed, the victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which original sin had taken from us: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Christians believe that “the world has been established and kept in being by the Creator‘s love; has fallen into slavery to sin; but has been set free by Christ, crucified and risen to break the power of the evil one …”
So, the man born blind in the Gospel stands for each of us, born with original sin. The miracle Jesus performs on him stands for the miracle Jesus performs on each of us when he removes original sin from our individual persons by the sacrament of baptism. And Jesus can do that because by his death he destroyed original sin and all personal sins; he reversed the cataclysmic chaos caused by Adam; he destroyed Satan’s hold over man and over human death, and he opened the possibility for us to receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not just restore to us the grace lost by Adam and Eve: gives us the much higher grace of being united in our persons and in our bodies to the person and body of Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the new head of the unity of the human race.
The man in the Gospel is enlightened by the day light to see again physically. We are enlightened by the true Light, Christ the Light of the World, to see again spiritually. And Jesus shows us what it means to see again spiritually as the Gospel passage unfolds. It is to believe in Him. The man born blind passes not just from physical blindness to physical sight but from the blindness of unbelief in Jesus to the light of faith in Jesus. For us it is the same. We are baptized as early as possible so that our human nature can be freed from the spiritually mortal condition of original sin which infects our entire humanity. But there comes a point in which each of us has to face the choice with which Jesus faced the blind man he had healed. What choice? This one: “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
That decision of faith, that decision of worshipping Jesus as the Son of Man, i.e., as the Messiah and Judge of humanity, that is one we must each make personally, profoundly and with sincerity and simplicity of heart. Cradle Catholicism is all very well provided we don’t lullaby ourselves into a lazy sleep thinking that we don’t have to make a radical and serious decision of faith. Just as Christ radically alters our humanity in the sacrament of baptism, moving us from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from spiritual death to life, so our response to him has to be equally radical: Lord, I believe, I worship you, I live for you, I live as you.
The Gospel today also has its very sad and tragic side. Many in the temple where Jesus healed the blind man had perfectly good physical sight. But they were blind spiritually. Jesus knew it and so, for their sake as much as for the blind man’s, Jesus performed this sign to draw them to faith in himself. Jesus went as far as he could without forcing the blind man to believe. The blind man took the decision of faith in freedom helped along by the miracle of his restored sight. In some ways, it ought to have been easier for the others to believe in Jesus, because they could witness something unheard of since creation began, that a man born blind could see. But, alas, they were not moved. They refused to believe in the miracle and so in Jesus. And it is not without bitterness that Jesus says to them when they ask him if they are blind, “Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, ‘We see’, your guilt remains.”
We have been baptized and, I hope, we have each made the free personal decision to ratify our baptism by saying directly to Jesus, “Lord, I believe and I worship you.” We therefore have been enlightened, illuminated by Christ to see the truth of the faith, to let it form and inform the way we live and so to shine Christ’s light on others. The miracle for people today is not the curing of a blind man. It is us, living witnesses to Jesus the Lord and Creator. It’s as if, when baptizing us, he gives the command he gave at the beginning of Creation: “Let there be light in you, my beloved disciple.” Let your light shine. Let the healing waters of your baptism overflow into and beyond your own life. Let the rays of Christ the Light shine within and through you. Let any darkness within and around you be dispelled. “Lighten up” in Jesus!