While It Is Day

thumbnail27From Bd. John Paul II:  Seek Jesus. Let your life be a continual, sincere search for Him, without ever tiring, without ever abandoning the undertaking, even though darkness should fall on your spirit, temptations beset you, and grief and incomprehension wring your heart.  These are the things that are part of life here below; they are inevitable, but they can also be beneficial because they mature our spirit.  We must never turn back, even if it should seem to you that the light of Christ is fading.   On the contrary, continue seeking with renewed faith and greater generosity. 

“We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.”  These words of Jesus in John 9:2 very obviously reflect the words of the prophet Malachi, the last of the prophets before John the Baptist.  Malachi lived about 450 years before Christ, during a period in which priests were corrupt, and most of the people of God were no better.  But the Day of the Lord was coming, proclaimed the prophet:  “…for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Mal.4:2)  And St. Paul would say, not long after Jesus Christ had risen, ascended to heaven, and filled His infant Church with the power of the Holy Spirit, “The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light!” (Romans 13;12)

So, we see Jesus here in John 9, with healing in His wings, not acting like an angel, but very much a man with his feet on the earth, spitting on the ground and making clay with the spittle and anointing the eyes of a man blind from birth (v.6).  St. Thomas Aquinas cites the teaching of St. John Chrysostom: “Christ restored the man’s sight by spittle in order to show that He accomplished this by a power coming from Himself…He made clay from His spittle to show that…just as He formed the first man from clay, so He made clay to re-form the eyes of the one born blind.”

St. Thomas goes on to tell us that St. Augustine has a mystical or metaphorical way of understanding what this healing incident is meant to reveal to us.  Citing Wisdom 2:21, “their wickedness blinded them,” St. Augustine reminds us that “the human race is blind from birth, because it contracted sin from its origin.”  And citing Ephesians 2:3, “We were by nature children of wrath,” we understand that spiritual blindness is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve.  St. Thomas draws our attention to the fact that when the disciples asked Jesus the inevitable question in verse 2 they said, “Rabbi…” calling Him Teacher, to indicate that they are questioning him in order to learn.  These men had the proper motivation, not trying, like the Pharisees, to trap Jesus by their questions.

There was confusion, in those days especially, among the Jews concerning suffering and evil and just who was to blame, in an immediate sense, for a particular malady.  Scriptures such as Exodus 20:5, Psalm 107:17, and Tobit 3:3 strongly suggested that every sickness or disability was the result of a grave sin of some kind.  But scriptures such as Deuteronomy 24:16 and also the powerful Book of Job seemed to contradict this theory.  So, just as we today find the problem of pain and evil a thorny one, and something that can threaten our faith in the goodness of God, the disciples put before Christ a probing question, with honesty.  It is “that the works of God might be made manifest in him,” Jesus answers (v.3).

Referring us to Jeremiah 9:24, a verse with a powerful promise, St. Thomas says, “If, therefore, an infirmity occurs in order that God’s works be manifested, and God is made known through this manifestation, it is clear that such bodily infirmities occur for a good purpose….It is not unfitting if He sends afflictions or allows sins to be committed in order that some good come from them.”

St. Paul confirms this in his well known teaching in Romans 8:  “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…..We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (vs. 18 and 28).

A few other notes from chapter 9:  “Give God the praise,” in v.24, is an oath formula (see Joshua 7:19) that binds a witness to speak the truth, I suppose something like our swearing with our hand on a Bible before giving legal testimony.  //  Compare the healed man’s words with those of Nicodemus in John 3:2 and 7:50, to see how similar their rational thinking and clarity were, in a pressure filled situation. //  Jesus’ calling Himself the Son of Man refers to Daniel 7:13, the prophetic figure from heaven whom he saw in his famous vision.

thumbnail32One more thing strikes me, before we leave chapter 9.  In verses 22 and 23 we are confronted with the blind man’s parents, after the healing has taken place, hearing them rather heartlessly and fearfully refusing to give the Pharisees the idea that they are in any way associated with their son’s involvement with the man who healed him.  They did not want to be excommunicated from their local synagogue, and seemed to react together in their decision to be silent and detached.  But one must ask oneself if it is not likely that one or the other of them would have been deeply moved and grateful to the one who had healed their son.  Not only because of the healing itself–a BIG thing to a parent–but also because of the stigma under which they had lived (v.2, v.34), even in their local synagogue, up until now.  And yet, whichever parent might have been moved most deeply by this miracle was not willing or courageous enough to make a move contrary to the other’s will and fear, at least at this point.  Therefore, John refers to them not as individuals but simply as “the parents of the man.”   Do you see a similar dynamic at work among your friends and acquaintances, when it comes to responding in faith to Jesus and His Church today?  Shalom, JC

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