A Loutish Question, a Sublime Answer
A Loutish Question & a Sublime Answer:
the healing of the man born blind, & the meaning of Siloam
by Fr Jonathan Tobias
An understandable frustration
When Jesus and His disciples passed by a man who was blind since birth, the first thing they asked Him was “Whose fault is this?”
What a loutish question. I can just imagine how it sounded. In my old job as a counselor, when I would work with troubled marriages and families, the very worst time-wasting, frustrating distraction was when everyone would pursue the same question: “Whose fault is this problem?”
All I cared about, as a therapist and follower of Rabbi Hillel (remember: “If not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who?”), was who would help fix the problem -- who would take responsibility, who would commit to forgive and heal. I didn’t care about who was right or who was to blame.
More than once, the Lord showed a similar frustration with His disciples. Once, in a quick storm that blew up on the Sea of Galilee, they were sure they were going to sink. Jesus criticized them for their lack of faith (Mark 4.40), and He said, “Peace, be still” to the wind and the waves. When the apostles could not help a poor demon-infested boy, the Lord actually said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me” (Matthew 17.17). Then Jesus healed the boy. He was able to do this not just because He is God (as well as human): the apostles could have performed this ministry if they would have only opened their spiritual eyes, prayed with confident knowledge, and had more faith.
Blindness and darkness
More than once, Jesus talked about the problem of the lack of faith. His favorite way of describing “faithlessness” was by describing it as “blindness.” He said that the contemporary religious leaders and experts utterly failed in leading people into true reality: they were “the blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15.14).
You can imagine His frustration -- which was a non-sinful emotion rising up from His full human nature, in which He experienced hunger, thirst, weariness, and also this mix of anger and sorrow that showed especially at His cleaning of the Temple ... when He said “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21.13).
Human beings -- especially the Jews, who had a history of being God’s “chosen people” with the written law (i.e., the Ten Commandments) -- should have always seen reality — they should have always known that the Temple was a place where prayer and communion with the Loving God should start to spread out through all humanity. But instead, humanity turned the Temple and all religion into a place of commerce and an “us/them” cult. The world was no longer seen and cherished as Creation, but was turned instead into a lifeless pile of resources that could be bought, sold, manufactured and thrown away. People were no longer recognized and venerated as the image of God and icons of Christ, but were instead regarded as competitors, problems, less-than-human deadweights on the budget, enemies, or worse, people who were condemned to hell even before they were born (which is a really horrible pagan heresy).
A very present darkness
Humanity was stuck -- as it is now -- in a culture of faithlessness, or blind darkness. Every part of creation should be recognized and experienced with delight. It should shine with God’s happiness -- there is no other reason for the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings, or a cloud mounting up to the heavens, than for the sheer fact that the “joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8.10). People are to be treasured as the crown of God’s creation, and as real images of Christ, whether or not they act (or look) nice.
And what about God? Everything turns on how God is “seen.” How is it even possible for Him to be thought of as absent or uncaring? Why would anyone even think that bad things are caused by Him, when He is only light, only love, and everything in His Creation reveals His beauty and goodness?
When a person, or a whole society, thinks that God either doesn’t exist, or just doesn’t care, then there is darkness. When someone says that this is all there is, or that “nothing matters,” then there is darkness. When we look at the sky, the sun, the green hills, or a smiling face, and do not see divine love looking out at us from the mysterious depths, then there is darkness. When we think that things will never change, or that there is just nothingness after death, then there is darkness.
When there is no perception of beauty, no experience of peace, there is darkness.
When there is meaninglessness, or hopelessness, then there is darkness.
When Christ does not shine in the heart and in every experience, and when experience is not brightened by certain hope, there is darkness.
So when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned — whose fault is it — that this man was born blind?”, the question was complicated by its own poor logic. The problem of blindness was not limited to this poor man: the far worse sort of blindness that has radiated out from the lost human heart into culture and a sin-ravaged earth has gripped the entire human race.
Miracle as a sign
You cannot live without faith. You cannot be saved without faith. You cannot find your way without faith. You cannot breathe or be human or live forever without faith. You cannot be real without faith.
You know this already: "... faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11.1). Faith is seeing reality without dark prejudice, without the smog of hellish meaninglessness.
So Jesus told His disciples that they were all wrong when they asked this loutish question, “Whose fault is this tragedy?”
Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 4.3-5).
Why do miracles happen to some people and not to other people?
The quick, and true, answer is that miracles happen to all people. The reason why this man born blind was about to be healed of his physical blindness — which is a rare, limited event that obviously doesn’t happen all the time — was that this miracle would become a sign of an even greater, deeper miracle that would, and could, happen all of the time, for anyone who asks.
Miracles in the Gospels happen because they were meant to be signs of the Kingdom. All of Jesus’ spoken words, and all of His actions, are signs that mean an infinite prism of beautiful, shining truths. In reading about them, in hearing about them in the Gospel and in the sermon, they actually bring healing and peace in that very moment. They are, as some linguists like to say, “performative.” They actually bring about light and peace in the moment of thinking about the very event. They show you the beauty of Christ in this very instant.
This is pretty cool: in reading these words, right now, you are being healed, you are being brought into peace, your eyes are opening.
Right now, if you allow it.
The miracle just happened, and is happening.
This is what the Gospel always does.
Christ is the Word of the Trinity to you. You are loved. The whole earth is full of His glory. Wake up. You’re here.
The meaning of the sign
Jesus Christ never was, even after He rose from the dead, and never will be, a ghost or a hallucination or a hypothesis. His work is not confined to theoretical abstraction or within historical footnotes, much as His detractors would like to keep Him (that is, away from their conscience). He cannot be evicted to the past or to any sort of “somewhere else.”
He is only here, and everywhere. Now and always.
So Jesus, to deeply plant this seed of truth into human memory, reached down and picked up a smidgeon of dirt. He spat into it and fashioned a spot of clay. And smeared the clay — made up of His own breath and water, produced from His own fully divine and fully human natures unified in His single Personhood as the Second Person of the Trinity — upon this poor man’s eyes that had never seen the light of day.
“‘Go,’ Jesus told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9.7).
I am always surprised, wonderfully, that the Bible is full of puns, about which some unenlightened people complain are the lowest form of comedy. Jesus sent the man born blind, with clay on his eyes, to a pool which happens to mean, in its Aramaic name of “Siloam,” “Sent.”
Wow. Anytime that you read an Evangelist in the Gospels stop to tell you what a translation is, you’d better pay attention. The pool Jesus sends blind people to is obviously the sacrament of baptism, and every baptismal pool is called “Siloam” from that time on, for Baptism — the ultimate healing of the spiritual eyes — is hereinafter called “Sent.”
As in “Sent by Christ.”
Who is Healer of all who are blind in spiritual sight.
That is, you and me.
He sends us to Baptism, which is the real meaning of Siloam, the water of Eden unfallen.
We need sight in the morning, rising from the darkness of the night: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 29.6 LXX).
The culture of darkness is what was handed to us in this life, in TV, in the internet, in movies and magazines, in school and, unfortunately, in our everyday language. “It is what it is.” “Whatever.”
Worst of all:
That is the language of the inferno.
We need to wake up, rise in the morning of Christ, to see His beautiful world, which is everywhere, and every one.
What you see is what you get
There is no Christianity without the spit of Christ, without His breath and water, without His earth and spirit, without His nature and grace that cannot be divided, or ever seen apart.
I know that sounds less than elegant, but I intend the scandal, if only just to double-down on a certain point. You cannot have faith without the earth, without dirt and substance: God is the Creator and you cannot ever think of Him without His creation. If you want to see glory, you must be rooted, in God’s beautiful Will, from the particular soil He planted you in, and bloom through water of His grace to glory in the sun of His (and your) eternity.
That’s just the way Jesus, the Wisdom, Peace and Power of God, works. His baptismal miracle working in you, through the transfiguring power of the Eucharist, is in every moment the same application of the Divine sacramental mud salved on your spiritual eyes to make you see light as on the very First Day of Creation in the New Eden.
This is Christ, the eternal Word, the expression of the Peace and Beauty of the Holy Trinity, to His Creation — created in Him, through Him and for Him creating something new in you. You are joined to the Risen Christ in Baptism, in your own personal “Siloam,” and you are given new eyes, to see the transfigured Creation even before the Last Day: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5.17).
In the old days, when Christians were baptized on Holy Saturday, the day before Pascha, just as they were lifted out of the holy baptismal waters, the singers sang, “Rise thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee” (Ephesians 5.14).
You were baptized and joined into the Body of Christ — Which is material and immaterial, body and spirit, in Him Who is the Head and we are His hands and His feet. That is just how close we are to the Ascended, incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, the Crucified and Risen Lord and Word of the Created Universe, seen and unseen, of men and angels.
Can’t you see this?
This is Reality. The only reality. If you do not see Christ in everything, from galaxy to flowering tree, from sunrise to storm and sea, from triumphant peace to the suffering even of a flea, especially a child who cannot see, then you see nothing.
If the Risen Christ is not everything then I am nothing.
But He is everything.
In my recognition of Him, risen from the dead and ascended, everything is made new.
In Him I see that all can be redeemed and set free. In Him all is meaningful and hopeful, a future made sure because the past has been made whole.
In our new and miraculous sightedness, in the personal experience symbolized by the man born blind, we can see all of life in our open eyes made bright by the Resurrection. We can seen the Transfiguration of the Last Day. It is not an alien, strange sight. It is when we see our common daily things made plain and beautiful. It is when we seen the usual things but now in the light of grace put simply into divine design and providence. It is when we see our brothers and sisters, all who bear the form of Christ and the image of God, in the iconic light of the Transfiguration: then we see and actually make our friends into persons in our sight, not as mere objects of the world and its dark psychology.
This new sight is not an alien vision: it is a deified but very human vision. It is familiar and strange, immanent and transcendent.
It is not unknown, but it is infinitely beautiful, in the here-and-now, the invisible made manifest in the visible.
It is Christian mysticism under the beautiful Cross wed with the Paschal shining. It is the theology crucis perfected in the theologia gloria. That is, it is the understanding of the Suffering Servant that is Christ, Who is recognized as God on the Cross -- but (contra Luther) within the greater light of the beauty of His exaltation as the Son of God in the Resurrection and Ascension.
Come now. Open your eyes with me and see.
It is the morning of Christ Resurrected.
All things are new, if you would only open your eyes.
What we see is what we get.