"As Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth."
The disciples react in a very human way. "Who sinned, this man, or his parents, for him to have been born blind?" No matter how much we understand about cause and effect in medicine or in other areas of life, we often still want to attach moral blame to our misfortunes - indeed, sometimes our misfortunes are a result of our sins, sometimes not. But this is not the point here. Our Lord's answer to his disciples' question suggests the way in which we are to look at this story. "Neither he, nor his parents sinned," Jesus answered. "He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
Even in this short exchange at the beginning of the Gospel, a number of important themes have already emerged. If he was blind from birth the disciples rightly surmise that his affliction cannot easily be considered as a punishment for any actual sin the man may have committed. This difficulty surely underlies their question, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?"
Our Lord's answer rules out any suggestion that sins committed either by the man himself or by his parents are to blame for his misfortune. The human condition is one of blindness and isolation from God; original sin, in short, and the pain and suffering in the actual sins that result. One of the themes of the Lenten Gospels is the revelation of Jesus as God, in the Transfiguration, in his words to the Samaritan Woman, "I who am speaking to you, I am he," and in today's Gospel when he says to the man born blind, "You are looking at him, he is speaking to you." Our Lord is revealed as God, powerful to heal the suffering of his creation.
This Gospel moves the revelation a stage further, not just showing who our Lord is, but how he heals. The story of the man born blind reveals to us the power of God to act through the materials of his creation, earth and water, to bring about the healing of his children. It is the revelation of the sacramental system, and in particular the sacrament of baptism, such an important part of our celebrations at Easter.
The story of the call and anointing of David in the first reading relates the Gospel to this sacramental theme. The anointing of David as king with oil is a blessing not only for David, but for the whole of Israel - as the rites of anointing are for us in confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick?
~ Fr. Paul Dobson