The healing of a blind man as told in the Gospel of John (John 9:1-41) is unlike many other healing stories in the Gospels. A whole collection of discussions and interrogations is grouped around the healing, in which the Pharisees try to understand what happened there. There is one thought in these conversations that is disturbing to us today. The Pharisees, but also the disciples of Jesus, assume that the physical blindness of a man is the result of a sin committed either by the blind man himself or by his parents. Such a thought is unacceptable to us. A physical disability cannot be the result of a moral failing. Jesus also rejects this thought: „Neither he nor his parents have sinned“ (John 9:3).
How does one come up with such an idea? We could now simply dismiss the connection between blindness and sin as a historical or scientific error. But it’s not that simple. The Gospel of John always speaks on a symbolic level. At the very beginning of the gospel it says:
“The true light that enlightens every human being came into the world. He was in the world and the world came into being through him, but the world did not recognize him. He came into his own, but his own did not receive him. But to all who received him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe on his name, who are born not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9-14)
Seeing and recognizing Jesus is the decisive criterion of faith and salvation in the Gospel of John. Not recognizing Jesus is a sign of sin, i.e. turning away from God. In this respect, the Pharisees, who do not want to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, are suddenly on the side of sin (John 9:41). And one more is added. The recognition of Jesus is described as a process of new creation, of being born again (Joh 1:13, Joh 3:3). Exactly this process is also illustrated in the gospel of the healing of the blind man. From earth and saliva (sign for breath, spirit, word) comes the healing of the blind. In this “treatment” Jesus imitates the act of creation (Gen 2:7), in which man is formed from the ground and God breathes life into this form. The healing of the blind man is thus symbolic of the “new birth” of a person who is being recreated from the kingdom of darkness and ignorance into the new glory of God. Consequently, at the end of the story, the healed man throws himself on the ground before Jesus, not to thank him but to express his faith in him (John 9:39). Jesus explains the process. He says he came into the world „so that the blind may see and the seeing blind“ (John 9:39). The point of the text is: It is not the bodily seeing or not seeing that is a consequence of sin, but the inward seeing or not seeing, i.e. the acknowledgment of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
So there is a connection between blindness and sin, but a different one than the Pharisees and the disciples initially thought. I would like to pursue this thought a little further, also a little away from the Johannine focus of the question on faith itself. Does sin make you blind?
To do this, it is good to first define what “sin” is. As a somewhat rough definition, I would say: Sin is the partly consciously caused disruption or destruction of the relationship. This can be the relationship to God, to myself or to my fellow human beings or fellow creatures. The relationship can be disturbed in a variety of ways: carelessness or even disregard, dishonesty, all kinds of transgressions, including violence, contempt or humiliation. It can happen that I myself become the author of sin in this sense. But it can also be that I become a victim of sin. I suspect that each person has felt sin in different ways, either by hurting themselves or by being hurt. Sin is a sore point in both cases.
The question was: Does sin make you blind? I believe blindness to sin gives in three ways.
The first form of blindness is denial. Since the experience of sin, committed or suffered, is painful, I try to block out the pain. I no longer look at the sore spot, explain it away or cover it up or try to numb it. I blind myself to the reality of sin lest it torment me.
The second form of blindness is habit. I found this idea in Augustine. He says: It can be that a sin is so common that I accept it as something normal. An entire society can become so blind to the reality of sin because no one dares to name it as such. Sin is tolerated. Human history is replete with such blindness, and each generation imprints its own blindness, but also its own „enlightenment“ to certain sins.
The third form of blindness is that of fixation. She is particularly treacherous. This time it is not about blindness to sin, on the contrary. Sin is the focus here. She’s so much the focus that I’m fixated on her. That means I shut out the other areas of life because I can’t see them other than as a result of the sin I’ve committed or am suffering. I become blind to everything else because all I can see is sin. This is a form of blindness that psychotherapists can certainly tell a lot about. In essence, it is about a person who has recognized a serious mistake or a disorder in himself or in others, for which he now blames all misfortune, his own personal misfortune or the misfortune of the world. For him there is something like a psychological or social or political original sin that becomes the omen for everything that happens and encounters him. The blindness refers to the fact that this person does not want to discover other efficiencies, freedoms or causes outside of his thinking. Even if the cause of his grief can be removed, there will be disappointment that the world has not fundamentally changed.
I don’t want to give any examples at this point, but rather invite you to tap your own examples of the various forms of blindness. Think about your own experiences of sin, but also think about the major moral issues of our day, climate change, war, abuse in the Catholic Church, anti-discrimination debates … I suspect that they will find forms of blindness everywhere.
How about the healing? The gospel gives a double answer. The first healing is the healing from blindness. Blindness is a symptom of sin. This requires the will to become aware of one’s own blindness. This happens through honesty towards God, towards others and towards myself. God and others can help me with this. Overcoming blindness is painful because it forces me to look where I didn’t want to look. It begins with me acknowledging God and my neighbor in their own effectiveness, carefully weighing up and discerning which viewpoints of others I have to acknowledge in the light of truth.
The second healing is a healing from sin itself. This is more difficult because often it is not easily in my power to get rid of sin. Forgiveness and reconciliation take time and depend on the participation of others. There, however, where reconciliation occurs, it definitely has the character of “being born again”, a carefree new beginning that is made possible for me. Basically it is a question of love, because love is the opposite of sin. Where this love, which God has for me and my response to it, the love of my neighbor, but also the love that enables me to accept myself, gains strength again, sin can be overcome or at least weakened. This is the optimistic view of the gospel when it speaks of salvation and liberation of man and humanity. So this salvation again becomes a question of faith, not only in the gospel but in everyday life.