Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco, painted 1570-75
Readings (New American Bible version, used in the Philippines and USA)
Gospel (John 9:1-41). [Short form: John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38]
As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is, “but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”
They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”
So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
When I went to study in the USA in 1968, a few months after my ordination, there was a wonderful Columban priest in our house in Bayside, Queen’s, New York City, Fr Frank Gallagher. I was initially half afraid of him because he was very tall and had a swarthy appearance but quickly discovered him to be gentle, kind and helpful. He had been interned by the Japanese in Korea during World War II. Fr Frank, ordained in 1938, died in his native Ireland last year, aged 96 or thereabouts and had been active as a chaplain to a community of Sisters into his 90s.
Father Frank used to speak occasionally about ‘Unk’. At first I didn’t quite know who or what he meant but quickly realized it was ‘Uncle Sam’, which Wikipedia tells me is ‘a common national personification of the American government originally used during the War of 1812’. The term ‘the Jews’, as used in today’s gospel and elsewhere by St John, is a bit like ‘Uncle Sam’ in that it means the leaders of the Jews. Jesus was Jew. Mary his mother was a Jew. St John who wrote the gospel was a Jew. The blind man was a Jew.
However, some Christians have misunderstood the term as meaning the whole Jewish people and have used this as an excuse to persecute them, the worst manifestation being the efforts of the Nazis in the last century to exterminate them. The Nazis had no connection whatever with the Christian faith but the vast majority of them were baptized and raised as Catholics or Lutherans.
The man born blind and given his sight by Jesus paid for it by being thrown out of the Temple for sticking to his story and asking the leaders ‘Do you want to become his disciples, too?’
This brings to my mind a modern-day witness to the faith, Blessed Franz Jägerstätter (20 May 1907 – 9 August 1943). The blind man in the gospel today doesn’t come across as a particularly ‘saintly’ person. Franz, an Austrian farmer, had the reputation when young of being a bit on the wild side. During those days he fathered a daughter though he wasn't yet married. The woman who married him in 1936, Franziska Schwaninger, wasn't the mother of this daughter, was deeply religious, and seems to have ‘put some manners on him’ as we say in Ireland. They had three daughters. Franz became a Franciscan Tertiary in 1940.
When called up on 23 February 1943 to join Hitler’s army Franz refused because he saw what the Nazis were doing as being contrary to his Catholic faith. Even his bishop tried to persuade him to serve in the Wehrmacht, the German army. Though he did some military training he refused to serve in the war and was executed by guillotine on 9 August that year. Some criticized him for failing as a husband and father. Leaving his wife and children caused him great anguish. His wife was refused a pension until 1950.
Franz was declared a martyr by Pope Benedict in Jun 2007 and on 26 October that year he was beatified in Linz, Austria. His 94-year-old widow, Franziska and their three daughters, along with Franz’s first daughter, were present.
Franz Jägerstätter - A Man of Conscience, Trailer (0:23, photo of Blessed Franz; 0:27 Franz (left), Franziska and their three daughters; 0:41 Franziska). In an article in First Things on 25 July 2007, Franz Jägerstätter: Martyr and Model, William Doino Jr quotes Franz: ‘Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal someday, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.’ Indeed, he added, ‘the important thing is to fear God more than man.’ Doino’s article is well worth reading.
Blessed Franz's words were very similar to those of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic politician assassinated in Pakistan on 2 March: 'I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am a follower of Jesus'.
Shahbaz Bhatti, about a month before his death
How ever and when ever Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and Shabaz Bhatti heard the question put by the man in today's gospel to the Jewish leaders, 'Do you want to become his disciples, too?' they gave a resounding 'Yes' - with their lives.
What is my response?