There’s no stronger metaphor for understanding than light, and for ignorance than darkness. Physical sight is often a symbol for spiritual insight, just as blindness a simile for hardness of heart.
In today’s story of the man born blind to whom Jesus restores the gift of sight, we see not just the restoration of sight to the blind, but the man’s growth in faith, in coming to understand who Jesus really is. The miracle exemplifies John’s Gospel which reveals Jesus as the light of the world. We also encounter the willful ignorance of the Jewish establishment which refuses to accept Jesus and the signs that he works.
As John tells it, this miracle story is one of the most dramatic in his Gospel. A blind beggar by the wayside draws the attention of Jesus and his disciples. The latter are curious to know why the man was so afflicted – perhaps because of sins, committed by the man himself or his forebears? Jesus dismisses their arguments. The man was born blind, he states, so that he could play his role in the divine plan of giving glory to God through his miraculous cure.
So saying, Jesus applies a mud paste made with his spittle upon the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man does so, and comes back with his sight restored. The early Church saw in this action a symbol of baptism, which opens the eyes of our soul to the gift of faith.
But the cure, worked on the Sabbath, infuriates the Jews. A heated argument takes place. They hit out at Jesus by harassing the man. They first deny the cure. Then they denigrate Jesus. But the beggar is not intimidated: he is sure that Jesus, whom he has never met before, is a prophet. “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do such a thing !” Enraged at his candid replies, the Jews expel the blind man from the synagogue.
Jesus finds him thus and invites him to a deeper relationship. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he asks. “Sir,” the man replies, “tell me who he is so I may believe in him.”
This is how the beggar is led progressively to deeper faith. At first, he didn’t even know who Jesus was. Then he defended Jesus as being a prophet, someone who God listens to. Finally, he bows down and worships him, saying “Lord, I do believe.”
In this Gospel, to believe is not to utter a catechetical statement. It is to place one’s whole trust in the Lord, to commit oneself and one’s life to his values.