Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 9:1-41

Analysis

This chapter commences with an account of the miraculous cure, performed by our Lord in restoring sight to a man who was born blind. The questions proposed by the disciples, as to the cause of his blindness. Our Redeemer’s reply. At the same time, He declares Himself to be the light of the world (1–5). The manner in which the cure was effected (6–13). The bitter animadversion of the Pharisees, as usual, denouncing the violation of the Sabbath. The discussion among them, as to our Lord’s character. The appeal to the man who was cured, as to his opinion respecting our Lord. The appeal to the man’s parents, as to his identity (15–24) Their vile abuse of the man for showing an inclination to respect and speak in terms of praise of our Lord (24–29). His courageous reply, and his expulsion from the place of meeting, in consequence (30–34). The gift of faith or spiritual enlightenment, bestowed on him by our Lord (34–39). Our Lord’s denunciation of the Pharisees for their perversity and resistance to God’s heavenly light, thereby entailing on themselves the more grievous sin (39–41).

1 And Jesus passing by, saw a man who was blind from his birth.

And Jesus passing by,” etc. The common opinion is, that the occurrences here referred to took place in connexion with the foregoing, immediately after our Lord left the Temple. This is, however, questioned by others, who hold that some interval elapsed. These say, it may refer to some other time, when the Pharisees sought an occasion for assailing our Redeemer, on which account, the Evangelist now records it, and they ground their opinion, chiefly on our Lord’s disappearance, coupled with the fact, that His disciples were present. There is nothing, however, to prevent one from holding, that His disciples may have met Him outside, as, most likely, on His disappearing, they, too, left the Temple.

A man blind from his birth,” which rendered his case the more difficult, and the miracle wrought more remarkable.

2 And his disciples asked him: Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?

Who hath sinned,” etc. This question probably took its rise from the prevailing popular opinion, that diseases and corporal ailments were the punishment of sin. This may be true; but, not always, as may be seen from the case of Job, as well as of Tobias, etc. Great calamities, sudden deaths, by no means argue any particular commission of sin (Luke 13:1–4). Others hold, that the question was suggested by our Lord’s admonition to the man sick of the palsy. “Go, sin no more, lest anything worse,” etc. (5:14).

The question as regards the man himself committing sin, so as to induce the curse of blindness, is quite unmeaning, as if he could commit actual sin, before he was born. It is intelligible, so far as it may concern his parents, since God often punishes children, on account of the sins of their fathers. “A jealous God visiting the iniquity of the Fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5).

St. Chrysostom and Theophylact say the disciples speak thus, not by way of interrogation, as if they suspected that either child or parents were in fault, but by way of doubting, as much as to say; neither of them could give rise to it.

3 Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

Neither this man sinned,” etc. The question requires the words to be added, “that he should be born blind.” Our Lord does not deny that this man or his parents had been guilty of sin, besides original sin—(the source of all our misfortunes)—in which we were all born. What He denies is that this blindness was the result or effect of any particular sin of theirs, on account of which it was inflicted.

That the works of God,” etc. It happened, in order that an occasion would be afforded, for having the works of God’s power and goodness manifested in his miraculous cure by our Lord; and that thus, it would be proved that our Lord was sent by God, and men would be stimulated to believe in Him and follow Him.

4 I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

I must”—considering My Father’s decree—“work the works of Him that sent Me,” which My Father, commissioned Me, as His legate to perform, so as to bring men to the faith and to eternal salvation, “whilst it is day,” during the course of My mortal life and during my corporal presence among men. “The night cometh”—the time of My death and of My absence from among men, is fast drawing to a close. “When no man can work.” I can no more work among men, after My departure out of this world, than any one else can. After death, men can perform no work, neither can I. “Neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom in hell (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Our Lord wishes to convey that after death, He cannot work by His own visible personal operation, as He did in life. He can neither suffer, nor die, nor teach men, nor perform miracles for man’s salvation; though, indeed, after death, He works through His holy Spirit, and by means of Apostolic men.

5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

As long,” etc. Therefore, must I work while it is day. I must not hide my light under a bushel. I must not be idle. I must enlighten the world. Not that He ceased to enlighten the world after His departure. For, even now, it is He, “that enlightens every man that cometh into the world.” But, He would not enlighten it, as He did during His life time, by personally working miracles, and instructing men in person.

These words are also allusive to the miracle of restoring sight to the blind man, and enlightening him, which our Lord is about to effect.

6 When he had said these things, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and spread the clay upon his eyes,

. “When He had said,” etc., as if to show practically, in a partial way, that He was the light of the world, destined to enlighten those who sat in darkness, whether spiritually or corporally, He, at once, proceeds to effect the cure of the blind man. He might have accomplished this by His sole word of command, but He employs the instrumentality of His creatures, in a way, that conveys some mystery, and contains some recondite, hidden meaning. “He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and spread it on the eyes” of the blind man.

Various conjectures are hazarded, as to why He did this. Some say, He wished to show, that as He originally formed man out of the slime of the earth; so, He employed the same material for the repairing of human nature, that He used in its formation. He makes use, in restoring sight, of the very thing, which if applied to the eyes of a sound man, would render him perfectly blind, to convey that the restoration of his sight would appear from the contrary and inadequate means employed, attributable, not to human natural agency, but solely as the effect of Divine power. Sometimes, in the Old Testament, did the Prophets employ such means and instrumentality. For instance, see Miracles of Eliseus (4 Kings 20:21; 6:5, 6), thereby showing that the wonderful results are the effects of God’s power, owing to the inadequacy of the human means employed

Similar is the economy of God’s Providence in carrying out His greatest work, the work of man’s redemption (see 1 Cor. 1. Commentary on).

Our Lord mixed with the clay, spittle, the foam of His own mouth, to show how salutary was every thing emanating from Him.

Those, who impiously jeer at the use of ceremonies, and material elements in connexion with spiritual effects, which they symbolize, have a clear refutation in this action, and several similar actions on the part of our Divine Redeemer for similar effects (Mark 7:33; 8:23).

To try his obedience, our Lord, who might have cured the blind man on the spot, tells him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloe.” He might have also in view, to have the miracle, which He wrought on the Sabbath, more generally known, when the people saw this man passing a long way through the midst of the city, towards the pool, with the clay on his eyes, thus taking away from the unbelievers all excuse for rejecting Him. The Prophet Elizeus acted similarly with Naaman, the Syrian (2 Kings 5:10).

7 And said to him: Go, wash in the pool of Siloe, which is interpreted, Sent. He went therefore and washed: and he came seeing.

Wash in the pool of Siloe.” Siloe or Siloam, had its origin in a fountain at the foot of Mount Sion, which, as we are told by St. Jerome (in Isaias 8), sent forth its waters, not continuously, but, only intermittently, at certain seasons and certain days, discharging them with great noise through subterranean passages and the fissures of the hardest rocks, till they formed the pool now spoken of, called the pool of Siloam.

St. Epiphanius (in vita Prophetarum c. 7) tells us, the waters gushed from the rock at the prayer of Isaias. The waters having passed through the cavities of the rocks with great noise, formed the pool here referred to, in the western side of the valley of Josaphat, outside, but quite close to Jerusalem; and from the pool, the waters glided gently (Isaias 8) into the little brook of Cedron, of which mention is made in the history of our Lord’s Passion (John 18:1). Allusion is made to the pool of Siloam in Nehemias (2:15).

Which is interpreted, sent,” being derived from the Hebrew Shalach, to send. It is not without some latent cause, the Evangelist gives the meaning and interpretation of “Siloe” to signify “sent.” It was a type of our Lord who was sent from the bosom of His Father to save and enlighten mankind, and of His mysteries and ordinances; especially of the rite of Baptism, instituted by Him to cleanse and wash us from our spiritual defects, and enlighten us spiritually by the light of Divine grace, of which St. Augustine tells us the waters of Siloe were a type.

He went therefore,” asking no questions, raising no doubts as to our Lord’s meaning, believing in His miraculous curative powers. “Washed,” as he was ordered, in reward of which “He came, seeing,” his sight being perfectly restored.

8 The neighbours, therefore, and they who had seen him before that he was a beggar, said: Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said: This is he.

The neighbours,” etc. This blind man was well known, and the remarks of his neighbours served to place the reality of His miraculous cure in the clearest light.

9 But others said: No, but he is like him. But he said: I am he.
10 They said therefore to him: How were thy eyes opened?
11 He answered: That man that is called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me: Go to the pool of Siloe and wash. And I went: I washed: and I see.

The man called Jesus,” etc. This he did not say out of disrespect; but merely to show that he was yet a stranger to Him. He heard of Him, he knew Him only by report.

12 And they said to him: Where is he? He saith: I know not.
13 They bring him that had been blind to the Pharisees.
14 Now it was the sabbath, when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.

As this miracle and the entire operation occurred on the Sabbath, the people doubt as to whether it could come from God. Hence, they bring the blind man before the Pharisees—members of the Sanhedrim—as judges in such cases. God’s Providence so arranged it, that the Pharisees themselves could not deny the fact of the miracle. “Cæcus confitebatur et cor impiorum frangebatur.” (St. Augustine.)

Our Lord, in order to refute the false notions of the Pharisees regarding Sabbatical observances, frequently fixed on the Sabbath, as the time for performing miracles.

15 Again therefore the Pharisees asked him how he had received his sight. But he said to them: He put clay upon my eyes: and I washed: and I see.
16 Some therefore of the Pharisees said: This man is not of God, who keepeth not the sabbath. But others said: How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

They had their own ideas about keeping the Sabbath, to which they wished all others to conform. The reality of the miracle they could not deny. Indeed, the reality of all our Lord’s miracles were undeniable. The facts were patent. So undeniable were they, that even in the Synagogue, they secured followers for our Lord, timid followers, however, on account of the violent persecution from the Jews.

A sinner,” an impostor or deceiver. Could God possibly grant the power of such miracles, performed in such a way, in proof of His own sanctity and Divine mission, to an impostor? Unable to deny the reality of our Lord’s miracles, His enemies, then, as also happened at all future periods, ascribed them to other than Divine agency.

There was a division,” etc. A schism. They were divided into two separate parties.

17 They say therefore to the blind man again: What sayest thou of him that hath opened thy eyes? And he said: He is a prophet.

They had their own ideas about keeping the Sabbath, to which they wished all others to conform. The reality of the miracle they could not deny. Indeed, the reality of all our Lord’s miracles were undeniable. The facts were patent. So undeniable were they, that even in the Synagogue, they secured followers for our Lord, timid followers, however, on account of the violent persecution from the Jews.

A sinner,” an impostor or deceiver. Could God possibly grant the power of such miracles, performed in such a way, in proof of His own sanctity and Divine mission, to an impostor? Unable to deny the reality of our Lord’s miracles, His enemies, then, as also happened at all future periods, ascribed them to other than Divine agency.

There was a division,” etc. A schism. They were divided into two separate parties.

18 The Jews then did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight,

Seeing their views were not strengthened by the opinion of the blind man, to whom they appealed; the enemies of our Lord unable to deny the miraculous fact, now question the man’s identity, and have recourse to his parents to know if he were their son; thus, hoping in case of any difference of testimony, to discredit the miracle.

19 And asked them, saying: Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then doth he now see?
20 His parents answered them and said: We know that this is our son and that he was born blind:
21 But how he now seeth, we know not: or who hath opened his eyes, we know not. Ask himself: he is of age: Let him speak for himself.

The Pharisees propose three questions. The man’s parents answer two of them. For prudential reasons, they decline answering the third, viz., how he was cured, as they did not wish to run the risk of excommunication. He is no longer an infant; he is of age to answer for himself and give testimony. The age for giving testimony among the Jews was the age of thirteen.

22 These things his parents said, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had already agreed among themselves that if any man should confess him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

Put out of the Synagogue,” was a kind of excommunication among the Jews entailing the heaviest religious and social penalties. The excommunicated were deprived of all religious intercourse; excluded from religious worship and sacrifice. They were deprived of all social intercourse also, even with their nearest and dearest friends. The very necessaries of life could not be sold to them.

23 Therefore did his parents say: He is of age. Ask himself.
24 They therefore called the man again that had been blind and said to him: Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.

Give glory to God.” This was a form of adjuration or obtestation; or of administering an oath in use among the Jews (Josue 7:19; 1 Kings 6:5; Jeremiah 12:16). They did not mean, give glory to God for thy cure. This they scornfully denied. Tell the truth, as in the presence of God, for the glory of God, whose sovereign veracity is thus honoured, as essentially loving the truth. Admit that there is an imposition in this case, that thou hast told us a lie, and endeavoured to impose on us; and thus thou wilt give glory to God, who hates and condemns all imposture, as He is the essential and eternal truth. To induce Him to make this acknowledgment, they say, “we”—who are the proper authority to decide such matters—“know,” we declare “this man,” this violator of the Sabbath, far from being a “Prophet” commissioned by God, to be “a sinner,” a blasphemous seducer.

25 He said therefore to them: If he be a sinner, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind. now I see.

I know not.” I have no opinion to offer. Facts speak for themselves. “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see,” owing to His having opened my eyes.

26 They said then to him: What did he to thee? How did he open thy eyes?

They want to confound Him by their questions, and to elicit from Him some contradiction, in order to injure the credibility of the miraculous cure.

27 He answered them: I have told you already, and you have heard. Why would you hear it again? Will you also become his disciples?

Justly indignant at their conduct and factious persistency, he loses patience on clearly seeing the wicked passions that prompted this unmeaning cavilling, and asks, “will you also,” as well as His other followers, become His disciples? What other object can you have in thus sifting my case, unless after discovering the truth, to become, like others among them, myself included, “His disciples?” This stinging, reproachful irony was calculated to annoy them. He saw well their determined malice, and their incurable hatred of our Lord.

28 They reviled him therefore and said: Be thou his disciple; but we are the disciples of Moses.

They reviled Him,” heaping imprecations on Him, especially by saying, what they considered the most insulting and ignominious charge. You are His disciple, “or, be you His disciple,” the follower of an impostor—a fate which your seeming attachment to Him merits for you. Or, “You are His disciple.” You show yourself so degraded, as to be a fit follower of such a blasphemous impostor.

As for us, “we are disciples of Moses.” We follow his law regarding Sabbatical and other observances, unlike the man, who impiously prides himself in trampling on them.

29 We know that God spoke to Moses: but as to this man, we know not from whence he is.

We know that God spoke to Moses.” Therefore, in following his law, we obey God’s law. “As for this man”—they speak contemptuously—“we know not from whence He is.” Whatever His country or descent may be, we know not whether He derives His commission or doctrine from God or from the devil. Of this we are totally ignorant.

30 The man answered and said to them: why, herein is a wonderful thing, that you know not from whence he is, and he hath opened my eyes.

Herein is a wonderful thing.” It is a matter to be greatly wondered at, viz., “that you,” who are the teachers of the people, you, who boast of being so learned in the law—“know not whence He is,” cannot see, whence He derives His mission and authority. “And—yet—He hath opened my eyes.” Whence could He derive His mission, but from God, who, in proof of His Divine mission, has performed such stupendous miracles, among the rest, opening my eyes, who was born blind—a miracle that you cannot, in any way, question?

31 Now we know that God doth not hear sinners: but if a man be a server of God and doth his will, him he heareth.

Now we know,” as a matter commonly and generally believed. In this, the blind man gives expression to the opinion commonly entertained. Hence, he says, “we know.”

That God doth not hear sinners.” This, taken in a general or universal sense, is not true; for, God does hear sinners and lends an ear to their petitions when they approach Him with proper dispositions of penance and sorrow. But, the words have here a restricted meaning, from the context, which has reference to the working of miracles, and then the words mean: God does not hear sinners, who persevere in a sinful course, so as to give them the power of working miracles, in proof of their Divine mission and personal sanctity, as in the case of miracles wrought by our Divine Lord. God never gives the seal of His power in the operation of miracles, to prove men to be holy who are not so, or to be sent by Him, who were not sent, but ran of themselves.

These are the words of the blind man. We are not bound to defend their accuracy. All the Scriptures are committed to is, that he uttered the words, which is no doubt true.

But if a man be a server of God,” a true sincere worshipper, announcing true, sound doctrine, and in addition, “doth His will,” observes His commandments, “him He heareth,” whenever He calls upon him, when necessary, for power to work wonders. Then, God grants Him this power. In this, it is implied, that whenever men work miracles, they do so, not by their own innate power, but by the power of God.

32 From the beginning of the world it hath not been heard, that any man hath opened the eyes of one born blind.

From the beginning of the world.” In the whole history of miracles wrought from the beginning of the world, whether by Moses or the Prophets, or any one else, there is no instance of restoring sight to a man born blind in so extraordinary a way, by rubbing and wiping off clay. Hence the superiority of this man, whom you spurn and reject, over Moses or the Prophets who have gone before us.

33 Unless this man were of God, he could not do anything.

. The conclusion is, that this, being so rare and stupendous a miracle, could only come from the power of God, especially as it had for object, like all the other miracles of our Redeemer, to prove His sanctity and mission from God. “Unless this man were from God, He could not do any thing,” like the miracle just wrought by Him.

34 They answered and said to him: Thou wast wholly born in sins; and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

Finding they could neither shake the confidence nor impugn the veracity, nor answer the arguments of this man, now laying aside their affected mildness, assumed in order to elicit inconvenient replies, they show themselves in their true colours, and indulge in abuse of the grossest kind.

Thou”—a wretched ignorant mendicant—“wast born wholly in sins,” defiled with sin, soul and body, from your birth to this day; and in punishment of these sins hast been cursed with blindness from your very birth. Likely, these men entertained the notions regarding the infliction of bodily maladies in punishment of sin, expressed by our Lord’s disciples (v. 2).

And dost thou teach us?” “Thou” and “us” are emphatic. “Teach us,” so famed for sanctity of life, and a profound knowledge of the law.

And they cast him out,” from the place of meeting, whatever it was. Some say, the Synagogue, thus excommunicating Him. This latter opinion is hardly likely, as the man did not yet explicitly declare that our Lord was the Messiah.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out. And when he had found him, he said to him: Dost thou believe in the Son of God?

Our Lord arranged to find out this man, so dishonoured for his intrepid defence of his heavenly deliverer and the avowal of his miraculous cure. In order to compensate him for this injury, He now bestows on him the priceless spiritual enlightenment of faith, for which the restoration of his bodily sight had gradually disposed him.

He asked him, “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” Our Lord asked him this, when there was question of his spiritual enlightenment, or the gift of faith about to be bestowed on him, to secure his co-operation; while in regard to corporal enlightenment, no co-operation was needed, according to the teaching of St. Augustine. “Qui fecit te sine te, non justificat te sine te; fecit nescientem, justificat volentem.” (Sermo. 15, de verbis Apostoli.)

He uses the words, “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” rather than, “Dost thou believe in Me?” as He gradually wished to reveal Himself to him, and cause him no sudden surprise, by declaring Himself at once the Son of God. Likely, the man cured, did not know it was our Lord cured him, since he was sent to the Pool of Siloe to be healed, and had not seen our Lord up to this. He believed our Lord to be a Prophet, and proclaimed Him as such. He did not, however, as yet fully believe, though, no doubt, well disposed, to do so, in His Divinity. It may be, the man knew from His voice, that it was our Lord cured him; but, in any case, he did not believe in His Divinity. He knew in case he recognised Him as his benefactor, that He would not deceive him; and hence, he cried out.

36 He answered, and said: Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?

Who is He, Lord?” etc. The word, “Lord,” is a term of respect, and might be rendered, “Sir.” From his heart, he was ready to believe, but he did not precisely know who the person was, in whom he was to believe. Hence, the question.

37 And Jesus said to him: Thou hast both seen him; and it is he that talketh with thee.

Our Lord then manifests Himself to him. “Thou hast seen Him,” reminding him of the blessing of sight conferred on him, “and it is He that talketh with thee.”

38 And he said: I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him.

By words—“I believe, Lord”—by acts, “and falling down, he adored Him,” the man who was blind proclaimed his faith in our Lord’s Divinity, whom hitherto he regarded, on account of the great miracle, in the light of a holy man sent by God; but, in that light only.

39 And Jesus said: For judgment I am come into this world: that they who see not may see; and they who see may become blind.

And Jesus said”—as is clear from verse 40—to the Pharisees. “For judgment,” in order to exercise a judgment of discernment, to separate the humble believers from the haughty unbelievers—or, “judgment” may mean, to execute the high and mysterious decree of God, giving the faith to the blind unbelieving Gentiles, who, like this blind man, are disposed humbly to embrace the faith; and rejecting the haughty Jews, wise and enlightened in their own opinion.

That”—so that, as a consequence. For, their own perversity was the cause of the rejection of the Jews and of the haughty.

They who see not,” who are in ignorance and error of the true faith and spiritually blind, but disposed to lay aside their errors and embrace the truth.

May see,” and be enlightened.

And they who see,” who fancy they are rich in faith and gifts of sanctity, may, in punishment of their pride and haughty resistance to grace, “see not,” become obdurate and impenitent. Like the Pagan philosophers referred to by St. Paul (Rom. 1), “Dicentes se esse sapientes, stulti facti sunt.” Our Lord did not come for the purpose of blinding the Jews; but He permitted them to continue blind, as a punishment of their resistance to grace.

40 And some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard: and they said unto him: Are we also blind?

Some of the Pharisees who were with Him,” tracking His footsteps, wherever He went, in order to catch Him in His words, “heard,” and understanding that they were pointedly alluded to as spiritually blind, “said”—in an arrogant and malignant spirit—“Are we also blind?” “We also,” as well as the man whom You pretend to have enlightened. “Are we,” the rulers and teachers of the people, pronounced by you to be struck with spiritual blindness?

41 Jesus said to them: If you were blind, you should not have sin: but now you say: We see. Your sin remaineth.

If you were blind,” in your own estimation and judgment—it is opposed to “but now you say we see”—and humbly acknowledged yourselves blind and ignorant and foolish in the affairs of your salvation, “You should not have sin.” You would cease to be overwhelmed with the weight of sin in which you are; because, you would humbly have had recourse to Me for your spiritual cure, owing to the consciousness of your miseries. “But now you say we see.” Now, you, arrogantly regard yourselves as having light and sanctity, you scorn any exhortation to have recourse to Me—the true Son of justice—“the true light, that enlightens every man that cometh into this world.” Hence, “your sin remaineth.” You continue, on account of your self-esteem, pride and arrogance, in your infidelity and sinful state.

It may also mean, “If you were blind,” and had not the knowledge of SS. Scriptures proclaiming Me to be the Son of God, and of the many miracles wrought by Me, which should convince you that I am come from God; then, indeed, you might have some excuse. I would have treated you leniently and have attracted you to Myself by My grace. Your sin would be comparatively trifling. But, now, you sin in the face of the light, and “your sin remains” unremitted, and, so you persevere in your infidelity.

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