by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
I didn’t get a driver’s license until after my ordination. Growing up in New York City, I never really needed one! On top of that, I couldn’t afford a car, whether new or “(less than) gently used.” I finally wound up with my own wheels when I was given the keys to a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that its previous owner had abandoned.
I know of many VW owners who retain fond memories of their “bug,” but I’m not one of them. I couldn’t tell if my Beetle was red because that was the original paint color or because of the abundance of rust inside and out! Having a car, even that rolling wreck, meant I needed a driver’s license, and the first step in that direction was the written test that would earn me a learner’s permit.
The diligence with which I studied the Driver’s Manual didn’t keep me from being nervous: would I remember the differences between regulation signs and warning signs and route signs?
Signs. John’s Gospel, from which we read on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent this year, includes something of an epilogue: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Here the evangelist steps out from behind the curtain, so to speak, owning up to having presented not a comprehensive catalogue of what Jesus said and did, but a carefully curated selection of what he calls “signs.”
There are plenty of miracles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some of them not mentioned at all in John’s Gospel. For Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the miracles of Jesus are deeds that demonstrate how the God’s healing love and mercy are making inroads against the powers that bring destruction and despair. The wonders performed by Jesus in John’s Gospel are no less impressive: water is transformed into fine wine, a man unable to walk for thirty-eight years can at long last get up and go, five loaves and two fish become more than enough to feed more than five thousand, and so on. Still, the evangelist insists that these not simply wonders performed to wow their witnesses. They are route signs that point the way toward Jesus, who is God’s own Word-made-flesh, the full disclosure of God’s life-giving truth.
This Sunday, John’s Gospel invites us to consider the sign of Jesus granting sight to a man who was blind from birth. The story begins with what might seem a peculiar question from Jesus’ disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Operating on the principle of “what goes around, comes around,” they understood — correctly — that sin has lasting consequences, but they seriously misunderstood how that really worked. Jesus set them straight: “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.” The encounter of Jesus and his disciples with the blind man was no accident: it was part of God’s plan to reveal Jesus as the light of the world.
Without even a word on the man’s part to ask for his blindness-from-birth to be undone, Jesus gets to work in a deliberate remake of Genesis. Just as the Creator “formed the man out of the dust of the ground,” here God’s Word-made-flesh spits on the ground and gets his hands dirty with the clay he makes with his own saliva and smears on the man’s eyes.
Did Jesus have to go through all that? Was this even his own standard operating procedure? At Cana, the water became wine without a word beyond Jesus’ instructions to the servers. At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus simply commanded “Rise, take up your mat, and walk,” and the sick man did as he was told.
What Jesus does to open the eyes of the blind man reveals who he really is. For us to see the signs of the Word-made-flesh still at work in our world is to recognize, as the beginning of John’s Gospel testifies, that “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” May we always walk in that light and share in his life!
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Ephesians 5: 8-14
John 9: 1-41
Father Ruiz is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.