Homily 56 on the Man Born Blind
“And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”
[1.] “And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth.” Being full of love for man, and caring for our salvation, and desiring to stop the mouths of the foolish, He omitteth nothing of His own part, though there be none to give heed. And the Prophet knowing this saith, “That Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou art judged.” (Psalm 51:4) Wherefore here, when they would not receive His sublime sayings, but said that He had a devil, and attempted to kill Him, He went forth from the Temple, and healed the blind, mitigating their rage by His absence, and by working the miracle softening their hardness and cruelty, and establishing His assertions. And He worketh a miracle which was no common one, but one which took place then for the first time.
“Since the world began,” saith he who was healed, “was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.” (Verse 32) Some have, perhaps, opened the eyes of the blind, but of one born blind never. And that on going out of the Temple, He proceeded intentionally to the work, is clear from this; it was He who saw the blind man, not the blind man who came to Him; and so earnestly did He look upon him, that even His disciples perceived it. From this, at least, they came to question Him; for when they saw Him earnestly regarding the man, they asked Him, saying, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents?” A mistaken question, for how could he sin before he was born? and how, if his parents had sinned, would he have been punished? Whence then came they to put this question? Before, when He healed the paralytic, He said, “Behold, thou art made whole, sin no more.” (c. 5:14) They therefore, having understood that he was palsied on account of sin, said,” Well, that other was palsied because of his sins; but concerning. this man, what wouldest Thou say? hath he sinned? It is not possible to say so, for he is blind from his birth. Have his parents sinned? Neither can one say this, for the child suffers not punishment for the father.” As therefore when we see a child evil entreated, we exclaim, “What can one say of this? what has the child done?” not as asking a question, but as being perplexed, so the disciples spake here, not so much asking for information, as being in perplexity. What then saith Christ?
Verse 3. “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents.”
This He saith not as acquitting them of sins, for He saith not simply, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents,” but addeth, “that he should have been born blind — but that the Son of God should be glorified in him.” “For both this man hath sinned and his parents, but ‘his blindness proceedeth not from that.” And this He said, not signifying that though this man indeed was not in such case, yet that others had been made blind from such a cause, the sins of their parents, since it cannot be that when one sinneth another should be punished. For if we allow this, we must also allow that he sinned before his birth. As therefore when He declared, “neither hath this man sinned,” He said not that it is possible to sin from one’s very birth, and be punished for it; so when He said, “nor his parents,” He said not that one may be punished for his parents’ sake. This supposition He removeth by the mouth of Ezekiel; “As I live saith the Lord, this proverb shall not be, that is used, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:3, 2) And Moses saith, “The father shall not die for the child, neither shall the child die for the father.” (Deuteronomy 24:16) And of a certain king Scripture saith, that for this very reason he did not this thing, observing the law of Moses. But if any one argue, “How then is it said, ‘Who visiteth the sins of the parents upon the children unto the third and fourth generation’?” (Deuteronomy 5:9); we should make this answer, that the assertion is not universal, but that it is spoken with reference to certain who came out of Egypt. And its meaning is of this kind; “Since these who have come out of Egypt, after signs and wonders, have become worse than their forefathers who saw none of these things, they shall suffer,” It saith, “the same that those others suffered, since they have dared the same crimes.” And that it was spoken of those men, any one who will give attention to the passage will more certainly know. Wherefore then was he born blind?
“That the glory of God should be made manifest,” He saith.
Lo, here again is another difficulty, if without this man’s punishment, it was not possible that the glory of God should be shown. Certainly it is not said that it was impossible, for it was possible, but, “that it might be manifested even in this man.” “What,” saith some one, “did he suffer wrong for the glory of God?” What wrong, tell me? For what if God had never willed to produce him at all? But I assert that he even received benefit from his blindness: since he recovered the sight of the eyes within. What were the Jews profited by their eyes? They incurred the heavier punishment, being blinded even while they saw. And what injury had this man by his blindness? For by means of it he recovered sight. As then the evils of the present life are not evils, so neither are the good things good; sin alone is an evil, but blindness is not an evil. And He who had brought this man from not being into being, had also power to leave him as he was.
[2.] But some say, that this conjunction is not at all expressive of cause, but relates to the consequence of the miracle; as when He saith, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind” (verse 39); and yet it was not for this He came, that those who saw might be made blind. And again Paul, “Because that which may be known of God is manifested in them, that they may be without excuse” (Romans 1:19, 20); yet He showed it not unto them for this, that they might be deprived of excuse, but that they might obtain excuse. And again in another place, “The Law entered, that the offense might abound” (Romans 5:20); yet it was not for this that it entered, but that sin might be checked. Seest thou everywhere that the conjunction relates to the consequence? For as some excellent architect may build part of a house, and leave the rest unfinished, so that to those who believe not he may prove, by means of that remnant, that he is author of the whole; so also God joineth together and completeth our body, as it were a house decayed, healing the withered hand, bracing the palsied limbs, straightening the lame, cleansing the lepers, raising up the sick, making sound the crippled, recalling the dead from death, opening the eyes that were closed, or adding them where before they were not; all which things, being blemishes arising from the infirmity of our nature, He by correcting showed His power.
But when He said, “That the glory of God might be manifested,” He spake of Himself, not of the Father; His glory was already manifest. For since they had heard that God made man, taking the dust of the earth, so also Christ made clay. To have said, “I am He who took the dust of the earth, and made man,” would have seemed a hard thing to His hearers; but this when shown by actual working, no longer stood in their way. So that He by taking earth, and mixing it with spittle, showed forth His hidden glory; for no small glory was it that He should be deemed the Architect of the creation.
And after this the rest also followed; from the part, the whole was proved, since the belief of the greater also confirmed the less. For man is more honorable than any created thing, and of our members the most honorable is the eye. This is the cause that He fashioned the eyes, not in a common manner, but in the way that He did. For though that member be small in size, yet it is more necessary than any part of the body. And this Paul showed when he said, “If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Corinthians 12:16) For all indeed that is in us is a manifestation of the wisdom of God, but much more the eye; this it is that guides the whole body, this gives beauty to it all, this adorns the countenance, this is the light of all the limbs. What the sun is in the world, that the eye is in the body; quench the sun, and you destroy and confound all things; quench the eyes, and the feet, the hands, the soul, are useless. When these are disabled, even knowledge is gone, since by means of these we know God. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” (Romans 1:20) Wherefore the eye is not only a light to the body, but beyond the body to the soul also. On which account it is established as in a royal fortress, obtaining the higher condition, and presiding over the other senses. This then Christ forms.
And that thou mayest not deem that He needeth matter when He worketh, and that thou mayest learn that He had not need at all of clay, (for He who brought into being the greater existences when as yet they were not, would much more have made this without matter,) that I say thou mayest learn that He did not this through necessity, but to show that He was the Creator at the beginning, when He had spread on the clay He saith, “Go, wash,” “that thou mayest know that I need not clay to create eyes, but that My glory may be manifested hereby.” For to show that He spake of Himself when He said, “That the glory of God may be manifested,” He added,
Verse 4. “I must work the works of Him that sent Me.”
That is, “I must manifest Myself, and do the things which may show that I do the same things with the Father”; not things “similar,” but, “the same,” an expression which marks greater unvaryingness, and which is used of those who do not differ ever so little. Who then after this will face Him, when he seeth that He hath the same power with the Father? For not only did He form or open eyes, but gave also the gift of sight, which is a proof that He also breathed in the soul. Since if that did not work, the eye, though perfected, could never see anything; so that He gave both the energy which is from the soul, and gave the member also possessing all things, both arteries and nerves and veins, and all things of which our body is composed.
“I must work while it is day.”
What mean these words? To what conclusion do they lead? To an important one. For what He saith is of this kind. “While it is day, while men may believe on Me, while this life lasteth, I must work.”
“The night cometh,” that is, futurity, “when no man can work.”
He said not, “when I cannot work,” but, “when no man can work”: that is, when there is no longer faith, nor labors, nor repentance. For to show that He calleth faith, a “work,” when they say unto Him, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (c. 6:28), He replieth, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” How then can no man work this work in the future world? Because there faith is not, but all, willingly, or unwillingly, will submit. For lest any one should say that He acted as He did from desire of honor, He showeth that He did all to spare them who had power to believe “here” only, but who could no longer “there” gain any good thing. On this account, though the blind man came not to Him, He did what He did: for that the man was worthy to be healed, that had he seen he would have believed and come to Christ, that had he heard from any that He was present, he would not even so have been neglectful, is clear from what follows, from his courage, from his very faith. For it was likely that he would have considered with himself, and have said, “What is this? He made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me,’ Go, wash;’ could he not have healed me, and then have sent me to Siloam? Often have I washed there with many others, and have gained no good; had he possessed any power, he would while present have healed me.” Just as Naaman spake respecting Elisha; for he too being commanded to go wash in Jordan, believed not, and this too when there was such a fame abroad concerning Elisha. (2 Kings 5:11) But the blind man neither disbelieved, nor contradicted, nor reasoned with himself, “What is this? Ought he to have put on clay? This is rather to blind one the more: who ever recovered sight so?” But he used no such reasonings. Seest thou his steadfast faith and zeal?
“The night cometh.” Next He showeth, that even after the Crucifixion He would care for the ungodly, and bring many to Himself. For “it is yet day.” But after that, He entirely cutteth them off, and declaring this, He saith,
Verse 5. “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
[3.] As also He said to others, “Believe while the light is with you.” (c. 12:36) Wherefore then did Paul call this life “night” and that other “day”? Not opposing Christ, but saying the same thing, if not in words yet in sense; for he also saith, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:12) The present time he calleth “night,” because of those who sit in darkness, or because he compareth it with that day which is to come, Christ calleth the future “night,” because there sin has no power to work; but Paul calleth the present life night, because they are in darkness who continue in wickedness and unbelief. Addressing himself then to the faithful he said, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand,” since they should enjoy that light; and he calleth the old life night. “Let us put away,” he saith, “the works of darkness.” Seest thou that he telleth them that it is “night”? wherefore he saith, “Let us walk honestly as in the day,” that we may enjoy that light. For if this light be so good, consider what that will be; as much as the sunlight is brighter than the flame of a candle, so much and far more is that light better than this. And signifying this, Christ saith, that “the sun shall be darkened.” Because of the excess of that brightness, not even the sun shall be seen.
If now in order to have here well-lighted and airy houses, we expend immense sums, building and toiling, consider how we ought to spend our very bodies themselves, that glorious houses may be built for us in the heavens where is that Light ineffable. Here there are strifes and contentions about boundaries and walls, but there will be nothing of the kind there, no envy, no malice, no one will dispute with us about settling boundaries. This dwelling too we assuredly needs must leave, but that abideth with us forever; this must decay by time, and be exposed to innumerable injuries, but that must remain without growing old perpetually; this a poor man cannot build, but that other one may build with two mites, as did the widow. Wherefore I choke with grief, that when so many blessings are laid before us, we are slothful, and despise them; we use every exertion to have splendid houses here, but how to gain in heaven so much as a little resting-place, we care not, we think not. For tell me, where wouldest thou have thy dwelling here? In the wilderness, or in one of the smaller cities? I think not; but in some of the most royal and grand cities, where the traffic is more, where the splendor is greater. But I will lead thee into such a City, whose Builder and Maker is God; there I exhort thee to found and build, at less cost [with less labor]. That house the hands of the poor build, and it is most truly “building,” just as the structures made here are the work of extreme folly. For if a man were to bring you into the land of Persia, to behold what is there and to return, and were then to bid you build houses there, would you not condemn him for excessive folly, as bidding you spend unseasonably? How then dost thou this very same thing upon the earth which thou shall shortly leave? “But I shall leave it to my children,” saith some one. Yet they too shall leave it soon after thee; nay, often even before thee; and their successors the same. And even here it is a subject of melancholy to thee that thou seest not thine heirs retain their possessions, but there thou needest apprehend nothing of the sort; the possession remaineth immovable, to thee, to thy children, and to their descendants, if they imitate the same goodness. That building Christ taketh in hand, he who buildeth that needs not to appoint care-takers, nor be thoughtful, nor anxious; for when God hath undertaken the work, what need of thought? He bringeth all things together, and raiseth the house. Nor is this the only thing wonderful, but also that He so buildeth it as is pleasing to thee, or rather even beyond what is pleasing, beyond what thou desirest; for He is the most excellent Artist, and careth greatly for thy advantage. If thou art poor, and desirest to build this house, it brings thee no envy, produces against thee no malice, for none of those who know how to envy behold it, but the Angels who know how to rejoice at thy blessings; none will be able to encroach upon it, for none dwell near it of those who are diseased with such passions. For neighbors thou hast there the saints, Peter and Paul with their company, all the Prophets, the Martyrs, the multitude of Angels, of Archangels. For the sake then of all these things, let us empty our substance upon the poor, that we may obtain those tabernacles; which may we all obtain through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen.