My copy of the Sunday Missal gives two options for the Gospel for today in which Jesus cures a blind man of his affliction.
When I see the marking for a shorter version of the Gospel in the missal, I often say to myself, and I shame to confess it, "I hope the priest reads the shorter excerpt, but he probably will go for the longer one."
Given the choice for this Mass, should he take the longer, he will have my approval. In some respects, its urgency reads almost like the work of an investigative journalist trying to establish the facts.
We find three "variations on a theme" playing on the same set of notes telling of Jesus giving sight to a man blind from birth. The first variation finds a perplexed and frustrated once-blind man trying to explain what has happened to him.
'Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.'
He answers the persistent questioning and the doubts of his neighbours about gaining his sight; some go so far as to doubt his identity. He insists, "I am the man!" His annoyance shows.
Though he tells what he knows, his startling, bizarre account leaves his neighbours puzzled. They resolve to take him to the authorities, a step which only raises more questions.
What about the Blind Man's parents? Not much help there either for the doubters. Alarmed by all the fuss, the parents limit their comment to a confirmation of their relationship to the blind man: "Born blind," they say. Guardedly, they advise the authorities to ask him what happened. "He is of age."
The persistent and aggravating questioning of the authorities at last satisfies them as to his identity as the blind man, now sighted. They can set that matter aside and turn to the character of Jesus – a second and crucial theme in this Gospel.
Nothing if not persistent, the authorities interview the blind man once again. "We know this man (referring to Jesus) is a sinner" because he does not observe the Sabbath.
The patience of the blind man wears thin, but careful to avoid entrapment he says: "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." But as these authoritative figures persist, nagging, hassling him, his exasperation bursts out, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?"
A surprisingly spirited discussion ensues in which the blind man bests the authorities by proclaiming the significance of the gift of sight and what it indicates about Jesus. What authority in the whole world, we might well ask, could abide defeat at the wits of a beggar? "They drove him out."
All of which finds the third and concluding variation in this narrative: Why did Jesus cure this man's blindness?
He has two reasons: so that we might share the benefit granted the blind man to see, overcoming our own blindness and, like him, come to the profound recognition, "Lord, I believe."
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)