The gospel reading begins with questions about the nature, causality, and consequences of sin before it goes on to describe the miraculous healing of the man born blind. The gospel then follows various encounters emanating from the healing as the story becomes known in the community. There is the dialogue among the neighbors, round-1 between the man and the Pharisee, the inquisition of the parents, round-2 with the Pharisee, and finally man blind from birth, meets and sees Jesus.
As with many of the readings of Lent, it is a story of something revealed about the Son of God. Something revealed in the desert testing, the Transfiguration, and the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Like them, today’s gospel is a story of people encountering revelation and then figuring out what they will do. What will they choose? But it is also a lesson in the subtlety of sin.
Sin is an interesting word. The oldest and first word used to describe sin is khata’. It means to fail or to miss the mark, miss the goal. In Judges 20:16, we learn that a slingshot expert who successfully nails the bullseye does not khata’, which means he did not fail, he didn’t miss the target. Similarly, we read in Proverbs 19:2 that people who act hastily while traveling are likely to khata’—to miss their intended destination, to end up lost, and perhaps in danger.
So, if sin is failing, missing the mark, or missing a goal, what’s the goal?
When God created humanity in his divine image, He set the goal. Genesis 1:26 captures the moment: “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” We are reminded that God exists in three undivided persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—inseparable but distinct, forever together in an unbreakable bond of love. To be created in the image of a God means that our most essential nature is divine love. And as such we are to live with love for God and one another and all creation. That is the mark, that is our goal. Choosing to not love is to fail, to miss the goal. Choosing not to love is the most intrinsic instance of khata’ – sin.
Adam and Eve missed the goal of loving God when they ignore his instruction and redefine good and bad on their own terms. Their choice fractures their relationship with God and each other, leading to death. Turn the page and quickly see the corruption that comes from khata’ – in fact we encounter the Bible’s first use of khata’. Cain is faced with the decision to be truly human and love his brother or to corrupt himself and others by murdering his brother Abel. God warns Cain: “If you do not choose what is good, khata’ (sin) lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7). Sin is described as something outside of Cain, like a crouching predator waiting to attack and destroy life. But Cain can resist sin if he chooses to—he can rule over the crouching beast. So can we. Every person can reject sin by choosing to aim for the truest human goal—becoming infinitely loving toward God and others. To be perfect, whole, complete as is our heavenly Father.
With that in mind, let’s return to the encounters in today’s gospel. Each story within the larger story is a story about choices and about each story we can ask: did they miss the goal? Did they miss the offered revelation? Did they fail to love?
Some of the neighbors failed when they chose not to see the miracle in their midst. “It just looks like him?” Seriously. They knew his parents, they probably saw him begging in the streets each day. They were people steeped in the biblical stories of the compassion and miracles God had provided to Israel. Yet they chose to equivocate. Even after the identity check with the man blind since birth, they disappear from the story, ultimately missing the mark, their aim distracted by doubt and more.
In round-1 with the Pharisees, who like the neighbors, knew the man – they chose rules and regulation over revelation. They go so far as to declare that Jesus is not from God.
So the Pharisees summon the parents who verify that their son was blind from birth, but they quickly want to step out of the crossfire of this growing controversy. They fear being kicked out of the synagogue more than feeling joy at the miracle given their son.
In round-2, the Pharisee double down on their rules and enforcement, and as later noted, they are blinded not only from the miracle, but are actively advocating against the facts before them. It is as St. Paul says in the second reading – they are darkness. Not that they are in darkness. They are darkness.
At this point one is hard pressed to see love displayed or portrayed. Finally, the man blind from birth sees Jesus. He chooses to believe and worship. There is no khata’. He has hit the mark.
It is not hard for me to imagine Satan, the couching predator, lurking in the darkness whispering to neighbors, “This can’t be. The world doesn’t work that way” with the subtext, choose your wisdom over God’s miracles. Satan whispering to the Pharisees choose your education and training over God’s miracles. Satan whispering to the parents to choose fear over joy. It is like Adam and Eve. Their choices were about themselves and not about God. They miss the mark and are blinded to God’s love for them.
Sin is a subtle thing that blinds us from the love of God and keeps us from loving our neighbor. I hope this becomes food for thought as your Lenten journey continues. May it help you to hit the mark.
Image credit: Healing of the Man Born Blind, El Greco, 1567, Public Domain