Is the Light of Christ a Shining or a Blinding Light?
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Jesus sees a man blind from birth and tells his followers, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Jn 9:5) In other words, He says, “I have come to bring light to those who live in darkness!” This promise of light shining in the darkness repeats what Jesus proclaimed earlier in the Gospel of John after his encounter with forgiving a woman caught in adultery, when he stated - “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Jesus is the light of the world, and for those who choose to follow Him, we shall have the “light of life.” We can experience life to its fullest, we can understand the true meaning of life, and live in that abundant life of love which Christ promises. Yet in today’s Gospel story, while Jesus is offering light and sight to a man born blind, to someone who has only known darkness all his life, we see a frightful contrast between the healing light of Jesus, and the blinding light of Christ. For in the same story, after Jesus heals the blind man, everyone - from the religious leaders to the blind man’s own parents to all those who saw him simply as a pathetic, blind beggar – all these people question and doubt the Lord’s miracle, and even reject the light and life Jesus offers. For these people, our Lord offers a harsh condemnation. To those who chose not to believe, to those who chose not even to believe an incredible miracle that happened right before their eyes, Jesus warns “For judgment I have come into the world that those who do not see may see, and that those who do see may be made blind.”
Think about this – those who do NOT SEE MAY SEE, BUT those who arrogantly claim to see MAY BECOME BLIND!
Here lies the dangerous paradox of Jesus’ divine light! To a poor, insignificant beggar, a pitiful man who has been begging on the streets from his youth because he was born blind, God works a miracle through the man’s humility and through his openness to God’s work. The man desperately wants to see, and even if he doesn’t understand how it will happen, he’s open to the light of Christ. And after the miracle, when Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” the blind man honestly states, “Who is this Son of God that I may believe in Him?” In other words, “No, I don’t know who He is, but I’m willing to learn. I want to believe. Show me, tell me so that I may believe!”
The religious leaders, in contrast to the blind man, have studied the law and prophets, they claim to be waiting for the coming of the Messiah, they look at themselves as the leaders of Israel, yet in their arrogance, their pride, and their strong prejudice they become blind because of their unwillingness to accept that Jesus of Nazareth, a simple and uneducated prophet from some backwards village, is actually this Son of God! They can’t, they will NOT accept it even though they witnessed a miracle right before their eyes.
This is the judgement that Jesus talks about. People who physically can see, yet because of their stubbornness and arrogance, they choose to become blind!
The light of Christ is a fearsome and awesome reality. It can heal some, yet it can blind others who don’t want to see.
This reality reminds me of a story from the life of Saint Innocent, the great Russian missionary who spent 50 years evangelizing Alaska and Eastern Siberia in the mid-19th century. One day Bishop Innocent was on a boat with one of his priests, and the priest asked him to explain how a God of divine and unconditional love could ever condemn someone to hell. It made no sense for a God of love to take delight in condemning anyone, even if they were a terrible person, to an eternity of hell. As the priest asked this question, however, St. Innocent noticed that the man was fidgeting from side to side. St. Innocent asked him, “Why are you moving from side to side?” To which the priest responded, “The sun is too bright and it keeps shining in my eyes.”
“Well, you just answered your own question,” St. Innocent replied. “Our God of love never condemns anyone. His divine light shines brightly on all of us just like the sun. If we are in communion with Him, His light will shine on us as a refreshing, comforting light in the midst of our darkness. If we are out of communion with Him, however, then His ineffable light may seem like a piercing, fiery, unbearable light. The sun is the same. God’s love is the same for all people. Yet how do we perceive and receive it? That is the question we all have to wrestle with.”
I am the light of the world, Jesus proclaimed. Yet will His light act as a light of life in our own lives, or will we receive His light as a burning and condemning fire?
We must take care to cultivate the spirit within. Only a spirit of humility, of purity, of chastity, of love can comfortably receive the light of Christ and find true life. In contrast, an arrogant, self-assured, self-centered spirit will reject the light, and see it only as a nuisance, or worse, as a consuming fire.
Like the blind man in today’s Gospel story, let us approach Jesus and accept his healing touch. Let us ask, if we don’t already honestly know, “Who is this Son of God that I may believe in Him?”
And then let us invite Christ’s divine light to shine deeply within us, and then transparently shine through us for all the world to see.
May we say together, “We believe, Lord, that You are the Son of God and the Light of the world. Come, O Lord, and let Your divine light shine brightly in us and through us!” Amen!