The disciples ask Jesus whether the man’s blindness is because of his sin or the sins of his parents. They assume that the difficulties that come into our lives are punishments for something that we have done. Jesus tells the disciples that the man’s blindness was “to let God’s works be shown in him” (Jn 9:3). St. Thomas Aquinas explains that “through the works of God we are led to a knowledge of him” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1300).
The man’s blindness was an opening to God’s action. This is how he came to know God.
Thomas adds: “the knowledge of God is man's greatest good, since his happiness consists in this: ‘This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (17:3)” (Commentary on John, 1300). If you think about it the most solid basis of our happiness is knowing God’s presence.
Every one of us has experience of troubles and difficulties. We may feel abandoned with our struggles and difficulties. Thomas refers us to Augustine: “God is so good that He would never permit any evil to occur, unless He was so powerful as to draw some good from every evil” (Augustine, Letter CLV).
Thomas recalls the words of the prophet Amos: “If evil befalls a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Am 3:6).
Thomas explains: “Evil is never applied except for the good God intends. And among these goods the best is that the works of God be manifested, and from them that God be known. Therefore, it is not unfitting if He sends afflictions or allows sins to be committed in order that some good come from them” (Commentary on John, 1301). Notice that Thomas says that God brings good even out of our sins.
God allows difficulties to strengthen our bonds with Him: “Sometimes it is done to encourage virtue … he is led to a stronger love by knowing the power of the one who unexpectedly delivered him from some difficulty: ‘Virtue is made perfect in infirmity’ [2 Cor 12:9] (Commentary on John, 1302). For Thomas, we come to a deeper “light” or understanding through our difficulties.
Jesus says that He must do the works the Father has given Him while it is still day since no one can work at night. For Thomas, Christ Himself is the “sun,” as the prophet Malachi affirmed: "But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise" (Mal 4:2). Thomas states: “Therefore, as long as this Sun is present to us, the works of God can be done in us, for us, and by us. At one time this Sun was physically present to us; and then it was day: ‘This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (Ps 118:24). Therefore, it was fitting to do the works of God (Commentary on John, 1305).
However, Christ remains our light: “He is also present us by grace; and then it is the day of grace, when it is fitting to do the works of God, while it is day; ‘The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light’ (Rom 13:12)” (Commentary on John, 1305).
Thomas compares the physical sun with Christ. The sun is always shining but we do not always experience it: “For Christ, the Sun of Justice, it is always day and the time for acting; but not with respect to us, because we are not always able to receive his grace due to some obstacle on our part” (Commentary on John, 1306).
Jesus said: “When the night comes, no one can work” (Jn 9:4). According to Thomas, the night is our spiritual separation from Christ: “And so night in this passage refers to that night which comes from the spiritual separation from the Sun of Justice, that is, by the separation from grace” (Commentary on John, 1307).
Jesus declared: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). His bodily presence continued until His Ascension. However, there is another presence, as Thomas shows: “… ‘as long as I am in the world’ spiritually by grace – ‘I am with you until the consummation of the world’ [Mt 28:20] – ‘I am the light of the world.’ And this day will last until the consummation of the world (Commentary on John, 1308).
Thomas reflects that Jesus used His salvia to heal the man’s eyes in order to show that the power came from Him, as Luke reports: "Power came forth from him" (Lk 6:19). Thomas notes that Jesus could have healed people by His word, however, as Thomas points out, “He frequently used His body in them to show that as an instrument of His divinity it held a definite healing power” (Commentary on John, 1310).
Thomas calls our attention to the fact that the man was a beggar:
We should note the wonderful compassion of God, because our Lord performs miracles not only for the powerful, but also for outcasts, since He healed, with great pity, those who begged. This shows that He who came for our salvation rejected no one because of their poverty: "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?" (Jas 2:5). Thus they explicitly say, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” (Commentary on John, 1313)
Thomas notes that the Church compares the blind man’s washing in the pool of Siloam to the effects of Baptism: "’As many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal 3:27). For if Christ had not been sent, none of us would have been freed from sin” (Commentary on John, 1311).
Thomas sees a wider significance in the healing of the man: “He anointed the eyes of the blind man, that is, of the human race. And the eyes are the eyes of the heart, anointed by faith in the incarnation of Christ” (Commentary on John, 1311).
Since Christ brings us the revelation of God, He mixes what belongs to Him and what belongs to us in order to heal us: “He anointed the eyes of the blind man, that is, of the human race. And the eyes are the eyes of the heart, anointed by faith in the incarnation of Christ” (Commentary on John, 1311).
Thomas recalls Augustine’s description of the courage of the man born blind: "Look at him! He became a preacher of grace. See him! He preaches and testifies to the Jews….” (Tractate on John, 44, 8). Augustine also affirms that the one who had received his sight gladly desired to give them light (Tractate on John, 44, 11).
Thomas points out that, after the man had been put out of the synagogue, Jesus went to find him:
Christ's eagerness to teach is described... First, by his attentive consideration to what was done to the man born blind. For just as a trainer carefully considers what his athlete undergoes for his sake, so Christ attentively considered what the man born blind underwent for the sake of the truth and because of his assertions… Secondly, we see Christ's eagerness from his efforts in searching for him, for the Evangelist says, and having found him; for we are said to find what we diligently seek (Commentary on John, 1355).
The man is moved to faith in Jesus:
Then when the Evangelist says, he said, Lord, I believe, we see the devout faith of the man born blind. And first, he professes with his lips the faith in his heart, saying, Lord, I believe: ‘Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved’ (Rom 10:10). Secondly, he shows it in his conduct, and he worshipped him. This shows that he believes in the divine nature of Christ, because those whose consciences have been cleansed know Christ not only as the son of man, which was externally obvious, but as the Son of God, who had taken flesh: for adoration is due to God alone: ‘You will adore the Lord, your God [Dt 6:13] (Commentary on John, 1358).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John were done by R.F. Larcher, O.P. The full text may be found on the web site of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/