These days, most of the people in the world are thinking and talking about the Corona Virus, particularly how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Many people are asking why has it happened? Of course, we know something happened in China – but what does it mean that something like this has happened? Many people, even some who don’t practice any religion ask, why has God let this happen? It would be very foolish to try to come up with some answers, but we can find some directions in the Gospels.
Oftentimes when things go badly, we suspect it is some sort of punishment. This isn’t what Jesus teaches. When Jesus is told that Pilate slaughtered some Galileans, Jesus asked, “Do you think they were the worst sinners.” (Lk 13:2).
In the Gospel today, we are looking at the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:2). Jesus answers “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God may be manifested.”
In his Commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Thomas Aquinas considers what it means for us that the works of God may be manifested. He recalls that St. Augustine wrote: “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 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).
The man’s blindness set up an opening for God’s action. This is how he came to appreciate God. Thomas adds: “the knowledge of God is man’s greatest good, since our happiness consists in this: ‘This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (Jn 17:3)” (Commentary on John, 1300). If we think about it the most solid basis of our happiness is knowing God is sustaining us.
We become better people through the challenges we meet in life. Thomas observes:
“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).
Jesus moves the conversation from physical blindness to spiritual blindness, as He announces: “We must do the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:4-5).
The prophet Malachi announced: “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).
Notice the works of God can be done “in us, for us, and by us.” 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).
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’ 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).
Jesus remains our light: “He is also present to 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 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 His body held a definite healing power” (Commentary on John, 1310).
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 attention to 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 adds 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.
Passages from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John are taken from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, II, trans. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications).