The Blind Man Who Wanted for Nothing
The Psalm says, “The Lord is my Shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.”
But the Gospel Reading tells the story of a man born blind. How is the Psalm supposed to be made consonant with the Gospel Reading? Doesn’t the man born blind have something that he lacks?
The disciples of Jesus are anxious about this blind man too, and they try to allay their anxiety by finding some explanation for his blindness. “Why was this man born blind?” they ask Jesus. “Did this man sin or was it his parents?” If it was anybody’s sin, then they can reasonably hope that such suffering won’t come to their families, at least if they all try hard not to sin.
But this is an appalling way to think about suffering, isn’t it? It is terrible to suppose that all suffering is punishment for sin. What kind of God inflicts blindness on a newborn as a punishment for sin?
Jesus dismisses their attitude entirely. This man’s blindness has nothing to do with the sins of anyone, Jesus says. It’s something about the future, not something about the past, that explains his blindness. God let this man be born blind that the works of God might be manifest through him.
But Jesus’ explanation looks at least as bad as the thought of the disciples, doesn’t it? What kind of God inflicts blindness on a newborn so that the works of God can be manifest in him later?
But think about that blind man himself.
At the outset of the story, he is an impoverished, outcast nobody of a beggar. Then the mighty works of God are manifest in him, and he takes the Lord as his Shepherd. The result is that he himself becomes glorious. When the story ends, he has become an icon of faith and courage. He has stood up to the worldly power of the leaders of his community and witnessed to the goodness of God in very challenging circumstances. He has become an example to us all.
Who would not want to be like him?
And that is why it was true for him that the Lord was his shepherd, even though he was born blind. In the end, the Lord was his Shepherd, and there was nothing the blind man lacked, just as the Psalmist says.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University