Jesus says in today's gospel:
It is for judgment that I have come into this world.
For many people this may not seem like good news. Their hearts and memories will be too filled already with the burden of guilt, the often unconfessed but still real sense of their own unworthiness and failure.
What need have they for someone, be it the Son of God and the Light of the world, to come tell them what they already know themselves? Better if things remain as they are. Better if the depths of our pasts keep their murky secrets.
Better to struggle on through the shades between light and dark, in that twilight existence between self-knowledge and self-deceit. Better - when it comes down to it - if things remain as they are. Perhaps better finally if He hadn't come into the world at all if, that is, He came for judgment.
Christians don't talk much anymore of Jesus as Judge. Talk like that seems to provoke fear and trembling rather than love and trust, and to love and trust we know Our Lord calls us in discipleship. Judgment recalls images of hellfire and damnation.
But perhaps that's because we don't really let Jesus be the Judge. The fear we harbour for his judgment may be only the trembling we feel before our own judgment of ourselves and others or theirs of us. When we begin to see that, we may come to welcome another judge and so also Him who came into our world for judgment.
The story of the healing of the blind man begins with the disciples' question to Jesus about blame. They ask him whose sin has caused it to be that this man has been blind from birth. It was common at the time to believe that for every affliction someone had to be guilty. "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" the disciples ask.
We can easily imagine the blind man in all his years of blindness asking himself the same question. Somebody must be to blame.
Is it I?
It's natural to ask why bad things happen to people. Sadly, it's natural also to look for someone to blame. Often we let the blame fall on ourselves. That's why we need judgment.
Jesus restores the sight of the blind man, but only after passing judgment. He has come first as Judge. Of the blind man he said,
Neither he nor his parents sinned.
Sometimes what we need to know most is that we are not to blame.
Sometimes it's others, however, who would keep us blinded by their judgments. This is the case with the Pharisees in our Gospel. They have already passed judgment on Jesus:
For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.
Through their successive interrogations, they are asking the man who had been healed to accept their judgment on Jesus and perhaps also his society's on himself. When he refuses, they pass judgment on him as well:
... you a sinner through and through, since you were born.
The Pharisees not only drive him away but would cast him back into agonising about his own or someone else's guilt for the way he was born. We need the light of Jesus' judgment to penetrate not only the dark judgments we pass on ourselves but those others pass on us as well.
It is a common enough principle of law that no one should act as their own judge. It is supposed that one would be too inclined to judge their own case favourably.
This would not necessarily be so for the blind man in a society that needed someone to blame for his affliction. It would not be so either where people have become long habituated to self-deceit rather than self-knowledge.
Jesus offers the Pharisees, just as he had given the blind man, the insight of His judgment, but because they think they already see clearly, he tells them,
Your guilt remains.
It is they finally who are left where they would have the left the blind man - in their guilt. The Gospel leaves us in little doubt that self-judgment is often the surest path to self-condemnation. That's not what Jesus is about, for he came
not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17).
The blind man comes to faith after Jesus judges. Far from an attitude of fear and trembling Christians might come to see that it is through His judgment that we shall be saved.