Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Man Born Blind (Lent 4.A)

I had a friend in university who was blind. But he had nothing else in common with the man in today's Gospel. Thanks to inventions like Braille, and technological help like tape recorders, Gord was anything but a tragic figure—he got his Ph.D. in psychology, became a university professor, and now gives seminars on a wide variety of topics, including how to coach softball.

That last topic surprised me until I remembered that he always beat me at Ping-Pong!

The man born blind was obviously an intelligent man also, but that was no help to him two thousand years ago. Social attitudes to disabilities were harsh, educational options were nil, and his inability to work condemned him to a life of begging. No wonder Jesus is drawn to show him compassion and to bring him healing.

But even when we look at blindness today in a modern and respectful way, it remains a timeless symbol of our human need for the light of Christ.

Consider the simple fact that no parent can fully protect a blind child from walking into things. Nor can a blind person who wants to be mobile avoid walking into the occasional unseen obstacle. The same risk, with far greater consequences, confronts the spiritually blind. Only by God's grace do we know to dodge the temptations that stand in our way; only with His help can we turn aside from the unexpected and dangerous things that even literally "pop up" on our computers, for instance.

A second hardship for the physically blind is getting lost. It takes hard work to master the routes to familiar places, including the number of steps to climb at every staircase. But getting lost along the way to school or work is nothing compared to losing our way through life because the eyes of our hearts were darkened to God's plan for our lives. We need God's light to know the right path, to choose the right path, and to stay on it through the twists and turns of life.

Another aspect of physical blindness is being unable to perceive all the beauty around us. But when one sense is lost, others develop all the more, and many a blind person has enjoyed fully the glories of nature through the sound the birds and the wind in the trees, and the fresh smells of the forest. Yet blindness of the soul makes us miss much of God's grandeur; darkened hearts can't see the goodness of creation. Such inner blindness keeps them from praising and thanking God for the wonders He has done for us.

Finally, an obvious but important loss suffered by the most visually impaired can be simply the experience of light itself. Light itself, in all its variations, is a rich human experience. The light that accompanies the heat of the sun, the light that reflects off things, is welcome and warm.

Jesus has told us that He is the Light of the world. Do we see by that Light? Do we, in fact, see Jesus? An ancient writer said "If you say, 'show me your God,' I will say to you 'show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God. Show me whether the eyes of your mind can see…'"

God, he wrote, is seen by those who have the capacity to see Him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open. Everyone has eyes, but some are unable to see the light of the sun. But because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine.

Today's Gospel proclaims that Jesus, whom the prophet Malachi called the Sun of Righteousness, is shining on our darkened world. But our eyes need to be opened if we're going to walk by that light, guided and strengthened and grateful.

The healing of the man born blind invites us to be healed spiritually. Our second reading tells us how—by seeking what is pleasing to the Lord, namely by taking a good look at how we're living and comparing it honestly to what we've been taught. In other words, St. Paul says "open your eyes!"

By exposing our sin to the light—by making a good confession of what St. Paul calls the "unfruitful works of darkness"—we regain our spiritual sight, and we start again to walk in the light.

Finally, this fourth Sunday of Lent is a time to pray for fresh insight. You might wonder what the anointing of King David has to do with the other readings. It seems to me that it warns us about our tendency towards human thinking. Jesse never thought to bring the youngest and smallest of his family to Samuel, but that's just who the Lord wanted to lead Israel. For the Lord does not see as human beings do; we look on the outside, but he looks on the inside.

Does it sound difficult or even impossible to see things as God does—to replace our instinctive and often sinful reactions and perspectives with God's way of thinking? St. Paul gives a five-word answer to all who possess the gifts of the Spirit—the gifts our Confirmation class received Friday night at the hands of the Archbishop, the gifts our catechumen and candidates will receive at the great Easter Vigil, the gifts that most of us already have from our Baptism and Confirmation.

Paul's answer, found in his first letter to the Corinthians (2:16b), is this: "we have the mind of Christ."

We have the mind of Christ. We have the spiritual insight we need to make good choices, to persevere in right paths, and to see God's goodness with grateful hearts. Let us open our eyes to the Light of the World!

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