“I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see!” With these words the man in today’s gospel speaks strongly and clearly to the disbelieving Pharisees. He can see, yet they are still blind. They believe that any “work” done during the Sabbath – including giving sight to a man blind from birth – is against the Law. Therefore, Jesus is a sinner. Yet they are baffled, because if Jesus is a sinner, “how can he perform signs like these?”
The man, for his part, grows rapidly in understanding the significance of his cure. In an effort to help the Pharisees see more clearly, he reminds them of their own teaching “that God does not hear sinners, but that if someone is devout and obeys his will, he listens to him.” Therefore, the man concludes, the one who healed him is certainly of God. Though he does not yet know Jesus by name, his heart has been awakened to faith. He cannot contain his joy at having been given new sight and new insight, so he bursts forth with courage to proclaim the good news about Jesus: “He is a prophet!”
The Jews have a seemingly fool-proof defense against the man’s claim. Since they believe that any illness or defect is the result of sin, they identify the blind man as a sinner too. Why should they listen to someone who is “steeped in sin” from his birth? What authority does this sinner have to lecture them? The fact is, the man born blind is an instrument whom the Lord has sent to the Pharisees to open their closed hearts, yet they choose to banish him from their sight rather than be enlightened by the truth he proclaims.
The readings present us, then, with the contrast between blindness and sight, especially between the interior blindness displayed by the Pharisees and the spiritual sight experienced by the cured man. The Pharisees, who knew the scriptures well, should have known better than to judge by appearances. The story of the call of David, which we read in the first reading, teaches that there is another way to “see” – God’s way. “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”
The Pharisees actually do worse than judge by appearances; they judge by prejudices. Because they refuse to look deeper than their own prejudice against “lawbreakers” like Jesus and “sinners” like the man born blind, they cannot see what God wants to show them. Jesus’ final words to them are one more attempt to reach them: “If you were blind, there would be no sin in that. ‘But we see,’ you say, and your sin remains.”
In what ways are we like the Pharisees? When we will not let ourselves be counted among the sinners. When we neither seek forgiveness nor desire conversion. When we pass judgment on the hearts of others while refusing to face the possibility that we ourselves may be blind. Even if our eyes are wide open, our hearts can still be blind. We cannot see the beauty that surrounds us, particularly the beauty of God at work in his people.
The Pharisees have the blind man thrown bodily from the synagogue. For a Jew, to be thus expelled was to be banished from the whole community. It was such a terrible punishment that the threat alone leaves the man’s parents too frightened to speak the truth. There are times when we fear to speak the truth. We do not want to risk the painful rejection and alienation that can come from being a public witness to what is right. To overcome this fear, we can find great encouragement by recalling how quickly Jesus seeks out the healed man and reveals himself more fully to him. Jesus comes personally to all who suffer from persecution, humiliation and deprivation. He comes to us. He seeks us out and reveals himself as our Lord and Savior.
When the man bows down before him in faith and adoration, Jesus declares that he has come into the world to divide it, “to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” In saying this, the Lord places on us the responsibility of deciding whether we want to join the ranks of the seeing or the blind. Seeing is not a momentary choice but a whole way of life. St. Paul describes this way of life in today’s second reading. Acknowledging that we have been given the light of faith, he exhorts us to “live as children of light” and to “take no part in vain deeds done in darkness.” Paul tells us, “Light produces every kind of goodness and justice and truth. Be correct in your judgment of what pleases the Lord.” His words apply to us especially in the season of Lent. This is a grace-filled time for us to renew our commitment to live in the light of Christ.
When am I blind to the beauty of God at work in his people? Under what circumstances am I afraid to speak the truth? Do I acknowledge my own failings or do I only see the sins of others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.