by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him…I came into the world for judgement, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” John 9: 1-41
It would seem that, whenever anything in our world goes wrong or turns out to be contrary to our expectations, we human beings look for a reason or search for somebody or something to blame. When a stockpile of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port area of Beirut in August 2021, claiming more than 200 lives and levelling countless buildings, responsibility was sheeted home to the outgoing Prime Minister of Lebanon and three former ministers, all of whom were accused of negligence. Early this month, two trains collided in Greece killing scores of passengers. A cause was demanded by protesters, and a station manager was accused of telling one of the train drivers to ignore a red light. The Minister for Transport resigned to appease the protesters. For some reason, we want the satisfaction of knowing the causes of misadventures, accidents and human failings. In the time of Jesus, the Jewish people attributed birth defects to the sinfulness of current family members or ancestors. So, in today’s gospel-reading we hear the disciples asking Jesus for the cause of the blindness of the man whom they encountered as they walked along: “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?” (John 9:2). Were they implying that healthy babies are a reward for parents who live good and decent lives?
That led Jesus to state categorically that God is not in the business of visiting disabilities on anyone as a punishment for sin. He proceeded to explain that God’s love can be revealed to us and to our world through people who meet with misadventure and carry disability, and that love is also reflected in the kindness of those who care for them.
What follows is a declaration by Jesus identifying himself as “the light of the world” sent by God to enlighten a world whose people live in darkness because of ignorance, insensitivity to the prejudice that blinds them, or deliberate choice.
When people allow themselves to see the truth of realities they witness, they sometimes have to let go of opinions that are hard-wired in their brains or allow long-held prejudices to evaporate. Such demands call for flexibility, open-heartedness and a willingness to grow and develop. The Pharisees who witnessed Jesus cure the blind man could not bring themselves to admit that Jesus might have something to offer from which even they could benefit. Rather than admit that Jesus might be God-sent, they resorted to a range of specious explanations to convince themselves and others that Jesus was really a fraud: He has contravened the law of sabbath rest by setting to work and mixing soil and saliva and daubing it on the blind man’s eyes! How can any good emanate from an action that breaks the sabbath law? The man who sought the cure from Jesus was only pretending to be blind!
Moreover, as they had already threatened with expulsion from the synagogue anyone who accepted Jesus as a prophet worthy of credibility, when the cured man, in his simplicity, declared to them that a man who can cure blindness, can’t be anything but a prophet, he was discarded. In the process of all this, the Pharisees demonstrated that anyone whose actions were a threat to their position and power would be ridiculed and discredited. We still have among us the equivalent of “temple police”, whose approach to ritual, whose rigid approach to religious practice seems to be distant from the compassion of Jesus. The challenge for us is to refrain from dismissing them and, instead, to love them gently and tolerantly into freedom and life.
There is further food for reflection in all three of today’s readings. They all have the theme of light and seeing woven through them, as well was the way in which we can close our eyes to both when what we see calls us to act. Samuel, categorised as a seer, had been sent by God to find a suitable candidate from among the sons of Jesse as King to replace Saul. Samuel was reluctant to play a role in removing a reigning king but was urged by God to open his eyes to see that Saul was no longer worthy to hold his position on the throne. No fewer than six times Samuel was instructed to open his eyes to Saul’s inadequacy and to keep them open until he recognised which of Jesse’s sons was the most suitable to succeed Saul. The message for us is that we, too, have to be prepared to open our eyes to see what is sometimes below the surface and then to summon the courage to act on what we eventually come to see. We have to trust in the guidance of God’s Spirit and let go of the fear that holds us captive from doing what we know is right. Samuel eventually saw that the least likely successor to Saul was Jesse’s youngest son David who was a mere shepherd, with neither status nor power.
In the second of today’s readings from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that, with the coming of Jesus, the light of the world, what is right, good and true is now longer hidden from our view. Our lives can now be lived in the enlightenment offered to us by Jesus and his Gospel. We still have to open our eyes and hearts to make space for that enlightenment.
Finally, in the gospel-reading, we are invited to look into the mirror of compassion held up to us by the way in which Jesus reached out to the man born blind, and then rescued him from being excluded from the community of synagogue worshippers into which he had just qualified for entry. The irony, of course, was that by ignoring Jesus and his compassion, those whose role was to model compassion, welcome, inclusion and acceptance, were distancing themselves from genuine worship of God.
As disciples of Jesus, we all have a responsibility to keep our hearts, minds and eyes open, so as to be sensitive to everyone whom we encounter, to be aware as to whom we include and whom we lock out when we allow our prejudice, bias, bigotry or some other kind of blindness to keep them on the outer. We have a responsibility through the way in which we live our faith lives and practice compassion to be instruments of making visible the works of God.