I want to be like this man–I don’t even know his name–but he teaches me how to live in a truer, freer way. He did not have any special training; he did not have a charismatic personality; he used to sit and beg; he was a man born blind. He was truly a child to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.
At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church calls us to receive Christ by receiving into our lives the witness of this man born blind, who became a child that could see. Christ puts before us two simple alternatives: to admit our blindness and so see, or to pretend that we can see and therefore remain blind.
Everyone in John 9 expresses the common mentality of the day; even the disciples of Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Misfortune and physical evil, any type of suffering, must be the result of punishment, and so also must be the case of this man who is born blind. Our temptation at this point would be to look down upon the “backward” culture of that time, as if they were the blind ones and we the “enlightened”.
But for Jesus, blindness is not a problem, either the blindness of the Apostles (in their mentality) or the physical blindness of this man who sits in the temple and beg. The problem is that we, like the Pharisees, run the risk of thinking that we have things figured out. No. We all have “blind spots”, which are a lot less dangerous if we acknowledge that they exist–like looking over our shoulder when we are driving.
This Gospel gets down to the “nitty gritty” of the Gospel, of who Christ wants to be in our life. The heart of things is precisely what separates the man born blind from the Pharisees. The man born blind is “bowled over” by the initiative that God takes in his life, by reality. The Pharisees–and not only those who belonged to their party, but unfortunately the man’s own parents–refuse to see, because they do not have the heart of a child. Let’s take some highlights from their dialogue.
First: What happened? The man born blind (who now sees): “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes…” The people: “Where is he?” The man: “I do not know.” The man born blind relates what he knows and what he doesn’t know. At this point–and who could blame him–he considers Jesus only as “the man”.
Second: The Pharisees go make a judgment not based on reality but on their prejudice. Pharisees: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.” The others who saw the same thing recall the Pharisees back to what happened: “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And the man born blind: “He is a prophet.”
Who is more reasonable? Reason is not a category that we fix for ourselves “before the fact”, deciding what is possible and what is not possible. Reason has to do with reality, and the most reasonable position to take in front of reality is not to decide beforehand what is “possible” but to pay attention simple to what happens.
Third: The Pharisees doubt that the man was ever blind, despite what everyone says and what many of them know. Unfortunately, when pressed, the parents of the man born blind let fear get in the way of a simple faithfulness to the facts, to what happens, to reality: “Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” The Gospel goes on: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledges him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.”
It is now time for the man born blind to shine, to give one of the most memorable witnesses to Christ. Here is the dialogue:
The Pharisees said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” [The man born blind] replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see….This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes….If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
The blind Pharisees refuse to face the facts. We may sometimes think that if the same miracles that were done in the days of Jesus were done in our days, it would be so much easier for us to believe–and for those who do not know the Lord. In fact, many who saw the miracles of Jesus later put him to death.
Why? Jesus diagnoses our spiritual sickness: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” We do not want to admit that we are blind, that we are not self-sufficient, that we do not have everything figured out. We live in a world in which our worth depends so much on what we do, who we know, and how much “experience” is on our Curriculum Vitae.
Jesus wants something more for us, and the experience of our blindness can be the most “valuable” in gaining the riches that Christ wants to give us. We can learn so much from this man born blind, who in his simple adherence to reality proves himself to be much more “moral” than the Pharisees. “Morality” can be defined as faithfulness to reality, and it springs from wonder: “That is what is so amazing…”. Morality in the end is adherence to reality, and reality is Christ: the one who is not done working to bring us from our blind eyes and closed hearts to the joy of knowing Him intimately.
Let us, then, be amazed once more at the simplicity of this man born blind, a simplicity that is the sure path to the Kingdom of Heaven:
When Jesus heard that he had been thrown out of the synagogue, “he found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ The man born blind answered and said, ‘Who is he sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and worshipped him.”
The Church in these amazing readings of Lent invites us to walk the path of the man born blind, and in the freedom that comes from prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to adhere to Christ who gives us the true knowledge of reality.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.