Fourth Sunday of Lent
What the world calls ‘seeing’ is really a blindness covered in darkness. What it calls blindness is perceptive and surrounded in love and goodness. Samuel was sent to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king. He was told to disregard those who exhibited strength, lofty stature, and regal appearance and choose David, a shepherd, and the youngest son. This choice illustrated God’s ability to work through unlikely people.
Though we may be impressed by the appearance of some people, we must look at the “unseen” beauty of people in their totality. We can also be blinded by our exceptionalism, pride, power, prestige, money, and position. All this blinds us to the needs of others. Healing would enable us to see the beauty of the unseen in every person who bears the image of God enables us to stand in solidarity with the people whoever they are.
Jesus openly proclaimed that he came to open the eyes of the blind and free those held captive in darkness. He showed how God is close to the broken making him a dangerous figure. There were consequences for the previously blind man who sees everything differently. He must hold back the naked hostile forces of authority towards him and Jesus. Those in authority do this when people have their eyes opened and see what is. In politics it leads to smear campaigns. But it is very difficult to silence people for whom the lights go on. They cannot be forced back into the dark or be cowed by the outside hostility. Henri Giroux refers to ‘the violence of organised forgetting’ where ignorance is weaponised and refuses to acknowledge past oppression and violence towards others whether First Nations people, women, people living with disability, children who have been abused, and LGBTIQA+ people. James Baldwin says, ‘Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.’
The gospel is less about one man’s blindness but about the blindness of the disciples, and us. Where there was healing, others saw sin. The questions by the leaders were born of suspicion and unwillingness to consider God’s action among them. The corruption, power-grabbing and judgmental condemnation of anything new and different marks those unable or unwilling to see despite protesting that they can see. We all make choices about what we will see – whether suffering and injustice, reports of grief, war, and trauma. Pope Francis calls on us to look at people on the edges of society or marginalised from our concern. He has pointed to the blind spots towards migrants and people seeking asylum, people in prison, people of other faiths, especially Muslims, people living with mental illness or disability or people who are homeless.
In his beautiful book Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon shares stories about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities, children conceived in rape, and transgender children. He points to the triumph of love over prejudice as he mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.
Using the imagery of light and darkness Paul emphasises that through baptism we are God’s adopted sons and daughters so that we become people of light capable of remarkable goodness. We are all unlikely choices, but God chooses us to build the reign of justice and love in our own ways. Jason Gray in a song entitled, With Every Act of Love puts it this way, “God put a million, million doors in the world for his love to walk through, and one of those doors is you.” God makes many unlikely choices and each of us is among them and we have the opportunity to be doors for God’s love in our world today.
Whilst today’s Gospel story is often interpreted by comparing physical sight and spiritual awareness, we can find new meanings by asking, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents.’ This question comes up when a person is not born in the right body, or born with a disability, or born gay or lesbian, or born with Downs Syndrome? We can legitimately ask, “Why did God make me this way? Did I do something wrong or not try hard enough? What did I do wrong in raising my child? Is it my fault?”
Others look for fault and who to blame. Who can we blame? Who did the wrong thing? Was it him? Was it the parents? The question of blame is always pertinent. We have asked where did Covid-19 come from? How did it spread? Why are so many people getting sick? Who will be made to take responsibility? Jesus replies, “Neither s/he nor her/his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through them.” He uses these situations as teaching opportunities and opportunities for loving action. He proclaims the diversity that unites. Each story, of the man born blind or woman by the well last week, are about transformation—people experiencing dramatic change and even liberation. In each case, God gives marginalised and maligned people, the opportunity to teach us about self-acceptance, just relationships, and love’s unimaginable power and durability.
The religious leaders turned the man’s blindness into a theological problem. The church has turned sexual orientation and gender identity into theological problems to be solved rather than accepted and appreciated. Politicians turned the Covid-19 pandemic in a political discussion rather than scientific understanding. In the gospel, deep prejudices are confronted by loving action. The leaders could not see God’s love revealed through the blind man and how he enriched his community.
The sight we gain through Jesus can be dangerous. It has consequences especially when others refuse or cannot see what we see. Where people act out of conscience and compassion they can be arrested. This was the case of many people in the Love Makes a Way movement that non-violently protested the detention of children in immigration detention only to find themselves in court.
The corruption, power-grabbing and judgmental condemnation of anything new and different is a mark of those who cannot or will not see despite protesting that they see clearly. How will we, as Jesus’ followers, be a light and follow his way with regard to contemporary issues that confront us today: to condemn human trafficking in Thailand, oppression of Rohingya people in Myanmar and Bangladesh; to condemn continuing Israeli bombing of Syria despite the recent earthquake and ongoing sanctions; to choose peace and nonviolence over violence; to be welcoming and inclusive over discrimination; to speak out rather than being silent. As Jesus was drawn towards people who were the most rejected, we are called to be countercultural and not accept the way society deals with them.
We see from the gospel that it is easy to avoid seeing the resources, the opportunities, and the capacity we have for making a difference and believe that we can do nothing. If we claim to have seen Jesus then we must allow God’s love and mercy, truth and justice change our seeing and shed light on our world, our relationships and our neighbourhoods. May our seeing be informed by God’s perspective where the greatest are the least, and where everyone – whether a shepherd boy like David, or a carpenter from the country like Jesus, or a blind man who can now see, or a woman who has had many husbands – can make significant differences in the world.