Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jesus openly proclaimed that he came to open the eyes of the blind and set free those held captive in darkness. This resulted him in being viewed as a dangerous figure. We see how God is close to the broken. Here a blind man can now see things differently and is no longer held back by outsides forces of authority despite their naked hostility towards him and Jesus.
The powers do this when people have their eyes opened and see what is. Their fear leads them to engage in smear campaigns. We see this clearly in the many responses of Donald Trump to anyone who sees him for what he is. There is a smear campaign. But for anyone whose lights go on, it is very difficult to silence them, force them back into the dark, or be cowed by the outside hostility. Those in power engage in what Henry Giroux has called ‘the violence of organised forgetting’ which leads to moral paralysis. Ignorance, has become weaponised in the refusal to acknowledge past oppression and violence towards individuals and whole peoples whether they are First Nations people, women, people living with disability, children who have suffered abuse, LGBTIQ people. For James Baldwin, ‘Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.’
Failure to learn from the past has disastrous consequences. This ignorance threatens the capacity to question and paralyses agency. We saw this when one like Donald Trump can gain a platform by promoting values of ‘greatness’ that serve to erase the memory of social and political progress achieved in the name of equality and basic human decency. In Australia, these processes occurred when we are told that everything is done by the government in the name of national security. We were misled and kept in the dark about the invasion of Iraq.
The readings call us to see things from a unique perspective. God does not see as humans often do but looks into the heart (cf. reading from Samuel). Our way of seeing can often dead-end our understanding of people, things and situations.
The gospel story is less about one man’s blindness but about the blindness of the disciples, and ourselves. The blind man’s neighbours and others who saw him begging were unable to identify him. They could see, and passed him by, but never looked. They saw sin when there was healing. The questions by the leaders were born of suspicion and unwillingness to consider wonder and God’s action in the world.
Pope Francis has shown a passionate concern for people on the edges of society or marginalised from our concern. We need to look at them in different ways. Francis points out our blind spots whether 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.
Andrew Solomon, in Far From the Tree, writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; children who are prodigies, children conceived in rape, children who become criminals and transgender children. He shows where love triumphs over prejudice. Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.
Jesus uses these situations as public teaching opportunities and opportunities for loving action. He proclaims the diversity that unites as we saw last week in the Samaritan woman and the man born blind. The disciples ask whose sin caused a man to be born blind – his own or his parents. They cannot imagine any other answer to why such disability exists. Jesus does not answer directly but instead implies this situation is an opportunity for God's power to be revealed. But, deep prejudices are confronted by loving action. There is no middle ground to walk. We must see the person and human need first and foremost, as did Jesus when he was moved by the Samaritan woman’s situation than her past.
Many people among us know what it is like to be shut out, told to wait, given second best, told they are not good enough. This often occurs when people seek their entitlements from government social security agencies. The sight we gain through Jesus can be dangerous. It can get us into trouble especially when others refuse or cannot see what we see and feel. 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 when they non-violently sat protested the detention of children in immigration detention and in court were told by the magistrate that it was a court of law and not a court of conscience..
In Afghanistan, the Afghan Youth Volunteers for Peace (aged from 15-22) walk, talk, rally for peace and host peace activists from various countries. These unlikely people have a sent a different message to those involved in war and violence. Their message is: 'Why Not Love?' These young people refuse to be discouraged by insults and ridicule and insulting words as did the blind man: ‘Who are you? One 15 year old, Abdulai, says, ‘I know, if I take revenge, the cycle never ends. In place of revenge, we should seek reconciliation and friendship.’
As the blind man got an insight into Jesus and did his work, these young people follow the path to true humanity working for change and transformation. They have seen differently and acted differently. Those in power wish to hold on to it will not listen because it challenges the status quo and personal power. 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. This has been the experience of scientists vis-à-vis climate change and more recently in response to Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Exhortation (Querida Amazonia – Beloved Amazon) on the injustice endured over generations by the people in the Amazon and destruction of the region. But, the acceptance, healing and grace that Jesus shows – and the response of those who have been enabled to see by Christ’s touch – is the mark of those who ‘live in the light’.
How will we, as Jesus’ followers, be a light and follow his way with regard to contemporary issues that confront us today: human trafficking in Thailand, oppression of Rohingya people in Myanmar and Bangladesh; the bombing of civilians in Syria and Yemen. the choice of peace and nonviolence over violence; to be welcoming and inclusive over discrimination (people seeking asylum, LGBTIQ people, the First Nations peoples); choosing 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.
As we journey through this Lent, we ask ourselves how often do we quibble with inessentials (e.g., eating meat on Fridays) to avoid facing the gospel? or focus on giving up things rather than taking on things especially in regard to other people and the environment? How often is our vision of Jesus clouded over by selfishness, by our culture, by fear?
We all make choices about what we will see and what we won’t. It is easy to choose not to see the suffering and injustice. We can switch off the news and ignore reports of grief, war and trauma. We can avoid seeing certain people and to allow them to just blend in with the landscape, removing their need and struggle from our vision. We can avoid seeing God’s truth and grace in people we disagree with.
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 have to confront how we see things, and allow God’s love and mercy, truth and justice to 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 women who has had many husbands – can make significant differences in the world.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik, msc
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Justice and Peace Centre
President, Pax Christ Australia
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]