Dispelling blindness: Seeing in the light of Christ

Julian Paparella

March 23, 2017
A reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
It can be difficult to imagine what life would be like if we were born blind. How would we function? How would we perceive the world? But is physical blindness the only form of blindness? Is it the worst form of blindness?
The Fourth Sunday of Lent shows us otherwise. We are presented with the Gospel of the poor man born blind (John 9:1-41). The drama unfolds as Jesus arrives on the scene with His disciples. Immediately they ask, “Whose sin caused the man to be born blind – his own or his parents’?” Neither, Jesus responds. Rather, it is so that God’s power can be manifested through him. Jesus concludes, “I am the light of the world.” He then spits on the ground, makes some clay, places it on the man’s eyes, and sends him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Miraculously the man returns, able to see.
His neighbours are sceptical, “How could this be?” The man simply replies, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes, and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” Unconvinced, they take him back to the Pharisees. There he recounts once more what Jesus did for him. Their strategy is to discredit Jesus as a sinner. A back-and-forth ensues in which even the man’s parents are questioned as to whether he was truly born blind. Doubt upon doubt upon doubt.
Jesus returns to the man, who proclaims his simple faith, unaffected by the cynicism that swirls around him: “I do believe, Lord.” The meddling Pharisees make yet another cameo. They ask Jesus, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus’ reply is the punch line that culminates the whole story: “If you were born blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.’”
What are we to make of all of this?
From the very start, the disciples, the man’s neighbours, and the Pharisees show us something about our human nature. The disciples point their fingers. Surely it is someone’s fault that the man was born blind, so who is the guilty party – the man or his parents? The man’s neighbours then join in the same chorus. Rather than rejoicing that their neighbour can finally see after years of blindness, they are suspicious. Finding no other way of explaining the situation, the Pharisees resort to accusing Jesus, dismissing Him as a fraud.
How easy it is to fall into the same trap. We do not understand, we do not have a hold on the situation, we feel threatened, and so we resort to being suspicious, accusing others, making up stories. We get caught up in our own perspective and forget to see the big picture. We think of our own good at the expense of the good of others. Why can it be so difficult to rejoice and appreciate the good things others receive? Why can the gifts and success of others make us feel inadequate or uneasy? What blinds us from seeing the goodness around us? How can we overcome this blindness?
Jesus gives His disciples the secret to healing their own blindness before He even begins healing the man born blind. He tells them: “I am the light of the world.” This is the remedy to their blindness. The man born blind manifests God’s power by revealing who is the remedy to our blindness, who enables us truly to see. It is Jesus.
The blindness of the Pharisees is rooted in their insecurity. They could not accept that Jesus could do any good for fear that this might jeopardize their status and stature in society. Their vision was so clouded by their determination to be right that they could not rejoice when the man born blind was finally healed. They became so engrossed in trying to be superior to others that their systems could not take the shock of God’s goodness. Clinging to their own perspective clouded them from seeing things from God’s perspective.
Jesus is the true light by which we are able to see ourselves and our neighbour. The way God sees things is as they truly are. Jesus reveals God’s perspective. He is the antidote to our cynicism, our disbelief, our doubt and suspicion. These do not allow us to see reality clearly. They fog our vision and cause us to stumble. When we doubt the goodness of God, we too can become insecure. We can resort to projecting our insecurity onto others, trying to put them down so we can come out on top. We can dismiss them to reassure ourselves. We can fail to see where our true value lies. Pride and selfishness come from not seeing ourselves as God sees us, and trying to compensate by being better than others, putting them down to reassure ourselves. Like the Pharisees, our blindness to seeing the truth about others comes from our blindness to the truth about ourselves.
The cure is the simple faith of the man born blind: "I do believe, Lord." This cure allows us to see the truth about ourselves, to see ourselves in the light of Jesus. In His light, we see ourselves for who we truly are. We see ourselves as God sees us. We see that God truly loves us, that God has created us, and that in Jesus He has come to save us from our sins. We see that God is truly merciful, that God delights in forgiving us. We see that God's forgiveness is not just for all of humanity in general, but for each of us, for me personally. We see that God truly wants what is good for us, that He never tires of welcoming us back with open arms. We do not see that we are good in His eyes. When we see in the light of Christ, we begin to truly see.
What threat did the man born blind pose to the Pharisees? Why couldn’t his neighbours accept his healing? The healing of the blind man threatened the blindness of the Pharisees. This blindness clouded them from seeing with the light that comes from Jesus. Their eyes remained closed to the truth about themselves, and so they could not accept the truth about God and about others. Jesus comes to illumine our vision so that we can see the goodness of God – at work in our lives and the lives of those around us. He opens our eyes so that we may truly see.