In the forty one verses of today’s passage from John, there are thirty eight words and phrases referring to sight, or the lack thereof. The word “blind” is used thirteen times, and variations of wording that has to do with restoration of sight (e.g. seeing, and eyes being opened) occur sixteen times.
Apart from the actual restoration of sight to the man born blind, other references to seeing include:
- Jesus and his disciples seeing the blind man
- Jesus connecting the healing of the man’s blindness to the works of God being made visible or manifest, i.e. able to be seen
- The blind man’s neighbors who had earlier seen him as a beggar
- Jesus’ response to the former blind man’s question as to who the Son of Man is, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he”
- Jesus’ reference to the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.
I invite you to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine what it would be like if you were never again able to open your eyes. What would you miss the most about not being able to see?
The practical difficulties and deprivations alone are numerous beyond belief: not being able to move about freely, especially in unfamiliar territory; not being able to drive, or simply pick up a book or newspaper and read it, or watch a movie, or look in a mirror to see what my face, clothes or hair look like. But for me, life without ever seeing the faces of those I love, or the spark of love in their eyes or their smile, or the richness, beauty and nearly infinite varieties of plants, creatures, and color in the world around us seems nearly unendurable.
Never seeing trees leafing green in the Spring or changing color in the Fall; or flowers with their amazing variety of shapes, sizes and exquisite colors, or mountains purple against the twilight sky, or the waves and endless expanse of the ocean, an azure sky or a sunset of breathtaking beauty, or a goldfinch in flight with the sun glinting like sparks off its wings.
These ordinary things I see with my eyes everyday of my life are a never-ending source of deep joy to me.
In today’s gospel, Jesus uses something of extraordinary value and importance – physical sight – as a metaphor for something of even greater importance – spiritual sight, i.e. the ability to perceive and understand those things that we cannot see with our eyes, but which are of even greater beauty and value than what we see with our physical eyes. This inner sight is the source of meaning, purpose and direction for our lives. The pharisees looked at Jesus and with their eyes they saw a man; but they did not see who Jesus really was. With their eyes they also saw a man who had been blind, now able to see; but they did not see the awesome significance or goodness of the healing.
For Jesus, the real question is whether the lack of seeing is voluntary or involuntary. If I don’t want to see something, I simply close my eyes, whereas the man born blind had no choice; his blindness was not of his making or choosing. In like manner, those who have never had the gospel proclaimed to them or never received any instruction in the faith cannot be expected to see, to understand who Jesus is, or recognize God at work in him. But the Pharisees knew their scriptures in depth; they had heard Jesus’ teachings and witnessed his miracles. They chose to close the eyes of their spirits, refusing to see or comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ words and deeds.
Are I really so different from the Pharisees? Just as, because of my inattention or indifference, I can miss or be oblivious both to the natural beauty as well as the human desecration of our earth, so the blindness of my brokenness, sinfulness and inattention can keep me from seeing and comprehending inner realities, both positive and negative.
And spiritual blindness, like physical blindness, prevents me from seeing not only what is good and beautiful, but also what is sad, unfortunate, deformed, and ugly as well. When I suffer from spiritual blindness, I not only do not see the rich colors of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, or the beauty of God’s image in the face of every person without exception; but I also do not see my own brokenness or the obstacles within me that perpetuate my blindness to God’s healing, creative love at work in myself others and the world.
Am I able, like the man born blind, to acknowledge my blindness and open myself to Jesus’ healing touch, open the eyes of my soul to his light and love? Or do I, like the Pharisees, make the tragic mistake of denying my blindness, refusing Jesus’ offer of healing, and thereby condemn myself to on-going darkness? We can only imagine the depth of the blind man’s excitement, joy and awe, when he first opened his eyes and beheld the magnificence and beauty of God’s creation for the first time. As we struggle during this time of Lent with our own inner blindness, may we experience once again the joy of being found by Jesus, and have the courage to open our eyes and walk into the amazing light of his goodness, truth and beauty.