Fourth Sunday of Lent
Some years ago, I taught Algebra I in Catholic school in New Orleans, mostly 9th and 10th graders. I distinctly remember at least one time trying to teach a new lesson. When I finished the material, I asked if anyone had any questions. A few hands went up. “What did you not understand?,” I asked. “Everything,” they couldn’t say exactly what. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s try that again. If at any point I lose you, let me know. If you don’t get what I’m saying, stop me.” I went through the entire lesson once more. No hands went up while I was speaking. And when I finished, I asked the question again. The same hands go up, and maybe a few more – including those who weren’t sure they weren’t sure the first time. “What exactly did you not understand?” “Everything” … again. Gaaaahhh! So I go through the lesson a third time, stopping at each step, asking if everyone understood before I went on. When I was done, I asked again. And again, the same hands go up. Suddenly, a stroke of genius – I try something new. I asked who among them DID understand the new material. They were getting impatient some of the smarter ones, wanting to move on. A few hands go up. “Get up here and explain to your classmates the lesson as you understand it.” One student repeats the lesson, using practically the same explanation I gave. When he was done, I asked the question. “Now we get it,” they tell me. How is that possible? He did exactly what I had done.
Let’s face it. It is a mystery that some people get it and some don’t. Those of you who are parents or teachers might be able to relate. You say something over and over, slowly and carefully, you look into their eyes and see them looking back at you, you plead and you beg, you ask them to repeat what you just said, and you know you’re still not getting through, the lights aren’t coming on upstairs, they’re not getting it. “What exactly don’t you understand,” you ask? They can’t tell you, they just don’t. Now it can be just as frustrating with adults as it is with young people. But somehow you can let young people get away with it. You were young once, and you know what it’s like. Maybe with a little more time and experience, they will understand. You might even remember when the things your parents tried so hard to tell you finally did begin to make sense. All of a sudden your eyes were opened. You may have actually even said the words, “Mom, dad, you were right.” Almost knocked them over. But when you’re dealing with grown-ups, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the involuntary inability to understand and the stubborn willful resistance to understanding. All of a sudden we can see what Jesus was dealing with telling the Pharisees. “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
Take any burning issue, your burning issue – abortion, contraception, drugs, alcohol, marriage, infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, promiscuity, partisan politics, violence, crime, war, abuse, rape, poverty, homelessness, hunger, healthcare, immigration, unemployment, pornography, prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism, ageism, atheism, religious extremism, clericalism, crisis in church leadership, education, illiteracy, animal cruelty, neglect, medical malpractice, stealing, lying, cheating, gambling, money laundering, tax evasion, insider trading, environmentalism, commercialism, consumerism, capitalism, greed, socialism, communism, judicial activism, militarism … what did I miss? Take any burning issue. Just one, we don’t have all day. Now ask yourself honestly, “What is the most important principle underlying this issue? Hospitality, injustice, truth, human dignity, Christian charity? And what does the Gospel have to say to YOU about this issue? NOT what does the Gospel have to say to your neighbor? If the values, teachings or example of Jesus challenge you to radically change something about your thinking, your choices, your behavior, or your lifestyle, that is where you have been blind. If you are willing to see once again, if you are willing to have your eyes opened, it will come at great cost and your life will be turned upside-down, like the blind man in the gospel. But if you choose to resist, like the Pharisees, if you insist that you can see fine and do not need to be healed of your blindness, it is because you are comfortable with your thinking, your values, your behavior and your lifestyle, and would much rather someone else do the changing and transforming.
“I’m fine the way I am,” you tell Jesus. “Leave me alone.”
“If you were blind, you would have no sin,” Jesus tells the Pharisees. “But now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
Any questions? Anything you want me to go over just one more time? And don’t shoot the messenger. Jesus is the one who opens the eyes of the blind. But first we have to be willing to admit that we are blind.