I’ve worn prescription eyeglasses since the first grade. I switched to contact lenses in college. Lately, I’ve began wearing reading glasses. At first, brighter lights helped. But nature reminds us that the journey of life takes a toll on our bodies. One day it’s the hearing, then the joints, then the memory. Some of you know that better than I. But I am a firm believer that what we lose in one form we can gain in another.
When I was in the first grade, my brother in the sixth grade began having trouble with his eyes. So mom decided it was time to get eyeglasses. She asked if I would come with them to the eye doctor. And I walked out with my own prescription for glasses. Another time, dad asked if I would join him and my sister for a visit to the dentist. You guessed it. I ended up in the chair. I lost a tooth or two that day, and maybe a little dignity. But I would like to believe I was much wiser after that. In each instance, I lost a little innocence, and maybe a bit of that easy willingness to believe without question. But I did gain a smidgen of attentiveness, with a pinch of suspicion. There would be much more innocence to lose, and much more attentiveness to gain in the years ahead. We all have to travel that road.
A time comes when we gain a level of confidence in our knowledge of who we are, and what we are about. For some this happens when they achieve tenure, or they get published, or they get that big promotion, or when the last child is successfully launched. Some think they’re there when they land their first full-time job, or they graduate high school, or they get their first cell phone. Some are fooled into thinking once they’re there, there is no more room for personal growth. They think there is nothing more to learn, nothing more to gain wisdom from. And like the Pharisees in the gospel who felt threatened because a man allegedly born blind could now see, they have no patience for what they do not understand. They don’t like questions or doubts or mystery or the unknown. “People born blind do not just begin to see. And sinners like this Jesus cannot give sight to blind people. It just can’t be. So it didn’t happen. Now get out of the synagogue and don’t come back.”
The prophet Samuel was instructed by God to anoint a man to take the place of King Saul. And as each of Jesse’s sons came before the prophet, God told him, “No, not this one.” Samuel was forced to set aside his preferences because God clearly was looking for something other than the obvious. Samuel thought he knew what God was looking for. Samuel thought he could see what God sees. He was wrong.
“Whose sin caused that man to be born blind?” his disciples asked Jesus. In their thinking, physical disability was a clear manifestation of God’s judgment on sinners. “Neither him nor his parents,” Jesus said. Rather, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” And without provocation, without the blind man as much as asking for the gift of sight, Jesus opened his eyes. In the other gospels, people who came to Jesus seeking wholeness followed a pattern. Not in John’s gospel. Typically, those who were mute, blind, lame, sick, or possessed by demons would find their way to Jesus, or be carried on stretchers by their friends. Jesus acknowledged their faith, and healed their affliction. Not so with the man born blind. He was minding his own business. Jesus came, opened his eyes, and threw him into that maelstrom of intrigue and conspiracy that was his escalating conflict with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees weren’t open to the possibility that one who was born blind could now see. They couldn’t grasp that the man Jesus who called God his Father, who claimed to be greater than Abraham and the prophets, who set free a woman caught in adultery, who did not care for the rules about working on the Sabbath, who performed powerful signs … that this man could have been sent from God. No way. They knew what they knew. Nobody would tell them differently.
“I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Is he telling us not to trust our own judgment? Isn’t what we see, proof enough of reality? The blind man whose eyes Jesus opened did not ask for sight. Only after his eyes were opened did he begin to entertain the notion of faith. And when Jesus finally found him, the man put his faith in him. His coming to faith did not result from questions that initially arose from his heart. Rather, he was almost pushed into faith by those around him who lacked faith, and the overwhelming turn of events in his life.
Many of us were brought to faith by other people, our parents, our godparents, our families. It was not our choice at first. But when our eyes are opened to what God is trying to accomplish in our lives, we have the opportunity to come to faith. As with the man born blind, Jesus comes to us without our asking. Jesus opens our eyes as we sit content minding our own business. Jesus gives us new vision, a new way of seeing, while many around us remain blind. And the greatest consequence of this new vision is that our lives are turned upside-down. When I got my first pair of eyeglasses, it was a huge inconvenience. But I could also see better, work harder, and get straight A’s. There are consequences to such a gift. St. Paul says it best in his letter to the Ephesians. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”
Can you imagine the man blind from birth, his eyes now open, return to his old life, take his place at the gate, and beg? If you were once blind, and now you see, why do you still sit in darkness? Shouldn’t you be dancing in the light instead?
Rolo B Castillo © 2014