The Trouble With Sight

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Have you ever had to find your way in the dark, fumbling for the light switch and stumbling over furniture? It can be frustrating at first. But we know we will find that switch eventually and all will be well again. Yet we cannot truly know what it’s like to be blind. We’ve known temporary blindness, like after a bright flash of lightning, or the blinding light of the fridge at 2:00 in the morning, or the headlights of oncoming traffic. We cannot truly know what it’s like to be blind because these experiences have not influenced our thinking, our attitudes, or our behaviors. But do we truly know what it means to see?

The gospel story presents us three significant lessons. First, God does not need or ask our permission to enter our lives. Second, change in our lives caused by God is not always pleasant. And third, when we think we know who God is and what God is all about, we are probably wrong or don’t have a complete picture.

A blind beggar, known to many, was sitting at his usual spot. Jesus walks by and his disciples discuss the man’s blindness. Like them, we want everything to make sense. “Whose sin caused his blindness?” they wanted to know. “No one’s,” Jesus tells them. “Rather, so that the works of God may be made visible through him.” There is a purpose to everything under heaven, even when we do not know what it is. Jesus spits in the dust to make clay which he smears on the blind man’s eyes. He tells the man to wash. When he returns, he can see. This is when all his troubles begin.

Change brought about by God is not always pleasant. The blind man is now able to see. We think he is better off. He could stop begging and get a better job. He can read and go to the movies. He may have even thought so himself. Now he is free to be like everyone else. But his peace is short-lived because other people are bothered by what happened to him. Is this the man we know? How can he be the same? The one we know is blind. This man can see. It can’t be him. He just looks like him. But he’s no longer blind. Suddenly, he was someone else. The authorities did not concern themselves with the healing, that this might possibly be a good thing. Instead, they knew that someone broke the law, doing something unlawful on the sabbath, and this could not ever be a good person. The man who had been blind was busy trying to make sense of his new world while everyone else was bothered by whether this Jesus was a sinner or not. Finally, he says, “This much I know. I was blind. And now I see. … He is a prophet.”

When entering our lives, God does not need or ask our permission. When God enters our lives, we may be nudged out of our comfortable and familiar world into one more confusing, one which makes little sense perhaps. But God calls us to trust more, that all is under control even when the details escape us, even when God seems far from us. And when we surrender our fears and our doubts, God grants us a new way of seeing. The world is much different all of a sudden. It will take getting used to, as the blind man discovered upon setting eyes on the world around him for the first time.

When we think we know who God is and what God is all about, we are probably wrong or else we don’t have a complete picture. The Jewish leaders claimed to know how God works. God would never listen to one who disobeys the Law. The Law is clear about not doing any work on the sabbath. How can a good person disobey God’s Law? This Jesus who disobeys the Law is definitely a sinner. And anyone who says otherwise must be a sinner, too. Simple. Non-negotiable. They had God all figured out, or so they thought. Everything had to make sense, even God. And this rigidity prevented God from introducing them to new and wonderful realities beyond their expectations. Each of us knows God in a personal way but our knowledge differs as we differ from one another. We may know much about God. But we can’t be so arrogant as to claim full knowledge and understanding of God. Attitudes like this result in forms of blindness, the inability to see past our own limited experience and knowledge which prevents us from encountering God in new and wonderful ways. We can claim to know what God wants, or what God thinks, or what God is up to next. But God is far from predictable.

God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel from among the sons of Jesse. We hear the conversation between God and the prophet in the prophet’s head, and how he would spot who he thought would be perfect for the job but whom God would otherwise reject. Clearly even in the best of circumstances, even for prophets, human ways are not God’s ways, human thoughts not God’s thoughts.

God has power to give sight to one who is blind. But how can one who claims to see receive the sight God wants to give them? Will such a person ever be open to seeing differently, to seeing in new ways, to seeing as God sees? If he had known what receiving sight would do to him, the blind man would probably have preferred to stay blind. Unlike the Samaritan woman at the well last weekend, the blind man in today’s gospel was not given a choice. Jesus did not ask if he wanted to see.

Sometimes we might prefer not to know or understand or be responsible. Life is simpler when you’re young or uninformed or blind, so we think. But by giving him physical sight, Jesus took away his option to not see with his physical eyes. Yet he still retained the option to refuse spiritual sight. The Pharisees in contrast were physically able to see, yet they chose to remain spiritually blind. Maybe they knew their lives would be turned upside-down if they acknowledged the obvious.

“Live as children of light,” St. Paul urges us. And when you see the wonderful presence and awesome power of God at work in your life and in the world, prepare for life to be upended. But trust God knows what’s going on. Or would we rather be happy as clams at high tide, safe and comfortable, but clueless and blind?

Rolo B Castillo © 2023

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