Tuesday 23 March 2021

Sight and Blindness


The reading we have just heard (John 9:18-41) is the second half of a story that fills the whole of the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel. It is the story of how Jesus gave sight to a beggar blind from birth by anointing his eyes with mud made from spit, and what happened next. Let us reflect on the characters involved, and what they have to teach us.

Firstly, there is the beggar whose eyes were opened. Life must have been extremely hard for him as a blind man on the margins of society, with no other way to make a living than to beg in the street. And then, out of the blue one Sabbath day, Jesus comes by and cures his blindness. He is an open and truthful person. If we were all as open and truthful as him the world would be a much better place! When his neighbours and those who knew him ask how it happened, he simply says, ‘The man called Jesus made mud and spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’. Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ When they bring him before the Pharisees – the civil and religious leaders – he repeats his story. And adds that he believes Jesus is a prophet - words guaranteed to upset Pharisees who resent Jesus.

Secondly, there are the beggar’s parents. I feel sure they must have been kind parents to raise such an open and honest son. But they are not so open themselves. They guard their words carefully when they are asked to confirm that their son really was blind from birth, and to explain how he can now see. They know the Pharisees have already decided to throw out of the synagogue anyone who confesses Jesus to be the Messiah. So they confirm their son has been blind from birth, but they decline to say how he was cured, saying he is old enough to answer for himself. Perhaps they were afraid for themselves, or perhaps they hoped that their son would change his story when he saw the way the wind was blowing. But for whatever reason they failed to support their son. I am reminded of the many Irish parents of a previous generation, who failed to support their unmarried pregnant daughters in the face of prejudice.

Thirdly, there are the Pharisees, religious and civic leaders who prided themselves on their knowledge of and adherence to the Jewish law. No doubt most of them were good people, admired members of the community – remember, St Paul could boast that he was ‘a Pharisee born of Pharisees’. But their concern for the letter of the law could lead them to breach its spirit. On this occasion they were divided. Some said Jesus could not be Godly, because he did a work of healing on the Sabbath when work was forbidden. Others said he must be Godly, or he could not have given sight to someone born blind. To resolve this, first they call on the parents to testify, as we have heard, and then they call in the beggar to testify a second time. The beggar does not change his story. Instead, he challenges them, declaring that if Jesus were not from God, he could not have given him sight. At this point the Pharisees are outraged that the beggar should presume to lecture them. They come together to drive the beggar out of the Synagogue, ostracising and marginalising him once again. We are not told whether this decision was unanimous or not, so there may have been a dissenting minority. I am reminded of the way that some Christians seek to exclude LGBT people from their churches, while others stay silent for the sake of a peaceful life, and a minority – of which I am one - continues to oppose it.

Lastly, there is Jesus himself. Jesus hears that the beggar has been driven out and goes in search of him, to comfort him, I feel sure. The beggar responds to Jesus, saying ‘Lord, I believe’, and worships him. Then Jesus says, loudly enough for some nearby Pharisees to overhear, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind’. Jesus is confirming the beggar’s insight, but also accusing the Pharisees of being blind to the truth. He understands very well that ‘There are none so blind as them that do not want to see’. It is a warning to us all.

As we pray for eyes to see the world as God sees it, let us also pray for humility to see where we may be blind.