What the blind man saw

What the blind man saw
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A, April 3, 2011
 [1Sm 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a. Ps 23:1–3a, 3b–4, 5, 6. Eph 5:8–14. Jn 9:1–41.]

El Greco - Jesus Heals the Blind Man
When I reflect on this Gospel, a question that continually comes to me is: What – and exactly –how much – did the blind man see?

We all have moments of sight that transcend mere physical sight.  We have experiences where we often use our other senses to help us describe and understand things.

Mostly, we do this in metaphorical terms. We say things like: “I have a brown taste in my mouth,” or “that’s a loud shirt.” We use terms from one sense to help us identify something else.

There are people – often writers, artists, and musicians – who literally have a linking of two senses, so that their perception – their “sight,” if you will, is literally enhanced by color or texture. People as diverse as: Leonard Bernstein (stine), Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, and Tori Amos have this ability. This is called synesthesia.

And yet most of the time we don’t see the whole of the reality that we encounter.

Some rare times we can focus in to pinpoint attention.  People call that being in the zone…
And though that can be a richly creative time, it also has the potential to add to our darkness. We begin to become blind to God who sees us first and longs to be with and in us at that very moment.

I mention all of this because I think that the man born blind in today’s Gospel had to have received sight in more than one way.

The blind man is actually first seen by Jesus. The Gospel tell us: “As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.”

It is God who takes the initiative here, Jesus who makes him whole.

But the cure doesn’t happen instantly as it does in so many other cure accounts.  Instead Jesus makes clay. He rubs it on the man’s eyes, and he tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

So the blind man, we can safely say, also acts to effect his cure. He obeys Jesus, who sends him to a pool whose very name – Siloam – means “sent.”

So, Jesus, who is himself sent from God, now sends this man to a pool named sent.

And the man begins to see.

And we begin to see some links: In last week's Gospel, Jesus said to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God… I would have given you living water…”

For this blind man, that pool of Siloam is living water!

I think that is really important for us to see, because the blind man’s washing reminds us of the waters of our Baptism – the water that cleanses and welcome us into God’s community, so that we can see and encounter God. And in that sacramental action, it is always God who acts first, because he loves us first.

Now when those who had known the blind man now see him, they wonder if it is the same man.  Whatever it was that he saw, it must have changed him that much!

When thay ask, he responds to them: “I am.” What is so great about that is that he begins to speak as if a spark of the divine were set on fire within him.

He uses the same phrase for himself that God did when He told Moses His name from the burning bush!
When Moses asks “What is your name?” God answers, “tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." … This is my name forever” (Ex 3:15).

So what did the blind man first see? 

Jesus has said: “I am the light of the world.” By the light of the world, this man now sees.

Now here is what I think the blind man saw: The great spiritual guide Thomas Merton puts it this way:

          "At the center of our being is a point… which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point
           of pure truth… which belongs entirely to God…. It is, so to speak, His name written in us... as
           our son-ship, it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven."

Isn’t that beautiful? Written in us, marked indelibly in us… God’s very name “I am.” Is in us! Communion with God.

Now we begin to see just how rich the blind man’s new sight really is!

As water reflects images, he probably saw his own image and he saw that spark of the divine – that diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven and calling him to discipleship.

The blind man now comes back... the newly-sighted man makes a journey of faith in the way that he tells people about Jesus.
First he says: The man called Jesus helped him to see.
Next he says that Jesus is a prophet.

And when the Pharisees call him a second time, he is bold enough to make a statement: he doesn’t know how he was cured, but he gives us a beautiful statement of faith, one that has echoed down to us across the centuries:

          “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

So now, Jesus himself seeks out the cured man who has been thrown out of the Temple by the Pharisees: their own blindness prevents them from seeing his truth. And Jesus helps the man to have full and complete sight.

Jesus says, Do you know who I am? I am the Son of Man.

And the response is one of pure faith: “I do believe, Lord,” and he worships him.”

Not in the Temple, not on mountain tops, but right there in the present moment of the encounter of God.

The abundant sight that Jesus gives the man is the light of faith – a light that can surely set the world ablaze with God’s love.

That gift to the blind man is a gift that God holds out to all of us: I think that this kind of sight helps us to understand some of the things that we profess but that we cannot see: things like love, charity, trust, hope…

The eyes of our hearts see these things!

Thomas Merton himself received that gift of abundant sight for a few moments.  He described it as an epiphany – a God-with-us moment. Here is how he describes it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystalder:

"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district,
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization
that I loved all those people,
that they were mine and I theirs,
that we could not be alien to one another
even though we were total strangers. …
there is no way of telling people
that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts,
the depths of their hearts …
the person that each one is in God's eyes.
If only they could all see themselves as they really are.
If only we could see each other that way all of the time.
There would be no more war, no more hatred,
no more cruelty, no more greed…"

Merton received a new and more abundant sight for just those few minutes, and it changed his life forever.

And I think that kind of seeing is the kind of sight that the blind man received.

I think that is a sight that is possible for us all to see, not every day, not all the time.
But it is a glimpse, abundant sight from new eyes of faith.

Sight that we hope will enable and empower us all to say,

             I, too was blind, Lord, but now I see…

Jesus Alone

Jesus Alone
Second Sunday of Lent, Year A, March 20, 2011. 
[Gen 12:1–4a. Ps 33:4–5, 18–19, 20, 22. 2Tm 1:8b–10. Mt 17:1–9.]

A priest friend of mine told me a story a few years ago about one particular instance of the Kingdom of heaven breaking forth and people being transfigured in just a moment in the everyday stuff of life.

He was coming back to the rectory from the drugstore across the street, dressed in a sport shirt and khakis - his civilian clothes, I guess you would say.

And as he began to step off the curb to cross the street,
a car came careening around the corner at breakneck speed…

And he jumped back on the curb.

And don’t you know, the driver of that car screeched to a halt, realized that there was somebody who had taken a step to cross the street, and he stopped, and smiled, and waved him across.

For that priest, it was a “mountain moment”: it was the children of God recognizing each other and upholding and affirming each other’s dignity!

Later on he told me, “The Kingdom of God’s justice, love, and peace broke through in that moment!”

I kind of laughed at the time, but I’m not laughing now…

Because I have learned to see some of those “mountain moments” in life. And I’ve learned that God’s kingdom of justice, love, and peace does actually break through!

The question for us today, as we listen to this account of the Transfiguration is – when that kingdom comes, when the moment breaks through for us…  will we recognize it?

On this Second Sunday of Lent we jump from near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – last week we heard about his temptation in the desert – and now we hear about the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

But it is good to see the story here, just the week after the Temptation story. Last week, Jesus was kind of “taken away” and tempted in three ways that actually sum up all of our human wants and needs:
any person’s needs: food – bread in unlimited quantities…just change the stones into bread. And the power of life and death… throw yourself down and angels will save you.  And power – worldly power… Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world.

That Gospel and Today’s Gospel are both about identity: Last week, the evil ome was paying around with Jesus’ identity. And because Jesus does know who he is, He didn’t give in to Satan.

And now, Jesus takes these three disciples, Peter James and John – the first three he called, and certainly three who we might figure would best benefit from this experience.

Just before this event, we hear Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, the holy one, the anointed one of God… and then Peter tries to prevent Jesus from undergoing his passion.

One well-respected commentator sees Peter as actually attempting to “possess” Jesus, to physically take Him aside and to have Jesus conform to Peter’s concept of Jesus’s identity!

The word for this in the original Greek is: πϱοσλαβόμενος  proslambano.  

But in Peter’s case we can understand this as a kind of love that is well-meaning and yet imperfect and uninformed.

And now, six days later, Jesus proslambanos them – Jesus takes these three disciples aside to himself and brings them up the mountain.

And that leads us to think about who has possession of us at any given time: Does the world possess us? Does Satan possess us, or do we allow ourselves to be possessed – to be proslambanoed by Jesus?

Jesus takes them up the mountain – to a preview of heaven!

Many people call this mountain the “middle mountain” the one between the mount where Jesus preached the Beatitudes and the mount Golgotha, the place of the skull – the place of his death.

When the disciples see the glory of the transfiguration, they hardly know what to do, and they’re afraid! But Peter again musters up a little courage and offers to build three tents on the mountain.
He wants to stay!

But you know and I know that we don’t stay in mountain places and situations like this Transfiguration for very long.

We have these peak experiences and we move on and down… down to the million mundane little details of everyday lives.

To the trivia and the little stuff that tends to bog us down and call us back to be possessed, to be proslambanoed if you will, by the things and the cares of this world.

But that’s not totally bad, because it is in the world that we were created, and it is in the world that we are redeemed.

It is in the world that God calls us to greatness as His sons and daughters. So we should not run from the world – it is where we live and move and have our being at present.  But it’s a far cry from heaven.

Even the disciples who see the glory of the Lord in this way; they’re scarcely able to tell us what they see.
They use the words like and as: Jesus face shone “like” the sun… his clothes white “as” light…
This gives us an idea, but it is not really adequate.

They had no words and no comparable experiences to tell us directly about this glory!
It was literally too great to describe.

And do they understand? NO.

When Jesus comes to His passion, Peter betrays Jesus three times.
James and John?: They ask for seats on the right and the left of Jesus!
They have no idea, no clue…

And if it doesn’t quite fit in with the mundane nature of the rest of human experience, we can understand.
The transfiguration is the “exception” to the rule.
It is a moment in time that is “out of time.”

It is a breaking forth of the kingdom of justice love and peace that really is already and not yet… it is a preview, a glimpse at a glory insofar as we can behold it, of what it is like to be in heaven for us in this fallen world.

It would take a lot of time for these three to realize what had happened to them on that mountain.

That’s probably why Jesus told them to tell the vision to no one until after He had been resurrected…
Until they had the full story of the Jesus who had overcome the world.

And it is important to note that in the fear that followed the voice of the Father…

It is Jesus Himself who goes over and bends down to them.

It is Jesus himself who touches them and bids them to rise… to rise up and accept their dignity. Jesus Himself who tells them, “Rise and do not be afraid.”

The Gospel tells us that when they looked up, they saw “no one else but Jesus alone”

I think that is the great challenge, the great lesson of the Transfiguration: We have to realize that in all of our lowliness, in all of the “dust” that we are.. dust that we recalled when we accepted ashes on Ash Wednesday…

that Jesus reaches out and down to us, to touch us, to free us from fear and to empower us… as we heard in our second reading, to “bear our hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

If we accept the message of the Gospel, the commandment to love not as we love, but as Jesus himself loves…
Then we, too, will be the beneficiaries of the Transfiguration.

We too, will rise and see in everyone and everything around us:

No one… but Jesus alone.