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…

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