Key concepts in today’s Gospel reflect how many of us still face difficult issues. Like the disciples, some of us maintain that misfortune is indeed a punishment for sin. Like the man’s parents, we too may be loathe to stand in support of another if we fear our own status may be in jeopardy. Like the man himself, we may be amazed at how God can work wonders in our lives.
Is misfortune really a punishment for sin? There certainly are times when we suffer the consequences of our own foolish or malicious behavior. But today’s Gospel assures us that this is not always the case. In fact, the man born blind demonstrates not sinfulness at all, but religious openness and insight even before he gains physical sight. He obeys Jesus’ directions and washes in the pool of Siloam. Furthermore, he responds with honest directness to the Pharisees when questioned about the miracle of his cure, even though this would expose him to their ridicule and rejection. Finally, his openness to believe in Jesus is without guile. This man’s initial blindness is certainly not the result of sin.
The parents of the man are faced with a serious dilemma. Should they support their son in the claims that he is making, or should they safeguard their own status before the religious authorities? They choose the latter option. They abandon their son to the skepticism and scorn of the Pharisees.
Who in this story really suffers from blindness? The religious leaders refuse to see what is right before their eyes: a man who was blind now sees. The man’s parents acknowledge the wonder of his healing, but lack the religious insight to accept this marvel as coming from God. Only the man who initially could not see possesses both sight and faith.
This reading should make us wonder: Why might we remain in our blindness? Sometimes it is because of rigid insistence on protocol, as was the case with the Pharisees. In one sense, they are correct. Jesus did heal on the Sabbath, and according to the Law that is not acceptable practice. Despite this apparent infraction of the law, these men are blind, because they refuse to acknowledge the divine power of God working outside the structures of their religious system. They refuse to accept the freedom of God and so are blind to the marvels this can accomplish.
At other times we are blinded by fear. We are afraid we may fall out of favor if we stand up for what we believe is right, so we choose not to recognize it. We opt to live our own lives quietly and safely and not get involved in controversial matters. When we act in this way, we blind ourselves to the wonders unfolding before our very eyes.
The first reading highlights yet another kind of blindness, a blindness that comes from stereotyping others. We might think that these others are too young, or too old. They might not be the right gender or race or from the right ethnic background. They might lack power or importance or economic status. The prophet Samuel sought a king for Israel from among the sons of Jesse, but he considered only those of “lofty stature.” He never even entertained the possibility of Jesse’s youngest son, David. Yet this was the one whom God had singled out. So often we too are blind to the potential of others because they do not meet our expectations. We close our eyes to what they might become or what they might accomplish.
Today Paul reminds us that in the past we all suffered some form of blindness, we all once lived in some degree of darkness. But now that we have faith in Jesus, this no longer need be the case. So he exhorts us: “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” No longer be blinded by rigidity or fear or prejudice! Open your eyes to the light, and take brave steps into the future!
As we strive to open our eyes and live in the light, the sentiments of the responsorial psalm should encourage us. We may think that the miracle of conversion in this matter will be more than we can manage. But we must never forget that the Lord is our shepherd, protecting us from all harm, giving us repose. With God as our guide, we can walk through darkness into the light and fear no evil. With the catechumens, we are called in this Lenten period of purification and enlightenment to make a choice. Will we choose light and all the responsibilities that accompany it? Or will we remain in the darkness of our narrow-mindedness, our insulated lives and our biases? As always, God is eager to restore us to sight. Are we ready to get up and wash in the waters so that we may see?