Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Those who cannot see even when shown

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A (Mass with Scrutiny)

I recently came across an article which featured a letter from a distraught Singaporean mother addressed to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the Singaporean equivalent of our Employees Provident Fund. Her request to withdraw S$70,000 to fund her family’s living expenses and treatment for her mentally ill son was rejected. In response to their decision, she wrote a lengthy letter which went viral. What caught my attention was this insightful paragraph:  “There are three classes of people in society. One, those who can see. Two, those who can see when shown and Three, those who cannot see even when shown. Which class do you belong to?” 

“Which class do you belong to?” A good question to begin our reflexion for today’s gospel. We seem to find samplings of the last category in the various characters of today’s gospel. At the beginning of the story, everyone claims to be able to see except the man born blind. But as the story unfolds, we would soon discover that almost all the characters, with the exception of our Lord, suffers from some blindness or other.

First, we have the disciples of the Lord. They have been the privileged recipients of the mysteries of the Kingdom and witnessed first-hand the Lord’s miracles. They, like so many others, truly believe that they can “see.” It is with this presumed sight that they pose what appears to be a clever theological question with regards to the disability of the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?” Addressing the Lord as “Rabbi” is the first evidence of their blindness. The blind man’s sight at the end of the gospel is so much more penetrating. The disciples also presumed that since the man has suffered such a fate, it must be on account of some sin, either his or that of his parents. It is assumed that people reap what they sow; that ‘bad luck’ is a result of ‘bad karma’; wicked folks get what is coming to them. Our Lord corrects them: “Your assumptions are flawed.”  “He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The next group are his neighbours and people who knew him as a blind beggar. The sight of the blind man being able to see should have inspired awe at seeing the wonders of God, but instead what arose was incredulity. Then we have the man’s own parents who are summoned as witnesses. They recognise their son and they also recognise the amazing transformation, if not miracle, that has taken place – their son born blind, can now see. And yet, they refuse to acknowledge this out of fear of being implicated in this whole sordid affair.

Finally, we have the Jews and the Pharisees who were scandalised by the fact that the Lord had performed a miracle on a Sabbath in violation of their ritual prohibitions. They have heard the testimonies of the blind man, his neighbours and family members, but still refuse to see. The long story culminates in this parting shot of the Lord aimed at the Pharisees: “Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, “We see”, your guilt remains.”

Yes, all these characters claim to be able to see, but can they really? For our Lord, the real question is whether the lack of seeing is voluntary or involuntary. While, the blind man couldn’t help being blind, the others, who could have seen, chose not to see. Therefore, their guilt remains. At the heart of this fascinating narrative is a simple but powerful contrast: the man who is blind from birth who sees nothing, but upon encountering the healing Saviour, the Light of the World, sees clearly. On the other hand, the other characters who all claim to be able to see clearly, but at the end of the story expose themselves to be truly blind. That is the tragedy!

By now, you would realise that the healing of the man born blind serves to display more than just the power of Christ to perform miracles. Our Lord uses physical sight as a metaphor for something of even greater importance, spiritual sight, to see with the eyes of faith. In John’s gospel, seeing is synonymous with believing.

So, the only character that finally sees, is ironically the man born blind. The gift of sight eventually leads him along a journey of discovery, a path that will lead to a deepened faith. It takes a while before he completely comes to believe. Initially, he obeys without understanding. In the beginning he thinks of Jesus as merely a “man” among others, then when he is questioned, he speaks of the Lord as being a “prophet” and finally his eyes are opened and he proclaims Him “Lord” and falls down in worship. From hopeless darkness he grows into the purest light of faith, entirely through the power of a gift of grace he never asked for; a faith whose logic he follows obediently; a faith that, like a mustard seed, grows in him until it becomes a huge tree.

This is the reason why this gospel reading is chosen for the Second Rite of Scrutiny. St Ambrose of Milan saw in our Lord’s instructions to wash in the waters of Siloam, the call to wash in the waters of Baptism. Pope Emeritus Benedict tells us, “Because of Adam’s sin we too are born “blind” but in the baptismal font we are illumined by the grace of Christ. Sin wounded humanity and destined it to the darkness of death, but the newness of life shines out in Christ, as well as the destination to which we are called. In him, reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to defeat evil and to do good.” My dear elect, this is what that will happen to you at your baptism: the washing in the waters of Baptism will give you new sight.

But we too can see ourselves in the man born blind. Like the man born blind, we too enter this world fundamentally blind, blind to what matters most, unless we allow Christ to enlighten the eyes of our hearts (cf. Eph 1:18). Saint Augustine, commenting on the spiritual sense or meaning of the man’s blindness, simply stated, “This blind man is the human race.” This state of blindness is the Original Sin which we have inherited from our father Adam. And we continue to remain in the state of blindness whenever we choose to sin. Someone wisely said that the one thing which is worse than sin is the refusal to acknowledge it. The story would have turned out differently if only Adam had confessed his sin, but he didn’t. Unless we first recognise our blindness, we can never seek the Lord’s healing forgiveness, then our blindness remains, or as the Lord would put it, our “guilt remains.”

Today, it’s good to be reminded by St Paul that: “You were in darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth.” Being children of light is a journey. This is your journey. This is our journey, moving in stages to more perfectly know Jesus, to love Him and serve Him. We admit that our vision remains blurred because of sin. In order that our vision may be restored and made clearer, we need to constantly wash it, not in the Pool of Siloam but in the confessional, receiving the healing grace of reconciliation through the Sacrament of Penance. We know that as we persevere, one day we will see our Lord face to face.

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