Friday, March 20, 2020

What's wrong with the world?

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A

I guess most people would be expecting me to say something about the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m going to disappoint you. A problem will not go away no matter how much you plan to be fixated on it. Sometimes when we are too focused on the problem, it blinds us to the solution. It’s always much better to focus on the solution. And this is what the Church invites us to do.

Though we often think of ourselves as being objective and rational people, our perception frequently slips like a faulty transmission into auto mode. Without realising it, this shapes our world-view, our judgment of others, our perception of ourselves and gives rise to every prejudice and bias we have of another. What we perceive is what we want to perceive, without recognising that others see something quite different. This is the “blind spot.” By its very definition, people are unaware of their blind spots because they wouldn't be blind spots if people were aware of them! Yes, our blind spots create lots of problems. What we see clouds our judgment; what we don’t see bias our behaviour. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.” So, how could we possibly be liberated from this self-imposed prison? Well, today’s gospel gives us an answer – His name is Jesus.

Today’s passage speaks of the encounter between the man who was born blind and our Lord. After being healed, this man emerged from a tunnel of total darkness that had lasted a lifetime, not just a two weeks modest quarantine. But here is the irony of the story, as the man regained his physical sight and was slowly led to grow in his spiritual sight, the other actors in the story continue to display their blindness, their respective blind spots.

Our Lord sees the problem faced by the blind man, but He also sees the solution. The others, however, the disciples, the man’s neighbours, his parents and the Jewish authorities see a problem too, but rather than seeing a solution and a reason to thank God, they each saw additional problems. They all suffered blind spots.

First, the disciples see the blind man and they think the man has a problem of sin. They believe he is being punished by God either for his own sins or that of his parents. Rather than seeing a way out, they are more concerned with the cause. “Why” may be an important question to ask but sometimes the “why’s” in life lead us no closer to the truth but rather to greater frustration. “Why did this happen?” eventually leads to “why did God allow this to happen?” and finally evolves into “well, if this man didn’t deserve it then either God is not a good God or He doesn’t really care.”  Rather than asking “why”, we should begin to ask, “what must I do?”

Next we have the man’s neighbours who see a different problem. They recognise him as the blind man who used to sit and beg. But now he’s no longer begging and, in fact, he’s not blind anymore. They begin to suspect that this man was never blind in the first place; he could be a con-artist, and so this could have sparked off outrage in having been cheated. That is why they decided to bring him to the authorities for trial and judgment.

Now, the Jewish authorities see another problem. Instead of marveling at the apparent miracle that had taken place, the clear hand of God at work, they are only obsessed with the fact that this could have been a violation of the Law. It’s the Sabbath – and if Jesus indeed did heal the man on the Sabbath, then He was breaking the law. They could not see the forest for the trees.

Finally, the parents of the blind man are called in as witnesses to confirm that this man is actually the same man everyone is talking about. But here again they see yet one more problem – fear of being dragged into this mess, fear of being implicated together with their son, charged as accomplices to this grand scheme of fraud. They’re afraid of testifying to the truth and so they decide to throw their son under the bus. They pushed the responsibility back to their son, “He is old enough, ask him.”

And now we see the man born blind, giving his testimony of what he had seen. This is the greatest irony of all. For a man deprived of his eyesight for his entire life, until now, he sees clearer than all others. We see, that though he suffers the trial of being judged, accused and rejected by the Lord’s disciples, neighbours, family members and the religious authorities, this man gradually grows in faith. It is as if the trials he is experiencing helps him to see clearer rather than impede his spiritual eyesight. 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 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.

But remember this story isn’t only about the blind man, or the other characters in the story, it’s also about all of us. This is our journey, moving in stages to confront our own blind spots in order to see Jesus more perfectly. How do we see again? How do we allow our Lord to heal our blind spots? Well, a good start would be to admit that we are part of the problem, if not the problem itself. If we can only see the problem as “something out there”, if we are constantly complaining, blaming, and finding faults with others, then most likely we have missed the massive blind spots lurking behind the periphery of our physical, moral, spiritual vision. Unless I admit that I am blind, then my blindness remains. That is the essence of repentance, the prerequisite of Christian discipleship. Venerable Fulton Sheen gives us this important reminder, “Two classes of people make up the world: those who have found God, and those who are looking for Him - thirsting, hungering, seeking! And the great sinners came closer to Him than the proud intellectuals! Pride swells and inflates the ego; gross sinners are depressed, deflated and empty. They, therefore, have no room for God. God prefers a loving sinner to a loveless 'saint'. Love can be trained; pride cannot. The man who thinks that he knows, will rarely find truth; the man who knows he is a miserable, unhappy sinner, like the woman at the well, is closer to peace, joy and salvation than he knows.” Whether we wish to admit it or not, many of us don’t see our blind spots, because we are too proud to admit that we have them.

This finally leads me to a little story, which is most likely apocryphal, concerning the great GK Chesterton, but it very much captures his wit. It is said that, when a London newspaper asked Chesterton to contribute a piece addressing the question “What’s wrong with the world?” he sent a simple reply: “I am.” I guess we could give the same answer to an entire list of questions: “What’s wrong with the Church?” “What’s wrong with my BEC?” “What’s wrong with my family?” If only there was less blaming and greater humility in acknowledging, “I am … I am what’s wrong.” If that was true, then the answer to the next question, “What must change?” the answer should simply be, “I must.” If you can’t get around to saying that, if you continue to insist that you can see, well, “your guilt remains.”

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