|Jesus healing the man born blind -- bronze bas relief on the Great Doors of St James Cathedral, Seattle|
The Gospel for this Sunday is a miracle story that turns into a perplexing parable. A man who is literally blind is given sight for the first time in his life. The Pharisees, who are highly suspicious of Jesus, look for ways to discredit this miraculous deed, and at the same time dispel any idea that he might be the Messiah. They first doubt if the man was really blind, and then try to get him to admit that since Jesus committed a sin by healing on the Sabbath, his miracle cure is no reason to put Jesus on a religious pedestal. The man makes a memorable response "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, though I was blind, now I see."
When finally the Pharisees engage with Jesus himself, it appears that the whole episode is not primarily a healing miracle at all, but a parable in action, one about spiritual sight and spiritual blindness. Puzzlingly, Jesus says that those who blind will be able to see, and that those who can see will prove blind. How are we to understand this? An important clue comes right at the start of the passage. The blind man is not blind because he is a sinner. Though it looks like a curse, his blindness is in reality a very special attribute, since through it Jesus will reveal the works of God. What is revealed is that Jesus is the one true light. That is to say, it is by close attention to the works and words of Jesus, not by scrupulous attention to religious regulations, that we can discern God’s will for us. By refusing to acknowledge this, the sighted Pharisees show themselves to be purblind. By acknowledging it, the blind man shows himself to have insight.
True sightedness about ourselves, the lives we lead and the world we live in, requires light by which to see. A sinful consciousness hides from the light because it prefers that the truth should remain hidden. The full light of day forces us to acknowledge what the half-light of dusk or dawn conveniently disguises. The short Epistle reflects this dichotomy and turns it into a choice with which we are confronted. “Christ will shine on you” it roundly declares. For those who want the truth, these words represent a liberating promise. For those engaged in “works of darkness”, these very same words constitute a threat. The choice is clear, and real. We can continue to act according to our own light, and inevitably stumble around in darkness. Or we can subject ourselves to the light of Christ, and willingly embrace the truth that it reveals, even when it proves painful or uncomfortable. ‘Truth within’ is what redemption brings.