I don’t watch a whole ton of television, but when I do, I’m most likely watching what are called procedurals, those crime or detective type shows, NCIS, Law & Order, Blue Bloods. Anyone who watches these shows knows that eyewitness testimony is of dubious use to detectives; worse still is the testimony of several eyewitnesses, given the fact that each person will see an event differently, different in relationship to where they were standing, their age, even their personalities. That’s because, in the words of that great Gorillaz song Clint Eastwood, “you don’t see with your eye;You perceive with your mind.”
You need to learn to see; your brain needs time – not a lot of time, mind you, but time – to learn how to unscramble the information it gets from your eyes and turn it into useful information. But if we need to learn to see on the physical level, we know very well that there are still other levels of seeing that require learning. You see what you’re trained to see. A doctor sees a patient and his or her condition differently than an engineer would. A fire inspector looks over a fire scene and can pick out details a lay person cannot.
We teach ourselves how to “see” truth as well, though that tends to be a longer process. Some of us, it seems, are born with spiritual sight, the ability to discern the presence of God where others cannot.
“St. Paul, in describing our condition on earth, tells us that here, in this life, we see only as “through a mirror, reflecting dimly” but that, after death, we will see (God) “face to face.” Clearly in describing our present condition here on earth he is highlighting a certain blindness, an embryonic darkness, an inability to actually see things as they really are. It is significant to note too that he says this in a context within which he is pointing out that, already now in this life, faith, hope, and charity help lift that blindness.”1
It’s clear from today’s Gospel story that the disciples were not looking through a lens of faith, hope, or charity, though they were really just responding to our blind beggar in the manner in which they were raised. The disciples of Jesus see the man, kind-of, but they don’t engage him as much as they use him as a set-up for a theological debate. “Rabbi,” they asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
Let’s ignore for a moment the strangeness of asking if a man born blind had caused his own blindness by way of sinning in the womb; Jesus dismisses the common notion that a physical ailment must be caused by sin – not that physical ailments couldn’t be caused by sin, just must – and then He reveals what God has intended for this man, that the work of God, of God making all things new, would find its way to this particular blind man.
Jesus heals the man born blind – if He didn’t, we wouldn’t have this story – not only opening the man’s eyes but training his mind to see clearly the world around him. The eyes of the man’s spirit were also opened, opened and made ready to see the Truth standing before him, the Light of the World in the flesh.
Most of us, including me, walk around most of the time in a state of spiritual blindness. That’s not our fault, exactly, it’s more like a pre-existing condition. That doesn’t mean it’s any way to live. Spiritual blindness gets in the way of our capacity to see the world as God sees it. It’s leads us, like the disciples in today’s passage, to assume that if a neighbor is in the midst of trouble, it must somehow be their fault. Spiritual blindness causes us to divert our eyes and hearts from those in need, and it also keeps us from participating in the joy of others.
We’re rounding a corner in our Lenten season and heading toward the Cross of Christ. If Lent is our spiritual spring training, Jesus reminds us today to work on opening our eyes and hearts, because real life, the life found in the light of Christ, is right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see it.