Homily: Learning To See

Today’s Gospel story, of the Man Born Blind, is one of John’s classic stories. And it follows the predictable pattern of stories told by John. The story starts with an ordinary event: Jesus meets a blind man. He carries out some action, in this case, he heals the man’s blindness by placing mud mixed with spittle on his eyes. The Pharisees hear about it and accuse him of working on the Sabbath. He says: “I am the light of the world.” And it becomes apparent that it is the Pharisees who are really blind.

But there is another, a deeper massage being transmitted here by John. Jesus appears at the beginning of this rather long story and then he disappears from the scene. The action then shows the arguments, the accusations the misunderstandings encountered as the Pharisees first accuse the blind man, then his parents. The neighbors refuse to admit that he was even born blind. The Pharisees call the man names. The man admits he regrets he was even healed, since it has caused so much trouble and turmoil. Then Jesus returns to appear to the man alone, who now acknowledges Him as the savior.

On a subtle level, John sees the salvation history event of Jesus becoming man, bringing salvation through baptism and healing with water and earth, then leaving to let the consequences of his coming play out, until He comes again, to be accepted as Lord and Savior.

John told this story and used these images of seeing and not seeing, believing and not believing, to help an early Christian community ‘see’ themselves in that story. They knew what it felt like to be driven out of the synagogue by the religious authorities, to be expelled from their ‘church home’. John helps them to connect their loss with the gain of grace in their powerful experience of conversion and healing, understanding and trust. But sometimes conversion and belief inspire judgment, rejection, and condemnation from those around us. It’s a lonely place to be, and John’s way of telling this story must have spoken powerfully to the people in that situation, reassuring them that they were not alone: they now belonged to a community that shared the same faith, and, ultimately, like the man born blind but newly sighted, they would encounter Jesus on their way.

Now the question for us, today, is about finding ourselves in the story in more ways than one. Isn’t it tempting to identify with the man born blind, rather than with the Pharisees? We might be blind to the truth right in front of us, especially if we don’t expect it outside the normal

bounds of what we think religion ought to be.

The baptismal imagery in the healing, even today, helps us connect to the man born blind: Baptized readers of every age find themselves in the man born blind, buried and reshaped in the mud of the new creation, washed in the water of the sent One. Now we see as never before, but we scarcely recognize ourselves, much less those around us or even the One who healed us.

In the end, Jesus hears that the blind man had been driven out, and he goes looking for him. We might sit with that line for a little while, too, and picture Jesus hearing about what happened to the man, and setting out to find him. It’s not a question of whether we, sighted or blind, find Jesus, but of Jesus coming to look for us, and finding us (no matter) where we are.

What hidden truths and realities, perhaps just under the surface, do you need to see, in your own life? What might our parish need to see in order to move more purposefully toward a new future, new hope, new possibilities? What core truths do you depend on, as the man cured of physical blindness depended on when he reasoned that Jesus must be “of God,” since he was able to make him see? But they were not enough. He needed to encounter Jesus, to hear and understand what was happening.

Are you ready to see? Are you standing on the Threshold of New Life, ready to hear that truth that is ready

to transform your life, Are you ready to follow in a new path that you previously could not even see? (Kathryn Matthews Huey)

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