Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-41)
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from his birth.” (John 9:1)
The opening words of the story are intriguing/ Jesus doesn’t appear to go out of his way to meet the man born blind. He encounters brokenness and need wherever he goes, and he responds with healing and mercy.
The disciples view the man’s blindness as a punishment for sin and questioned whether his blindness was caused by his sin or that of his parents. Their question is based on the prevailing view of the time – that physical impairment is a punishment for sin. They accept this view so completely that their only question is about whose sin it was.
Jesus sees the man’s blindness in the context of his mission of healing and redemption. His explanation opens the disciples to a new way of seeing blindness and other physical ailments. It also puts his teaching in sharp contrast to that of the Pharisees. From the second verse on, this story is about overcoming blindness and misconception to embrace new ways of seeing.
As our Lenten journey continues, the story calls us to recognize the ways in which we are blind. For most of us, the blindness we suffer from is not a physical infirmity – our eyes are healthy. This story, however, makes clear that there is more to seeing than having the physical attribute of sight. It helps us recognize the ways we can be spiritually blind.
In the classic story The Little Prince, the prince takes great care to tame the fox. Only then does the fox reveal his secret: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” The story of the man born blind is more than a story of a man whose physical blindness is healed. It is a story that invites us to see in a deeper way. Only when we see with our hearts will we be able to perceive Jesus’ healing touch and open ourselves to it. Our spiritual blindness has more to do with the heart than with the eyes.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing nursing home patients in an attempt to discover what gave them the ability to cope with the challenge of late age. During one of my conversations with a patient named Florence, I asked if she had a philosophy of life. She seemed somewhat put off by such a theoretical question and she answered without hesitation: “No.”
Trying a different approach, I drew on some of what I had learned about Florence from my previous conversations with her. “Florence, you’ve lived for almost 90 years. You’ve raised a family, suffered the loss of your husband, survived a stroke and experienced lots of other things that had to be very difficult. Through all these struggles, what gave you the courage to go on?”
This time Florence paused before she responded. “I think life is like me. I can look at the part of me that doesn’t work – a reference to the side of her body paralyzed by stroke – and I can be angry. Or, I can look at the side of me that does work, and I can be grateful.”
Both of Florence’s responses and the story of the man born blind reveal a deeper truth about seeing. Our perception of reality is profoundly shaped by our stance toward life – the core set of attitudes, values and beliefs that shape the way we see life and respond to it.
Years of experience had given Florence the insight to recognize that she could choose to view life through the lens of anger or the lens of gratitude. The story of the man born blind also confronts us with a choice about two views of life. The Pharisees view life through the lens of the Mosaic Law, and that stance toward life blinds them to the good works Jesus performs and his identity in God. By contrast, the man born blind’s experience of being healed changes his stance toward life. It gives his heart the lens it needs to recognize that Jesus is from God, and he becomes a disciple.
As our Lenten journey continues, we are called to reflect on the way in which we see life and respond to it. This story urges us to see the ways in which we experience spiritual blindness and open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus.
Questions to Ponder
- As you reflect on the story of Jesus healing the man born blind, what experiences in your own life come to mind?
- What is your experience of blindness? Is it physical, perceptual or spiritual?
- How does your stance toward life – your core set of attitudes, values and beliefs – shape the way you see life and respond to it?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, your healing touch opened the eyes of the blind man. Open my eyes that I might see. Help me to recognize the ways in which my eyes need to be opened. Cure my spiritual blindness so that I might see life as you see it and respond with compassion and love. Help me see with my heart as well as with my eyes. Gift me with the openness I need to see your healing presence and its power in my life.