Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-41)
“‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to the one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’” (John 9:31-33)
The man born blind finds himself in the midst of a fierce controversy. Jesus’ mission of healing and reconciliation flies in the face of the law-based stance of the Pharisees, and the man born blind is caught in the center of the storm. Like it or not, he is hauled onto center stage and provides an example of courage in the face of adversity. He clearly testifies to what has occurred, proclaims his belief that Jesus is from God, stands up to threats and accepts the consequences of his action. This story gives the disciples advice on how to respond to adversity.
Courage is a differentiator. Some of us have it and others of us don’t. The man born blind is in the first category. All too often, I am in the second. My natural inclination is to avoid conflict. When I find myself in the midst of adversity, my tendency is to keep my head down and remain silent. If I do get drawn into conflict, I usually try to assume the role of arbiter or peacemaker. Claiming that role is an attempt to stay safe and above the fray. When I face the truth, I have to admit that I’m afraid of conflict.Some years ago, I was involved in negotiating a business agreement related to a startup company in serious financial trouble. I was one of several people trying to keep the company afloat by restructuring both the company’s debt and its ownership. At one point in the negotiation, my tendency to avoid conflict got the best of me. When the stakes were high and emotions were tense, I reluctantly agreed to some unfavorable terms. As a result, I was saddled with too much risk and not enough chance of an upside return.
After the deal was done, I was angry at myself and resentful of the terms I had agreed to accept. I stewed about it all afternoon and evening. Then I had a sleepless night. The next morning I got up early and did my usual workout. The exercise gave my anger an outlet, and I found myself peddling wildly on my stationary bike. Driven by adrenaline, I peddled on and on while I had an angry conversation with myself. I knew I had made a bad deal. I didn’t like the terms, but I had given my word. As I peddled on, the conversation continued. Finally, my feelings were vented enough for my anger to subside, and I started weighing my options. By the time I got off the bike, I knew what I had to do – even though I hated the thought of it.
That morning, I went to see the person with whom I had made the agreement. I began by stating that I knew we had an agreement and that I would honor the terms if he held me to them. I went on to say that I didn’t think the deal was fair and that I was angry at myself for making it. I stammered a lot in getting all this out, eventually stumbling my way to the conclusion – that I wanted to reopen the negotiation. Needless to say, it was a very awkward meeting.
When I finally finished, he was silent for what seemed like an eternity. I was squirming – both inside and out. Finally, he started laughing. Embarrassed and flustered, I demanded to know what he thought was so funny. He replied, “I’m usually the one who screws up and gets all bent out of shape. It’s kind of funny to see you in that situation.”
I shot back: “You may think it’s funny, but I hate it.” “I know,” he said, “that’s why I’m enjoying it so much.” When he laughed again, I laughed too. Then we renegotiated the deal on more acceptable terms. It wouldn’t have happened if my anger hadn’t given me the courage to stand up and do what I needed to do. It also wouldn’t have happened if my colleague’s fairness and integrity hadn’t given him the willingness to renegotiate.
As our Lenten journey continues, the story of the man born blind invites us to look at how we deal with conflict and adversity. I’d like to assume that I would handle it like the man born blind, but the story makes clear his parents didn’t react that way. My own track record makes it hard to conclude that I would fare any better.
When we try to find the courage to face adversity, we are forced to confront our fears. It is our fear that paralyzes us when we are called to act. Acknowledging our fear helps us grasp that being courageous is not about being fearless. It’s about being able to act in spite of our fear. The man born blind demonstrates this ability. As disciples, we’re called to do the same.
Questions to Ponder
- What experiences in your life have forced you to face adversity?
- As a disciple, in what ways are you called to act with courage in the face of adversity?
- In what ways have you experienced the Jesus touch empowering you with the courage to face adversity?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, gift me with your healing touch that I may have the courage to face conflict and adversity as your disciple. When I find myself in the midst of controversy, give me an unwavering commitment to you and the ability to speak the truth. Help me act with honesty and integrity even when the stakes are high. Empower me with your touch that I might live courageously as your disciple.