- Bible Reflection (19 Mar 2023)
4th Sunday of Lent Year A
1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13
“Surely we are not blind, are we?”
In the Gospel this week, Jesus declared “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” (verse 39) So, as we begin our reflection on this 4th Lenten week, let us ask ourselves: Am I blind? To this question, our first response could very well be the response of the Pharisees in this week’s Gospel: “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (verse 40)
My brothers and sisters, this Lenten season, through the Gospel readings in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sunday of Lent, God invites us to reflect our lives against three strongly themed conversion stories. Last week, through the amazing conversion story of the Samaritan woman, God invites us to acknowledge our brokenness. For it is when we realise we are broken, that we develop the humility to invite the heavenly physician Jesus to heal us. For it is only with a humble and receptive heart that Jesus may enter and heal our hearts. This week, through the conversion story of the man born blind, we ask: Am I blind? The truth is, even though most of us are physically sighted, we are spiritually blind. So, am I ready to have my heart converted and my sight restored?
Let us first begin by first asking: How am I spiritually blind?
Firstly, we are blinded by physical appearance. We are attracted to the physical – for example, the physical beauty or the charisma of a person. In so doing, we often ignore the disposition of the heart that we cannot perceive in the person. In this week’s First Reading, the prophet Samuel was asked by God to anoint a new king. Samuel arrived at the household of Jesse and saw Jesse’s son Eliab. Eliab was an impressive looking man, leading Samuel to think, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” (verse 6) But God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (verse 7) In contrast, David was unimportant even in the eyes of his father Jesse. So much so that when asked by Samuel to present all his sons, Jesse omitted David. But as we know, it was in fact young David that God chose. Being blinded by the physical is especially true in this age of the social media, where everyone is putting on a facade on their social media profile: “Look, how beautiful I am!” “Look, how happy I am!” “Look, how many friends I have!” “Look, how popular I am!” Alas, modern psychology tells us that many people – especially the young people – fall into depression because they feel inadequate compared to how perfect they perceived their friends are. Still more fall into depression because they could not keep up with the facades they create for themselves. The truth is, in spite of the external appearance of bliss, many do not have true joy – the inner joy within the heart. Indeed, deep down, many hate the fact that they are living a lie.
Secondly, many of us are blinded by our presumptions. In Gospel times, the Jews believed that the misfortunates befall on people because of sins – either their sins or those of their ancestors. This belief is so prevalent that even Jesus’ disciples made the same mistake in this week’s Gospel. Hence, when they saw the man born blind, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (verse 2) Even the Pharisees, the supposed religious leaders of the times, were not immune to the blindness of presumption. We read that in a subsequent argument, the Pharisees said to the man born blind, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” (Verse 34) Today, there are much injustice committed because of this type of blindness. For example, we are presumptuous about the homeless, assuming that they are always the one to be blamed for their homelessness. So we withdraw our help from them, thinking they do not deserve it. Another example, we are presumptuous of people with same sex attraction, assuming that they are either not holy enough or that all same sex attracted are anti-God and anti-Christian. We forget that there are some who long to belong to our Christian communities, if only we will welcome them in, as Jesus welcomed the Samaritan women last week. In similar ways, we are presumptuous about the divorcees, women who had abortions, the drug addicts, and by extension, people with any type of brokenness in their lives. But our assumptions are not always correct or even just. And even if we are correct, it is no excuse for us not to extend our understanding, compassion; and lend a helping hand. Hence, to the question the disciples asked about who is the guilty party, Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (verse 3) Indeed, rather than being blinded by our presumptions, let us put on the heart of Jesus and see the afflicted ones before us as opportunities to reveal the grace of God.
Thirdly, we are blinded by pride and our sense of self-importance. This is perhaps the most common form of spiritual blindness. This is the case of the Pharisees in the Gospel. They deemed themselves to be holier than everyone else because of their strict adherence of the law. So, when they heard that Jesus has healed the man born blind on a sabbath day, the Pharisees were blind to the miracle before them. Instead, their first response was, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” (verse 16) Hence, we need to ask ourselves: Am I like the Pharisees? Am I so proud of my observations of Christian practices – like coming to church, volunteering, donating to charities – that I despise those whom I deem as less holy than me? Elsewhere in the Gospel, there was an episode where this type of blindness has inflicted the disciples. Upon being rejected by some townsfolks, the disciples James and John self-righteously asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54) To this, Jesus rebuked them before moving on to another village (Lk 9:55-56) Hence, we can see that in an extreme form, this kind of blindness can cause us to be filled with vengefulness and to commit great sins. As in the case of the Pharisees in the Gospel this week, often, when we find our pride challenged, we develop insecurity. Our insecurity in turn causes us to persecute those who challenge us, sometimes spreading lies and half-truths so as to undermine our perceived enemies. Sadly, such destructive form of blindness can be seen even in our faith communities and religious organisations, so much so that it causes many to stop contributing to ministry work or even leave the church altogether.
Another form of spiritual blindness is when we are blinded by fear. In the Gospel, the parents of the man born blind suffered from this kind of blindness. Even though the truth was plainly before them, we read that when pressured by the Pharisees, they disowned Jesus and by extension even their own son. They said, “we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (verse 21) They said this “because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” (verse 22) In today’s language, the parents of the man were afraid of being “cancelled”. So we ask ourselves: even though I may profess Christian truth on my lips and believe it in my heart, am I blinded by fear? For example, do I only profess my faith in “safe” environments, such as within the walls of my church? Or do I even dare to profess my faith at all? Do I keep my faith a private matter, such that I do not even dare mention it to my friends? How about those times when someone make an assertion that is against Christians or against my Christian beliefs? Do I give my tacit approval by staying silent?
My dear friend, indeed, this week’s Gospel story of the healing of the blind man is not just this man’s story. God invites me to make this story my story. He invites me to make this my conversion story. As St Paul wrote in the Second Reading, the walk of faith is not about walking in physical sight, it is about walking in spiritual sight. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (verse 8) Or as St Paul wrote elsewhere, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7). What does walking in spiritual sight mean? It means to open our heart to conversion as the man born blind did. It means to invite Jesus in, so that just like He did for the man born blind, He may heal us of our spiritual blindness – the blindness by physical appearances, by our presumptions, by our pride and by our fear.
In the Gospel story, healed of his blindness, the man behaved in the most noble and courageously way that should inspire us. At one point, obviously annoyed by the continual insinuation and questioning of the Pharisees, he said to the Pharisees: “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (verse 27) He went on to courageously rebuke the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders. He said, “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 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.” (verse 30-33) Exposed, the Pharisee became aggressive and resorted to personal attacks and “cancellation”. They said to the man, “‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.” (verse 34) In spite of his courage, we can imagine how the man must have been feeling when he was expelled. Rejected by his own parents and the religious institution, the man must be feeling rather dejected. At this challenging moment, Jesus sought out the man (verse 35). My brother and sisters, Jesus is seeking us too. Rest assured that if we are prepared to lead a life in spiritual sight, we will see Jesus’ presence in our life, especially at those darkest moments of our lives. For ultimately, to be spiritually sighted is to have the ability to see Jesus’ presence in all moments of our lives.
As for those of us who choose to remain spiritually blind like the Pharisees, we asked, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (verse 40) And this is Jesus answer: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (verse 41) These are stern words indeed. My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is offering to convert and heal us as he did for the man born blind. Let us open ourselves to Jesus. “Ephphatha – be opened!” (Mk 7:34)