On Seeing

The story of the man born blind in the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John [1] speaks to all of us who have been baptized. Through Christ, we can see, as Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Through the baptism of Jesus we join the Community of Christian Catholics in the light of Christ. The story of the man born blind is about baptism and what it calls us to do. In this passage, Jesus goes past a blind man begging in the street. One of the apostles asked who had sinned, this man or his parents. A common belief in the time of Jesus was that people who had disabilities were being punished for either their sin or the sin of their parents.

We sometimes fall into that kind of thought even today. The “if only” syndrome. If only THEY would shape up, work harder, etc.. Sometimes there is merit in this. There are people who need to change their behavior. For example those who drink excessively or use drugs would have a better life if they were sober. They definitely need to change. But the important thing to realize is that those people are not excluded from us. The homeless, the drunks, the druggies, the people of different color or faith—they are us.

Pope Francis was once asked who he was at his core. His answer: a sinner. Now when he says “a sinner” he means that. He is a sinner just like all of us, a sinner who hopes in the mercy and love of Jesus. We are all the man born blind, sinners who are counting on the mercy of Jesus who will help us to follow him.

Now this love and mercy of Jesus is in two parts. Jesus loves us, and we accept that love in the way we live our lives. We have to participate in our salvation, as the man born blind did. Jesus told him, “‘Go wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.”

It is significant that the man born blind washed in the Pool that meant Sent. By our Baptism we are all sent by God to do a job. Every Christian has a vocation. It may be to religious life as a priest, brother, or sister, or it may be to the very important job of being a father, a mother, a husband, or a wife. The man born blind was sent to a difficult population: the religiously self-righteous.

When I say self-righteous it is very easy to say, “Boy do I know those kinds of people, and we need to root them out.” Well, I have been that kind of person, and have to guard against that kind of thought. In the early 1980s I had finished a good seminary education, and, no longer being in line to become a priest, I went to work as an alcohol counselor in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had all kinds of great social improvement ideas. I was really an educated fool. My best teachers were homeless people, ex-convicts, low income druggies, and drunks who did not have my fancy education but knew all about conversion and having God in their lives.

The man born blind was very much like my teachers. He understood conversion in his bones, and thus was a better teacher then the self-righteous teachers who knew everything but knew nothing. That was 30 years ago. Now I sometimes fall prey to my own goodness. If I do something good I can say, “Wow, I am really something!”

That is what the religious teachers did in the story of the man born blind. They were full of themselves, not full of God. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

“Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not also blind, are
we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.’”

Here are some thoughts from reflections on this Gospel from the Jesuit Creighton University. The man born blind washed the mud from his eyes in the pool called, Siloam, “The One who is sent.” How is Jesus a pool to wash the mud from my eyes that I might see? As soon as he could see, his life became very difficult. People wondered if he was the same man, before they believed he could now see. Has the restoration of my sight so changed me that others are surprised at the transformation? So much fear seems to surround the restoration of his sight. What fears do I now have to seeing clearly who Jesus is and what choices I must make to be with him? The grace will come when I acknowledge that my eyes have been opened. Others may not want to believe I can see, but I know I can only keep repeating it, to myself and to them. I may experience rejection by some for claiming this new vision, but in the Light I can see clearly one who has healed me, and I give him thanks and praise.

Have a great Lent!

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.