Readings (Year A):
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6 – 7, 10 – 13a
Psalms 23: 1 – 3a, 3b – 4, 5, 6
Ephesians 5:8 – 14
John 9:1 – 41
Reflection: What does it mean to see Jesus?
I worry when I hear the gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent, the evangelist John’s story about Jesus healing a man who was blind from birth.
It’s not Jesus that I worry about. Conflict with the Pharisees, the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, is a running theme in John’s gospel, in part because those conflicts had continued and intensified in the community that John wrote for. Even when Jesus is dying on the cross, John portrays him as serene and confident in who he is and the reason that he was sent by God.
I don’t worry much about the Pharisees, either, because in this story, John uses them collectively as cardboard characters, as a foil that draws our attention to the experience of the man that Jesus healed.
And I don’t worry about the man that Jesus healed. Even though he must have overheard the disciples commenting on his blindness, talking about him as if he wasn’t even there. Even though Jesus smeared spit and dirt over his eyes and sent him to wash in a nearby pool. Despite his neighbors’ and the Pharisees’ badgering questions, the man that Jesus healed sticks to what he knows. He seems as confident as his healer, growing in his understanding of his encounter with Jesus.
So it’s not Jesus that I worry about, or the Pharisees, or the man who was born blind who now sees and believes in and worships Jesus. It’s that man’s parents that I worry about.
The man’s parents are there at the beginning of this story, present in the disciples’ thoughtless speculation about whether their sinfulness caused their son’s blindness. They reappear at the story’s center, summoned by the Pharisees to testify on behalf of their son. His parents affirm that he is their son, and was in fact, blind since birth. But, much like the Pharisees, they can’t see beyond that. We do not know how he sees now, they say, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
And so, I worry about the man’s parents. A lifetime of being suspected as the cause of their son’s blindness must have put them on the fringes of their religious community. And now fear blinds them to what their son saw in Jesus. So I worry for them. And I worry for people like them.
Because the parents of the man born blind are not alone in how they responded to God’s healing power so clearly visible in someone that other people think doesn’t deserve it. They could not see what their son saw in Jesus: an invitation to grow and change, an invitation to a new life of seeing not just the world around him but seeing in Jesus the love and mercy of God present among us.
For that is what it means to ‘see’ Jesus. It is to see the unseen God, to know and love in Jesus the one who sent Jesus to us, to open our eyes and to free us from fear, and to guide us, too, to new life in him.