Today is the middle of three Sundays that explore the great metaphors of water, light and life, all key images for the baptismal promises we celebrate at Easter. In today’s Gospel, John tells the story of the man born blind and what happens when he encounters the Light of the world in the person of Jesus.
It’s no coincidence that so many of the miracles in the Gospels involve healing someone suffering from blindness. Sight is a common metaphor for faith. So much depends on our ability to see. Our Scripture readings today are filled with people who are blind and yet see, who claim to see and yet are blind, who could see but choose to keep their eyes closed.
At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus sees the simple reality of a man blind from birth. Because blindness and other physical sufferings were considered symptoms of sin, his disciples immediately question him about the moral implications. They see only an abstract theological debate. Jesus sees someone suffering, someone in need of healing compassion. As the light of the world, he was sent to give vision to all who want to see. The message should be as straightforward as the healing itself. The man who was healed states it so simply: “I was blind. Now I can see. He is a prophet.”
How frustrating and lonely it must have been for the man whose sight was restored to give his testimony so clearly, to see the truth at last, only to be met with the unseeing stares of those blinded by the fear of lost power and authority. Even his own parents had learned the cynical lesson that sometimes it’s easier not to look, or if you must look, not to see. They couldn’t deny that their son’s sight had been restored, but to see beyond that to the implications of Jesus’ identity would be to commit themselves to something with unknown and possibly terrifying consequences.
We’ve probably found ourselves on both sides of this story. How often have you been in a conversation with someone and said, “Can’t you see what I’m saying?” Sadly, too often they can’t. We wonder how they can be blind to something that we see so clearly and believe so passionately. But we’ve also closed our eyes to sad realities in our world. We prefer darkness to light, comfort to confrontation. In both cases, it takes the healing touch of the Lord to open our eyes and heal our hearts.
The Gospel shows us what happened to the blind man as he recognized Jesus as a prophet. He’s willing take chances, he’s willing to believe his own eyes, newly opened though they are. We’re left to imagine whether the Pharisees and even the man’s own parents ever came to see the truth.
Just as spiritual blindness can be far more devastating than the loss of physical sight, so having our vision of God’s grace restored can bring healing far beyond the physical. We see hope where once we knew only despair, and more than that we see new ways to communicate that hope to others. We see light instead of darkness, and in that light we discover a side of ourselves that we thought we had lost. We look with new eyes on the people around us and see how they, too, are children of God.
Being open to possibilities is part of the experience of Lent and Easter. Seeing a path where once there was only confusion and chaos, understanding a truth that once seemed complex and incomprehensible, recognizing that not having all the answers can open us to the mystery of God’s grace. Sometimes all it takes is opening our eyes.