Blind Man Healed (Lent 4, 2023)

As Jesus and his disciples walked along, they saw a man blind from birth, prompting the disciples to ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” This may sound as though they were out for a leisurely walk, engaged in an academic discussion. But in the preceding chapter of John, we read about the conflict that began with the attempt to provoke Jesus to stone a woman, and ended with people picking up stones to hurl at him instead. So in fact, Jesus was escaping a threat on his life! It is then that he noticed this beggar: one of the many disabled, ill, and disturbed who gathered at the gates of the Jerusalem Temple hoping for alms, just as many do on the city streets today. 
What goes through your mind when someone approaches you for money? I might give some change without much thought, or pass the person by; but often, even if I choose to give, I do not really “see” or “touch” them personally. Occasionally, however, I ask the disciples’ question: what caused this situation – the person’s own failure or some “bad luck”? This might be a good place to start if we truly wished to get to know them; but mostly, I tend to use the answer to guide my giving (i.e., give if the person looks like “he can’t help it”). Is that why the disciples questioned Jesus – knowing that he had something to give, and wondering if he would find the man deserving of it? If so, Jesus’ behavior over time may have created more confusion than clarity in this regard! 
For yes, he did restore the sight to this man, saying that his blindness was not the result of anyone’s sin. But, he also cured the paralyzed man, whom he explicitly warned to “stop sinning or something worse may happen.” As any of us do, Jesus shared the assumptions, biases, and pseudo-scientific knowledge of his people. In Antiquity, many believed that sin caused sickness, and so did Jesus. And we do as well, to some extent, despite our modern, scientific advances. To be honest, I am not even comfortable recounting the story of sight restoration knowing that many of you are currently struggling with vision difficulties, and quite literally see “people like trees” as a result of various conditions or unsuccessful surgeries. What’s worse, such an impairment isn’t always obvious; we try to hide it, learn compensatory strategies which work to a point, then they fail us, we feel embarrassed of our limitations, and have a renewed sense that it’s somehow our fault. You might have asked countless times, “why me”? What did I do? Why do bad things seem to be happening to me more frequently than to others? 
Now, suffering because of the sins of others – well, that makes much more sense. For example, we still wonder whose fault COVID was, and every time we ourselves had it, who could have possibly given it to us. As for the Israelites, their scriptures cite multiple occasions of punishment for the sins of ancestors (e.g., in Ex. and Num.). Since the man in this story had a congenital condition, and thus hadn’t had the occasion to sin before he was affected, it made perfect sense for people to ask, as informed by their culture and religion, whether his parents did something wrong. And by the way, most parents with kids with disabilities have wondered the same thing about themselves… 
In truth, sometimes we do bring suffering to ourselves and others through our own fault, and we do suffer because of others; but a lot of the time, it’s impossible to say why bad things happen to good people. And so yes, reading biblical accounts of miracles is hard: each delivers a happy ending unavailable to us in our own troubles, and raises the same questions: what causes suffering, why me, why only some are healed, is it by faith or grace alone, who is deserving of help and compassion? However, neither the scriptures or religion provide clear answers. Over time, I began to think that, perhaps, those are just not constructive questions. What helps me, is to look for insights regarding myself, my own psychodynamics and decision making – not that of God or others, whose minds I can’t read and whose full stories I won’t ever know.
For example, how much freedom do I give myself to touch the lives of others? That is, do I really need a “good” reason to help someone; does their trouble have to be “not their fault” for me to help them? This applies to street people, but also to my kids when they mess up, colleagues and bosses who make mistakes, etc. Also, how much is my compassion limited by prejudice or fear? As I said, Jesus was biased and stressed out at times just like anyone else. But even in this story, having been judged harshly and fleeing a threat on his life, he was able to put aside the “common knowledge” and didn’t need this kind of information to guide his response. I hope that most of us have met such people with seemingly limitless capacity for compassion. We may wonder how they manage it. Possibly, like Jesus, they are able to suspend judgment, avoid asking less constructive questions, and thereby, free themselves to act freely and see clearly. 
So the first type of questions I DO ask is about how I connect with people. But there’s another, equally important side to this: how does God connect with me? Again, I would try to get at it from what I know about myself, rather than trying to figure out the unknowable God. For example, in what contexts do I really feel God’s touch? Like the man in this story, do you feel God’s presence before you “see” its impact? How so – what parts of life would you consider “sacramental”: places, things, rituals, people, music, nature? What puts you in tangible touch with the invisible reality, gives you clarity of mind? What gives you if not full healing, then a sense of respite? 
And finally, to connect the dots, when we achieve such an awareness of God’s compassion for us, might it help us heal others? Perhaps, this is that “power working in us, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” That’s what enables the little, everyday healings and miracles, none of which require a “good enough reason” to offer them. These questions are still quite difficult, but they are somewhat answerable – with God’s help.

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