Seeing seems pretty straight forward. If there is enough light you look at something and you can see what it is. Maybe if your eyeballs are old you get some glasses or have cataracts removed to help bring things into focus. Simple, right? Maybe not. Did you notice last year NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope does not use visible light to make its observations but with infrared light that we can not ordinarily see. Infrared provides greatly improved sensitivity to the astronomers. They can look much closer to the beginning of time and hunt for the formation of the first galaxies or look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming. A new way of seeing. Then there are bees who can see the other end of the light spectrum. Human eyes are limited to what is, to us, visible light but bees can see patterns on flowers that are invisible to humans. These nectar “bulls-eyes” are visible to bees because have the ability to see in ultra-violet light. Bee vision. Then again, there is a phenomenon called black light where the end of the light spectrum causes something which is phosphorescent to glow. In my time many a dorm room had a Grateful Dead poster which glowed in black light. US money has a phosphorescent strip that is ordinarily invisible to the naked eye but which you can see with a black light as a way of countering counterfeiting. Different lights, different sights. What we can see, therefore, depends.
We reflect today on the light which makes a gospel way of seeing in the story of the Man Born Blind. Jesus was frequently depicted as healing blindness. In fact, when he gave his mission statement at the synagogue in Nazareth he said that the Spirit of the Lord is on me to proclaim good news to the poor … and recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 4:18). Of course Jesus performed many healing miracles (the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the lepers are cleansed) but bringing sight to the blind had a special resonance as a metaphor for coming to faith. Jesus heals us of our blindness about God and the things of God and helps us to see God’s grace and mercy permeating all of creation. This particular story of a coming to sight is even more dramatic since, as the gospel emphasizes, the man was blind “from birth.” In other words, he was never able to see. He is seeing for the first time. A careful reading of the gospel provides some lessons how to see not in a human way but as God does.
First lesson: your family does not define you or, perhaps another way of putting it, biology is not destiny. The disciples at first, and then the Pharisees, tried to figure out how the man born blind fit into his family. Who was the sinner? When did the problems arise? What was your past like? While he was certainly a member of a family the man had to learn to define himself as his own person, unique in the eyes of God, with his own spiritual destiny. That is our story as well. While we appreciate and love our families they do not determine our own individual response to Jesus in our lives. On judgment day God will not ask you, did your grandmother go to church? We must learn to see Jesus with our own eyes.
As second observation: not everyone who spits at you is your enemy. When Jesus smeared muddy saliva on the man’s eyes he was doing him a favor. Often in our lives it is the people who challenge us, who push us that are giving us the greatest blessings. Think of the teacher who demands that you learn the material instead of giving you an easy A. While we might have preferred that easy A the lessons learned the hard way pay off in the end. To see clearly we frequently need the unwelcome push.
A third thought: we’ve got to wash the mud away. The man born blind had to wash in order to see. We are all muddied up a bit – by things we have done, by things done to us, by hopes that were dashed, by wounds given and received. For us to see demands that we wash that stuff out of our lives. Forgiveness, compassion, understanding, empathy when looking at our past is what enables us to look forward into our future. We must become children of light.
Finally, the story of the man born blind demonstrates that coming to faith is not a one-time thing but something that grows and deepens in our life. He started off by saying all he knew was “the man called Jesus.” When pressed he professed that Jesus was a prophet. Eventually he came to recognize Jesus as the Son of Man. That will be our story as well. It is only with time and prayer, interactions with a faith community and experiences in our lives that we truly come to see who Jesus is and what he means to us. It is the willingness to walk with Jesus in the daily life that will, in time, enable us to see him as the source of our hope and joy.
When you see in the light of Christ, you see the whole world in a new way. A story: it is important to see when evening begins for you to know when Sabbath begins. One student asked the master, “Does darkness begin when you cannot see whether it is a black thread or a white thread?” The master answered: Darkness begins when you do not see in the face of another person a child of God and your brother or sister.