Fourth Sunday in Lent Reflection
These are the elite, students of the law, teachers of the prophets and the oral traditions of the people; they see, they know, they understand, and therefore they pass judgment! It is in these judgments that we see the Pharisees as aloof, separate, and superior.
There is perhaps this Pharisee in all of us that also imprisons us because of familiarity, habit, and fear of change. We impulsively move to familiar ground with knee-jerk negative interpretations and responses based on our anger, our fear, or our resentment. Here is the Son of Man, Jesus the Christ and the miracle worker, giving full evidence of ‘God’s work with us’, yet the Pharisees substitute their traditions for the actual God experience. How often do we also replace God with all those doctrines that give us control, that give us power? How do we unlearn to remove all this slag and dross that we have accumulated? How can we free ourselves from the illusions that have captivated our hearts?
In this fourth week of Lent, we continue crossing the desert with those fourth-century Ammas and Abbas who sought to embrace the spirit of letting go in a world and church that had been caught up and filled with the desire for power, worry, tensions, pride, greed, and fear. We are given four desert questions to ask of ourselves:
- What am I filled with now?
- What prevents me from letting go of these burdens?
- How can I empty myself?
- What is it that will satisfy me, yet leave me open and available for more?
Here we see that grace cannot be possessed, it must be received afresh, again and again, beginning each day anew.
Seventeen centuries later we are in a world obsessed with security, greed, fame, staying young, denying death, self-interest, and competitiveness. This heady poison of needs keeps us driven and obsessed as idols that have entrapped us.
Needs are looked upon today as if they were holy as if they contained the quintessence of eternity. Needs are our gods, and we toil and spare no effort to gratify them. Suppression of desire is considered a sacrilege that must inevitably avenge itself in the form of some mental disorder… We feel jailed in the confinement of personal needs. The more we indulge in satisfactions, the deeper is our feeling of oppressiveness… We must be able to say no to ourselves in the name of a higher ‘yes’. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
Here we see our human condition fully exposed, filled and satisfied with our own ego, self-interest, desires, and self-righteousness. Being filled with ourselves, God has become superfluous until that inevitable day when our own abilities and support structures no longer give us solace. This is the conflict between light and dark, truth and error, sight and blindness, innocence and guilt.
It is here in the desert, with a little humility, intrigue and a few careful questions that we can come to recognise that lack of freedom within us and to acknowledge all the baggage we are carrying which is unnecessary and destructive to our lives. To recognize the things that fill us and consume us, we ask ourselves where I spend most of my time, energy, emotion and preoccupation. What do I believe is essential for my happiness; what do we need for my life to be perfect? Have these become idols that rob me of my present happiness, joy, and peace?
When God becomes superfluous, the vision of our own image becomes blurred, we no longer see God in the other, in our brothers and sisters or in God’s creation. This leads on to the tale of fear, of disordered relationships between people; with man ruling over woman, and between humanity and creation in disorder and conflict.
We also know that we cannot see what we have not been told to look for; we are bound within paradigms. There are also the problems of culture, of our upbringing, of our education: of the very language we use; our fears and our prejudices and our false perceptions. These are the factors we use in judging situations and people; placing everything in our own particular categories of good or evil; of right or wrong; of innocence and sinful; inside or outside.
The blind man in the gospel displays a rare and admirable reluctance to say more than he knows: “I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see”. We are given no cause to doubt the blind man’s word or his situation. They all knew he was blind and they all know he has been healed. What more is there to say?
Curiously, the Pharisees cannot see the truth before them. They show themselves to be proud, unyielding, devious, evasive and, to put it in the terms of the Gospel, they are blind. They are unwilling to accept either the facts or the truth. They are people who, although they pretend to want to discover the light, really want to obscure it. They want their darkness to be the light. It is now clear that Jesus, the Light, confronts two kinds of blindness: blindness that knows it cannot see, and blindness that thinks it can.
In their understanding, or rather, misunderstanding of the Law, Jesus is guilty because he healed on the Sabbath. This was their interpretation and they were deeply attached to their own ideas; so attached to their own interpretation that they were blind to the act of divine love which set a poor blind brother free from his lifelong affliction.
Four times the Pharisees ask how Jesus had opened the man’s eyes and the clearer the truth becomes they more they recoil from it. They reject it because it overturns their ‘way of looking’, the comfortable lies they had been telling themselves about their privileged relationship with God. And so the simple logic of the blind man is deeply repugnant to the Pharisees. Perhaps on this journey, we need to ask ourselves who is it that I find repugnant also?
A frightful thing is darkness which pretends to be light, ignorance which believes itself to be knowledge, pride which thinks of itself as humility, blindness which thinks it is sight. It’s very sad, it’s very frightening, and it’s very common. And sadly, it causes our endless disunity, shaming, ostracising and scapegoating of others.
Since the phobic ‘investigations’ of the Pharisees do not produce the desired outcome they have recourse to their last weapon, their power: And they drove him away. How many people have we also turned away from the church, excluded from the company of the saints and turned away from the table of the Lord? Who are the people that we consider unworthy today?
John has already told us that Jesus is: the light of all, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.(1:4-5) Try as it might, the darkness cannot overpower the light. The blind man ends up worshipping Jesus, the Jew leaders being blind end up seeking to destroy him. The resurrection will be the witness of the truth.
The Gospel, as always, makes everything clear. It shows us where the darkness actually lies, where the guilt really is, where the truth can be found. In the beginning, there was one blind man and many people who could see. In the end, it is the other way round. The blind see and those who thought they could see are in fact blind.