Sunday, March 26, 2017

Once Blind

What is most disappointing in this morning's Gospel is the tragic lack of wonder; we hear only doubt and denial and rejection. A man blind from birth is healed. And the stubborn Pharisees, blind and arrogant guides that they are, refuse to see. They despise Jesus and the light he bestows because it bursts the boundaries of their expectations and the protocols they are sure God should follow. They know better. And perhaps saddest of all, since his blindness has always shamed his parents, now fearing they will be shunned completely, they say disinterestedly. “We don’t know. Ask him.”

But they all have got it wrong; it is not sin that causes blindness, it is sinning itself that is blindness. This is perfectly depicted in a fresco by the early Renaissance master Masaccio. In his painting Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise by an angel floating above them brandishing a huge sword. Embarrassed, stark naked, they cower together, their eyes tight shut in grief. Blinded by their sinning, they depart in shame.

No wonder that for centuries today’s Gospel has been used in preparing catechumens for their baptism. For baptism is rightly called enlightenment; the washing away of original blindness. And in today’s Gospel we witness a dramatic progression from darkness into light, as the once-blind man becomes an enlightened disciple. He speaks the truth of his experience of Jesus, simply, emphatically. Harassed by the Pharisees, he is unflinching. “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything…One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." He knows it is all amazing grace

The Pharisees are so outraged by his outspokenness that they throw him out. Sighted, but rejected, he is truly a disciple now, rejected like Jesus, his new Master. Jesus seeks him out once again, and reveals his true identity as the Son of Man, “I who speak with you am he.” And then this once-blind man gazing on the beauty of God in Christ sees and believes and instinctively bows down in worship. It is what we all desire most ardently- to see his face, to hear his voice.

Masaccio, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, detail, fresco, 1425, Brancacci Chapel,  Church of Santa Maria del CarmineFlorence