Sunday, March 19, 2023

Between Condition & Choice

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 22 (23); Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Video: Movie Buff Guy on YouTube

My dear friends, which do you think is worse? To be blind in one eye or in both? The answer seems obvious, right? And yet we also know that to close one eye is to look the other way. To ignore something we know to be true. Perhaps a mistake or a misdeed of some sort. Whether it’s because we want to give someone a second chance, or due to laziness or apathy, fear or favour, whatever the reason, to close one eye is to remain blind by choice. And this is one of the two different kinds of blindness we find in our scriptures today.

But let us consider the other kind first. We may call it blindness as a condition. One example is that unnamed man in the gospel, who was blind in both eyes. A condition he did not choose. He was born that way. But when the Lord tells him what he must do to be healed, he obeys without hesitation. As a result, he eventually receives not just his sight, but also the grace to recognise, worship and follow Jesus as Lord. Through humble obedience, a physical disability becomes a channel of great spiritual blessing.

But blindness is not just a physical condition, right? It is often also a social one. Why does Samuel want to anoint Jesse’s eldest son? Isn’t it because the prophet is socially conditioned to be blinded by Eliab’s imposing physique? Such that Samuel is unable, at least initially, to adopt God’s perspective. For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (NRSV). Thankfully, again through humble obedience, Samuel overcomes his social conditioning. The prophet receives new spiritual sight, and the nation its rightful king.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the other characters in the gospel. Unlike Samuel, the blind man’s neighbours, his parents, and the religious leaders all fail to get past their social conditioning. Though faced with the undeniable fact of the blind man’s healing, they still lack the honesty and humility to accept Jesus as Lord. The neighbours may be too distracted by the busyness of daily life. The parents are too fearful of being expelled from the synagogue. The leaders are too attached to their own status. Whatever the reason, they all end up closing one eye to the truth. And their blindness gets worse. It progresses beyond a received condition, to a guilty personal choice.

It’s clear then that what our scriptures offer us today is at once a joyful promise and a sobering warning. The promise is that the Lord can and wants to help us transcend our conditioning, to give us new spiritual sight. And the warning is that the choice remains ours to make. Whether to be like children of light… having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast, or to keep ignoring the Lord’s illuminating presence and action in our daily lives.

Sisters and brothers, strange as it may sound, in the spiritual life, it's probably far more dangerous to be blind in one eye than in both. What must we do to let the Lord open both our eyes this Lent?

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