Sunday Reflection with Father Terry Tastard - 3 April 2011

Old ways are comforting.  They help us make sense of our world.  They give us structures that we can live by.  But old ways of thinking can be traps as well.  Sometimes we need to break out of old ways and realize that God is ahead of us and calling us into a new understanding.  We need to remember this when we read the story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9.1-41) because it can seem at first as if attitudes to his blindness are little short of cruel.  His physical disability is blamed on sin, and he himself, poor man, is libeled as ‘a sinner through and through since you were born.’  We need to understand that attributing his blindness to the consequences of sin is one way of trying to make sense of a tragedy.  It is wrong, of course, deeply wrong, and an injustice to a disabled person.  But it was part of the way the people around him made sense of their world.  We need to remember too that the blind man had an accepted place as a beggar.  People knew him, recognised him and he scraped a living out of begging.  Jesus was to turn all this upside down.

First of all Jesus rejects the interpretation of disaster as a manifestation of God’s will.  Blindness is not God’s punishment for this man.  Nor, we might add, are the earthquake and tsunami God’s punishment for Japan, nor is Aids sent by God as a punishment for sinners.  What Jesus does say is that God’s love can be shown even in a situation of sadness like this, and he goes on to show it by bringing God’s healing to the man.  Wherever there is affliction in our world miracles still happen, whenever we ourselves rally round the afflicted and do what we can to help.

Second, notice that Jesus tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  Jesus works many miracles of direct healing, simply by a word.  Why not in this case?  The answer, I think, is that the blind man himself has to want to be healed.  He has got used to life as a beggar and has accepted his fate.  But now the Messiah is here and things cannot remain the same.  Christ brings not only a physical healing but a challenge for the man to change his whole outlook, and how he relates to the community around him.  Healing has more than one dimension.  From time to time it is necessary for each of us to reflect whether we have settled into a comfortable rut, and whether God might be challenging us to get out and about and see where we can work with him in the world.

Then there is the dialogue with the Pharisees.  I have a kind of sympathy with them.  Everything they were seeing confounded their experience.  It was literally beyond their ken.  It just did not fit into what they knew about the world.  It makes me think how difficult it is to convince people of the reality of God.  Here was a miracle performed before their eyes and yet even then they could not believe in Christ.  This attitude is still among us today.  No doubt God still performs miracles, but there are those who will explain it all away.  No doubt God sends saints, but more and more the world judges them harshly.  I suspect that there is no way to ‘convince’ people to believe if they do not want to believe.  Faith involves trust, trust in God.  You will never be able to ‘prove’ God like a mathematical proof or a scientific demonstration.  Reason will take us only so far.  We have to step out in trust for faith to grow.

Finally, we notice the great irony of the passage.  It is the man who was blind who sees most clearly.  He acknowledges that Jesus is a prophet, he bears witness to the sceptical Pharisees, and he bows in profound obeisance before the Lord.  Not only the eyes in his head have been opened, but also the eyes of his soul.  May the eyes of our souls also be opened by the loving action of Christ, so that we can see clearly.

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His latest book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see:

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