Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Eye Witness

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 30, 2014 - Year A

An Eye Witness

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made visible in him." [The Pharisees answered the man born blind, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.]

The late Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, said that sunshine is the best disinfectant, advocating the benefits of openness and transparency. Everyone knows that pulling back the shades and letting the afternoon winter sunshine in brightens up a room, and everyone in it. And it reminds you that you haven't dusted for a while as well! If you work in a windowless office like me, you know the feeling at times of not being sure if its cloudy or if the sun is shining. In that setting, florescent lights do not come close to imitating the warmth and invigorating rays of the great light that rules the day. For the man blind from birth, everyday for him was like my windowless office only worse; he had no knowledge of what a sunrise looked like.

Almost 70% of blind folks experience a disorder known as Non-24-Hour. Blind people with this disorder have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep all night. The effect is exhaustion, problems with concentration, both of which interfere with job duties or school work. These folks do not benefit from the sunlight because their eyes do not detect the sunlight. Consequently, no signal is sent to the brain to reset the body's master clock.  

The man in today's gospel, blind from birth, never saw a sunrise nor a sunset. We are not told any more than that he was blind from birth. As an adult he sat and begged that he might be able to provide for himself. He relied on the generosity of others and learned from others the news of the time. Somehow he never heard of Jesus of Nazareth until this very day when something special was about to happen for him. As to the cause of his blindness, Jesus assures his disciples that this man's blindness was not linked to sin.

Jesus explains that God's works are to be made visible in this man, as they were in the woman at the well last week and shall be in the raising of Lazarus from the dead next week. At this time of Lent, these three epic Gospel readings form a triptych highlighting purification and enlightenment. 

Jesus is the true light causing the man born blind to see for the first time and others to shield their eyes from the glory. That is the case in today's Gospel. The miraculous power of God is demonstrated as Jesus mixes his spittle with the dirt and makes clay which he smears into the blind man's eye sockets as if to make new eyeballs. Jesus directs the man to wash his new eyes in the ancient water source known as Siloam. Somebody nearby offers to help him get to the water supply. After washing he can see and returns to a barrage of questions from bystanders and religious authorities; doubters shielding their eyes from the glory.

It is amazing beyond comprehension that there are more questions than there is rejoicing with this poor soul. The whole world and everyone he knew is a new sight for him. Think about this. He was seeing his family and friends for the first time. 

And then someone said, "Well, that's the man that was sitting here at the corner this morning begging. Look at him now. He can see!" Another objected, "I don't think so. It looks like him, but I don't think it's the same fellow. Let's take him to the Pharisees and ask them what they think."

Then the Pharisees interrogate him. They ask him how come he can now see. Making sure no one is led astray by some fanatic newly arrived they explain that anyone truly from God would not break the Sabbath. 

Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. 

I know. Catch your breath. But isn't it just a kick in the teeth of Moses that someone would do something so special on the Sabbath like heal a man who had been blind from birth. They question the parents and then the man again and then going from comical to ridiculous they throw the man out of the Synagogue. That's right. Kicked him right out. You should have seen those holy puffed up chests proclaiming how much better off the community would be without the likes of a man born blind who can now see. Yikes! Good riddance.!

I know. Ridiculous. 

But how wonderful it is that Jesus wanted this man and everyone there for that matter to have new eyes. A new day was dawning, and the work of God was becoming visible. 

Jesus proclaims, "I am the light of the world!" These words mean that Jesus will show us the way out of our darkness; a way beyond our blind spots in our lives and in our relationships. Like the sun that enters the eye signaling the master body clock to reset, Christ our light signals our soul to reset its GPS toward the things that matter and heaven, which really matters.

When Jesus heard that the man he healed had been cast out of the Synagogue, he searched for him. When he found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" 

The man once blind said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus replied, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." 

The man answered joyfully, "Lord, I believe."

An eye witness! May there be billions more!

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

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