Lent IV    30 March, 2014

The removal of blindness

Have you ever thought, or tried to imagine, what it must be like to be born blind? We can’t. We can fear the loss of our sight, especially as we get older; “will the eye drops go on working?” but that is very different from never seeing at all, as far as we know, with no experience of light. Yet such people have been capable of much; blind organists for instance and the painstaking learning of new music line by line from Braille; tuning pianos; bringing up sighted children; all in what we think of as “the dark”. Such is the man in today’s gospel. I think of him as a “bloke” possibly even a Yorkshireman in his besting of the Pharisees later on the account. Here, unlike Zacchaeus, there is no request “That I might receive my sight”; a bird for such a man is something soft and feathered and capable of a wide variety of song but he doesn’t know what it looks like. Jesus comes up to him, touches his eyes with some salve and tells him to go and wash in the nearby Pool of Siloam and lo, he can see.

Now there is a question raised, both in the minds of the disciples and the Pharisees, sickness and pain are popularly thought of as punishment for sin. When I was a curate there was indeed a clergyman of the established church who enquired of seriously ill patients what sin they had committed to be so smitten. To make things worse he didn’t believe in confession and to make things better Matron just banned him from the hospital but the myth is still around. When we ourselves are smitten we ask “What the hell have I done to get this?” but that is a rhetorical question, whatever punishments we receive in this life we have deserved and worse but they are never caused by God.

So this is rather an odd sort of healing miracle, it hadn’t even been asked for; I very much doubt if the blind man could think anybody could cure him. A difficulty that has always to be faced with the healings of Jesus is that of their purpose. There must be a purpose beyond the mere restoration of sight or whatever, otherwise Jesus is just revealed as capricious. What do we say to all the many others born blind within five miles of the pool of Siloam? Why him and not me? Of course, if we think that this life is all that there is and death really is the end, then the healings of Jesus don’t stand up to any sort of argument, they really are capricious but if the New Testament is understood “sub specie aeternitatis”  with death being “but the gate of life immortal” then the term used by St. John, a sign makes a lot of sense; indeed it is the only way of making sense of much of the New Testament. 

So the removal of blindness, the restoration of children presumed dead to their parents, all are but satellites to the Resurrection. So as in Lent we prepare for Easter, let us also prepare mentally by pondering on the multitude of signs given to us in the scriptures and in our own experience, so we shall be altogether better in our celebration by marvelling at the continued presence of the risen Lord in us and around us.

            Aidan Mayoss CR