I do hope the experience is not unique to me: what I refer to is the experience of looking for something – perhaps in the refrigerator or on the kitchen bench and not being able to see it until someone else points it out to you and there it is, obvious, in plain sight all along. You wonder, how on earth could I have missed it? It is a comic moment – we laugh at ourselves for missing the obvious – we are not quite as sharp as we’d like to think. As we start to question our capacity for perception in the most ordinary circumstances, we might also begin to question our perception in the more complex.
The Man Born Blind, Duccio, 1308-11
At this stage in Lent we experience the depth and complexity of the Fourth gospel. In the synoptic gospels we follow a story; in this gospel we caught by a series of encounters: last week, the woman at the well; and this week, the man born blind. These encounters all offer more than appears on the surface text and instead draw us deep within the great narratives of the scriptures so that we start to see and think differently.
For instance, in the second Genesis account of creation we are told of how “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground” and how the serpent tempted Eve with the lure of the forbidden fruit because “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Remember that against the gospel this morning: Jesus takes dust of the ground, fashions a paste, spreads it upon the blind man’s eyes; and his eyes are opened. He can see the world for the first time, as Adam did; and, more than this, he sees the world differently from the expectations he had held; he can no longer understand it through the distorting lens of the Pharisees’ and the law. In the story of the Fall in Eden we remember that “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leave together and made loincloths for themselves.” In John we hear the once blind man arguing “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Here the gospel and the creation story meet and we recognise in the gospel the outline of a new creation in the making. How are we to respond?
At this point I catch a glimpse of myself as at the start of this reflection: imagine, I am peering into the refrigerator and scowling at the kitchen bench – at each in turn, in search of the margarine. Then, as it were, my eyes are opened and I realise that the margarine is already in my hand! This is of course all slightly ridiculous!
The dilemma is familiar: the gospel is in our hand; the great clue to reality is within our grasp; and yet still it seems to elude us. There it is, on the margin of our being: an agreeable concept, but one that we still can’t quite integrate with the wider texture of life. We need our minds rightly ordered; our desires reformed; and our souls responsive to God in worship.
Paul explores this in the text to the Ephesians – and we recognise ourselves in his analysis: our minds are darkened – no, worse than that, corrupted; everything is filtered through this mesh of selfish desire. True understanding as the writer of the gospel shows us, requires that we see the world from a greater perspective than our own gratification. We need to learn a different kind of love to give us the light we need to see the world. Paul says: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
It is like waking from the dead! God, reorder our minds; reshape our desires; and draw us to yourself in worship!
-Bruno BarnhartThe Good Wine: Reading John from the Center