Sunday, March 26, 2017

"I was blind and now I see"

Despite the persistent efforts of many to by-pass, overlook, and/or ignore this fact, Christianity is a religion of paradox. For example, according to Christ, it is only those who forfeit their lives for the sake of the Gospel, that is, for love's sake, whose lives will be saved. Those who seek to save their own skin will lose their lives. In other words, the central paradox of the Christian faith can be stated as, the only way to live is by dying. The only way to witness to the Gospel is by selflessly laying down your life for love of God and neighbor. Not being ends in themselves, but means to ends, this is what practicing the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving more intensley during this holy season is aimed at accomplishing. This is why to give witness is to be a martyr.

The only way beyond the Cross is through the Cross. You can't go over, around, or under it. This is why Jesus describes what it means to be his disciple thus: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt 16:24). Living a paradox requires a person to live a sort of tension. Another way to describe living a paradox is living a mystery.

Cutting to the chase, in today's Gospel it is the blind man who sees. He does not regain his sight after he washed off the saliva-infused clay in the waters of Siloam. He does not come to really see, or see things as they really are, until after he is tried, not once, but twice, and then thrown out. It was not until after he was tried, found wanting, and cast aside that Jesus "found" him"- "When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out," St. John tells us, "he found him and said, 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?' He answered and said, 'Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?' Jesus said to him, 'You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.' He said, 'I do believe, Lord,' and he worshiped him" (John 9:35-38). When he says, "I do believe, Lord," is a sure sign he now sees.

After this, those who tried and cast out the man who was born blind also see Jesus; they behold him with their own eyes. Unlike the formerly blind man, who now truly sees because he "sees" who Jesus is, not only do they not believe, but they think Jesus is someone opposed to God because he breaks the Law by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus says to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin" (John 9:41a). In other words, if they had had no clues as to who Jesus is- their clue, as the formerly blind man had, in fact, taught them (something they rebuked him for trying to do), was his healing- they would have no culpability. They would have no culpability because it was not intuitively obvious to the casual observer who merely saw Jesus in passing that he was the Messiah, God's only begotten Son in the flesh, the Savior of world. Nonetheless, they insist that they can see and see things clearly, see things how they really are. It is their insistence that they could see despite being blind that caused their sin to remain. How do you heal a sick person who thinks he's well? How do you save someone who thinks she's saved?

In order to really see, we need to apprehend reality according to all the factors that together constitute it. God-made-man-for-us in the Incarnation of the Son of God is not just a factor that contributes to the make-up of reality, but, as Pope St. John Paul II insisted in the very first sentence of his fist encyclical, Redemptor hominis ("Redeemer of man"): "The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history." This is what it means to see.

One might say, in order to see you need to be blinded by the Light of Christ. Saul of Tarsus was blinded on the road to Damascus. It was not until after he arrived in Damascus and that faithful disciple, Ananias, laid hands on him that he regained his eyesight (Acts 9:17). In a reversal of what is presented in St. John's Gospel, it was only after Saul could see that he was washed- died, was buried, and rose with Christ- in and through the waters of baptism (Acts 9:18). It is only by amazing grace that you can live the Mystery of Christ. And the mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live in you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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