After mass, a stranger approached the priest and said, “I’d like you to pray for my hearing.”
The priest placed his hands on the man’s ears and said a passionate, earnest prayer.
“How’s your hearing now?” He asked.
Looking surprised, the man said, “Well, it’s not until tomorrow.”
The priest, of course, thought the man was looking for a much different kind of miracle!
A couple of years ago I got up from bed and I was seeing brown designs floating across my eyes. I went to my ophthalmologist, who immediately sent me to an eye surgeon, telling me I needed to get there without delay.
I found out I had a torn retina. The cause was that the gel-like substance inside the eye shrinks and separates from the retina as a person ages, causing a tear— just another adventure in the delightful process of aging! He said it needed to be dealt with immediately and he gave me laser surgery. The laser basically burns around the edges of the tear so that it doesn’t continue the separation. He did the operation that day, and then a few weeks later did it some more. I was healed completely after the second time.
Thanks be to God! God healed me, for all healing comes from God. The eye surgeon, who happened to be a member of my parish, was known to be one of the best in the country. He’s God’s instrument of healing, and I give thanks to God for Dr. Niffenegger.
My healing was gradual. It started with my recognizing that I had a problem and then seeking help. Then I went to a well trained and talented surgeon, who basically brought about the healing over a few weeks in a two step process. I’ve had the blessing of sight ever since I was born, but that problem with my retina could have eventually ended up with my becoming blind.
In today’s Gospel, we heard the account of Jesus’ giving of sight to the man who was born blind. St. John gives a detailed description of the miracle: Jesus spat on the ground, made clay from the spittle, and smeared the clay on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, and after doing that the man was able to see.
Of course, our Lord could have simply said to the man, your sight is restored, and it would have been restored. Yet, in this healing, he goes to a lot of extra trouble.
It was believed in that day that spittle had curative properties, especially the spittle of a distinguished person. While we find such a notion to be unhygienic and superstitious, Jesus used a belief of his time to gain the confidence of his patient. Even doctors today know that the effectiveness of treatments of many illnesses depends, at least in part, upon patients’ beliefs in those treatments. On many occasions in which Jesus cured a person, he told that person, “Your faith has made you well.“
But there’s more to this miracle than simply the gift of sight. When first asked how he received his sight, the once blind man said, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes.” So early on, he describes Jesus as “the man Jesus.” When questioned further by the Pharisees, as to Jesus’ identity, he said, “He is a prophet.”
The Pharisees were upset with Jesus, because he healed the man on the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus worked on the Sabbath, when the healing could have been done just as well on another day. By this time in his ministry, Jesus had done many things that upset the religious leaders, and so the supporters of Jesus were always in danger of being excommunicated, cut off from the faithful, prohibited from worshiping with the community.
When the man born blind continued to speak in defense of Jesus, he was excommunicated. After he had been cast out, which is the way John speaks of excommunication, Jesus sought him out, and told him that he was the Messiah. The man who had been given the gift of sight, then said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.
Thus, we really have heard about two miracles, one physical, the other spiritual, but both miracles are recalled basically for one purpose: that we might be cured of our spiritual blindness.
Unlike all of the characters in the story, we know the story from the other side of the resurrection. We have the benefit of the insight of countless generations of Christians who have gone before. And yet, we’re still as susceptible to spiritual blindness as people of any age or culture. We still are often blind to the needs of those around us. We’re blind to the fact that our own spiritual health depends upon our willingness to forgive. We’re blinded by prejudice toward and fear of others who are different from us. We’re blinded by the idea that happiness comes from acquiring money and things; we’re blinded by the temptation to believe that what we have and what we are belong to us by right, and not as gifts from God. And a host of other things. One way to state the goal of the Christian life is to be cured completely of our spiritual blindness.
In the 1700s, an Englishman by the name of John Newton was a slave merchant. He took African natives from their homeland and sold them to people in the American colonies. Newton became acquainted with three Anglican priests: George Whitefield, and John and Charles Wesley. As a result of their teaching and of his reading of Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, Newton was converted to Christianity. He gave up the slave trade, and eventually entered seminary, and became a priest himself.
You may not know the name John Newton, but you have memorized at least part of
one of his hymns. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
Newton’s story is a story of conversion. For most of us conversion isn’t a one time occurrence, but a lifelong process. Throughout our lives, we need many conversions, many turnaround’s, and I suppose that’s why Lent comes around every year.
A great mystic once said, “Of what avail is the open eye, if the heart is blind?“ As God gave sight to the man born blind, as he renewed my sight, so he can cure us of a much more debilitating blindness—blindness of heart. You and I may be guilty of some blindness this past week, or of some blindness that lies deep within our personality. As always, Jesus offers us his forgiveness, and a new chance to learn more fully what it is to follow him as Lord.