as those that will not see

Seventeenth century nonconformist minister Matthew Henry in his commentary on verses two and three of Psalm 82 wrote “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

Jesus heals the blind man

Singer and songwriter Ray Stevens, in the song, Everything is Beautiful, offers a similar thought “There is none so blind as he who will not see. We must not close our minds; we must let our thoughts be free.”

We are all born blind, unable to see, for the brain lacks the necessary skills born from experience to interpret the visual data impinging on the retinas. Simply put, we have to learn how to see, how to sort out the visual data, how to interpret the visual cues about space, distance, and how our bodies relate to the panoply of things that surround us.

For those born without sight, such as the man in John’s Gospel, the restoration of sight after years of blindness is seldom a pleasant experience. Often it is quite the opposite: for the newly sighted the initial experience is one of visual disorientation, confusion and pain; the brain untrained in the rules of seeing, is literally assaulted by a spinning amorphous mass of light and colors.

Yet, even now, as it was in ancient times, there are those so blind by nothing more than their own refusal to see the truth, to believe what they see. The Pharisees in the Gospel, exemplifying what Paul calls “fruitless works of darkness,” refused to see what they did not wish to see. Even Samuel, in the first reading, initially saw only what he wanted to see. The Lord had to remind Samuel, telling him: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”1

Helen Keller, born both deaf and blind, once wrote:

At times my heart cries out with longing to see…

If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which we have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than as a means of adding fullness to life…. How many of you, I wonder, when you gaze at a play, a movie, or any spectacle, realize and give thanks for the miracle of sight which enables you to enjoy its color, grace, and movement?2

It is all too easy to fool the eyes, as any illusionist can quickly prove. A recent photograph of a dress worn by the mother of a bride has been viewed by over 28 million people, examined by a plethora of experts, and been the subject of numerous news reports all because some people say the dress has white and gold stripes while others insist that it has blue and black stripes!

What we see through our eyes is always colored by our past, skewed by what we believe we know, altered by what we do not understand, and often “seen indistinctly, as in a mirror.”3 Even when we are confronted by the truth we often refuse to alter our perceptions because as Mark Twain once quipped, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth is not.”

In “The Myth of the Cave”, the Greek philosopher Plato weaves a story where all of humanity lives their lives chained within a darkened cave, with nothing but shadows and illusions flickering upon a wall to define their reality. One man escapes his bonds, travels beyond the darkness of the cave, and looks upon the sun and sees the world as it truly is. When he returns and tells the others what he has seen and experienced they refuse to believe it. His truth must be mere fantasy, an illusion, the ravings of a madman, and he is summarily dismissed. They simply deny his experience. It just cannot be, for they know that the chains and the amusing images on the wall are reality. Thus, he is ridiculed and his invitation refused.4

This is how Plato describes the intellectual assent of the soul to truth. To contemplate divine life is to find freedom; but it is also to encounter opposition from “the evil state of man, misbehaving in a ridiculous manner, arguing over shadows and images.”

There are clear parallels between the myth of the cave and the story of the man born blind. Each upon receiving new sight is rejected by those who remained chained to their old ways of thinking, by those who would rather cling to their chains and discuss the shadows than embark on a journey of faith.

How often do we dismiss or deny that which conflicts with our own perception of reality? How often are we like those who knew the beggar when he was blind and now that he could see refused to admit they knew him, even when he said to them that it was indeed he who had been blind.

The blind man’s neighbors and the Pharisees saw with their own eyes that the one who had been blind from birth could now see, but they refused to acknowledge the truth of it. Some suggested that it was someone who closely resembled the blind man. The Pharisees, after questioning the man’s parents and the man himself, while neither admitting nor denying his miraculous healing, chose instead to focus on the one who restored his sight, Jesus. They chose to ignore the truth before their eyes ad hominem, by attacking the character of Jesus: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”5

When the Pharisees threw the man out of the temple, Jesus found him and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. When the man asked who that was, Jesus responded: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he6 and the man immediately fell to his knees and professed his faith in him. He saw with eyes that were once blind but could now see, and he believed.

Blindness comes in many forms but seldom do we recognize any but the physical inability to see through the eyes in our head. Those who are organically blind, whether from birth or later in life, learn to adapt to their inability to see. They learn to see by sharper hearing, more sensitive touch, even a more delicate nose.

Blindness that is the result of hatred, ignorance, jealousy, greed, lust, selfishness, ego or other aberrant, sinful desires, dulls the senses and blinds the spirit. Closed minds are adamantly blind to reason and to truth; they would blind themselves rather than acknowledge that the emperor wears no clothes.

It is one thing to deny or refuse to accept what our eyes have not seen but it is quite another to deny what we have seen. To believe what we have not seen is called faith and as Saint Augustine tells us, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”7 What Augustine writes is an essential element of who we are as Christians and as believers, for if we do not believe in God, whom we do not see, then we most certainly will not see him beyond the grave.

Believing is the deepest kind of seeing. The Gospel account exemplifies seeing as a symbol of believing. The Johannine community, for whom this Gospel was written, would have clearly understood the narrative, not as a healing account, but as a metaphor on the meaning and purpose of baptism and the awakening of faith. We are all born blind spiritually and we cannot hope to see the fullness of reality until the clay that blinds our souls is washed clean by the waters of baptism. As with the physical vision with which we are born, our spiritual vision (faith) does not come fully realized; it is something we must learn to use.

Our lives are measured by the passage of time and we cannot expect to see God until we have passed from this life into the next, yet we ought to take comfort in our faith, for as Jesus told his disciples when he appeared to them after his resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”8

Amen.

Homily #115
Third Sunday of Lent (A)
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41


1 1 Samuel 16:7.
2 Helen Keller, Three Days to See, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1933.
3 1 Cor 13:12.
4 Plato, The Republic: The Myth of the Cave.
5 John 9:16.
6 John 9:37.
7 Augustine of Hippo, Sermones 4.1.1.
8 John 20:29.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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