“I was blind, but now I see”
That’s probably familiar from the hymn Amazing Grace. That hymn is the autobiography of a seaman, John Newton, who worked in the British slave trade. During a frightful storm at sea in 1748 he prayed for mercy, and his conversion was begun. He left the sea, studied for the ministry, and was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest. (If you look at the tiny print at the bottom of the hymn in our hymnal, p. xxx, you can see his name as the author.) But while the hymn and story may be his, he got the line from today’s Gospel.
In that Gospel Jesus leads a blind man to faith in the face of opposition from nearly everyone. The Gospel writer makes a point in the telling: the opposition is critical in the man’s developing and deepening faith in Jesus. Look at the various, progressive ways he describes his healer:
And the Gospel writer notes, “And he fell down and worshipped him.”
What has sustained our formerly-blind pilgrim through these difficulties is his insistence on his own experience: “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see,” he says to his critics. This is the message our Church wants those on the path to initiation to hear: Remain true to what you have come to experience, and even conflicts can deepen your faith; for the invisible God is your foundation, and the truth of your seeing will eventually emerge.
And this is the point, too, of the final conflict in the story: When the Pharisees confront Jesus about the healing, He shifts seeing and blindness from a fact to a metaphor, and the Pharisees accuse Him of calling them spiritually blind. Jesus replies that that’s not a problem: Being spiritually blind and knowing it is no sin; it’s an opportunity. The problem, He says, is when one claims to see, but is in fact blind.
And that’s the question that the Gospel leaves with those of us who have already been baptized: are we “clear-sighted” enough to welcome and guide the seekers who are on our doorstep asking for Baptism at Easter? Or will we, because of the remaining self-centeredness we carry, be “blind guides” for them in their growth toward God’s will for them?
We’re just over halfway through Lent; it’s a good time to look at how we began on Ash Wednesday with our resolutions to grow in discipleship through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. What have we allowed God to do in and through us? Where have we succeeded? Where do we need to begin again?
The story of the Blind Man, John Newton saw, was his story as well. It can be ours, if we allow God to work in us. But we need to be warned, as the Gospel does, not to kid ourselves. Until next week, peace.