Sightlines: A Reflection by Karen Bell

I went to a Catholic high school in Connecticut and I remember being very excited to participate in a service project opportunity for members of my class. We were going to go to a school for blind children, and I was looking forward to making connections with them. I had tutored younger students and had found it really satisfying. I had this vision of bright, garrulous kids who would be anxious to meet us teens.

There was a girl who was going on the trip as well, a beautiful redhead that I was somewhat friendly with. I remembered wondering if she would like the experience, because she was rather quiet and aloof. She was always impeccably put together and had an air of being above it all. When the day came and our bus pulled up to the school I was eager to meet the kids and get started. But when we entered the building and were given instructions, my vision of what that day would be like was completely dashed. These children were not just blind but had many additional challenges. Most of them were not ambulatory and they had hearing and speech disorders. A great number of them had severe intellectual deficits. I was expecting they would all be like Helen Keller – high functioning individuals with blindness – and, feeling completely at sea, I shrank from them. My friend, however, was full of sweetness and compassion and she was quickly able to fully and authentically engage with her assigned students. I realized, once I got over myself, that I was the high functioning individual with blindness. My classmate was the one who was able to see with her heart.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who has been blind since birth who spends his days as a beggar. The disciples assume his blindness is a result of sin, either his or his parents, but Jesus refutes that and says he is blind so that “the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus, like my high school friend, gets proximate to this unseen member of society. He then does something so intimate it is startling. He uses his saliva to create a paste from dirt and then applies it to the man’s eyes. Jesus could have simply said to the man, “Receive your sight,” but He makes a point of physically touching the man, including him in the process and intentionally bringing the blind man more deeply into the encounter. What must the blind man have felt when Jesus bestowed that healing touch? Moreover, the blind man doesn’t receive the miracle passively, but is an active participant in the creation of this wonder since he is responsible for the final step – washing his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. 

In the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis suggests that: “Life for all its confrontations is the art of encounter… Encounter is, as it were, the oxygen of life.” This is the essence of Jesus’ way of being throughout his ministry. And for the blind man, the encounter did not just lead to the gift of physical sight, but more importantly, inner sight – he came to know Jesus as the Son of Man, his Lord and Savior.

Getting back to the story, there remain other blind men to consider. The skepticism of the Pharisees and the man’s neighbors blind them to the truth – that this newly sighted person is the same one they saw begging. They refuse to accept the facts because they can’t wrap their heads around the possibility that someone from God could do such a thing on the Sabbath; no good Jew, no disciple of Moses could account for such a thing. Their limited sight lines demand they call forth testimony from his parents. They question the blind man several times about how he received his sight, until finally, in frustration, the man bluntly exclaims, 

“This is what is so amazing,

that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes…

It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.

If this man were not from God,

he would not be able to do anything.” 

And for that impertinence, the Pharisees throw him out.

As we discussed last week, Jesus nudges us to widen our lens, something the Pharisees and neighbors couldn’t seem to do.  Jesus came “so that those who do not see might see.” 

Consider this image.

What do you see?  Most people see a woman’s face, but if you look more closely a second image emerges.  Can you see a saxophone player in the black part of the picture?  We often need help envisioning the complete picture.  In life, we need to put on our Jesus glasses to see as He would have us see.

So here are some questions to consider: 

What blind spots might you be clinging to? 

What cultural norms feel inviolable and prevent you from considering alternate ways of seeing? 

We often speak about eye-opening experiences, saying “That was a real eye opener!” Can you think of times when this has been true for you in a spiritual sense?  

What might allow you to observe more closely with your heart? 

What situations most often call for you to put on your Jesus glasses?

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