Psalms 23, Response: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want
One interesting detail in this story of the “man blind from birth” is that he is the only person in scripture afflicted with an illness from birth. The other important contextual fact is that during Jesus’ time, an illness was commonly associated with sin, and illness, or suffering in general, is a sign of one’s sinfulness.
We can now understand the stigma that the blind man suffered. Throughout his life, he was discriminated against and suffered even more.
This also shows us the mindset of the people then, very much influenced and perpetuated by the authorities represented by the Pharisees. It was a mindset of rigidity, with an utter lack of compassion, as shown by their greater concern for the breaking of the Sabbath rather than celebrating the healing of the blind man.
This now paints for us the whole picture or context that Jesus enters in this story. On the one hand, there is belief that an illness is a punishment for sin, a belief that added to the suffering of the blind man. Not only was he handicapped physically, but also psychologically, socially and spiritually.
On the other hand, the religious leaders of the time, who influenced and dominated much of Jewish day-to-day life, lived with a rigid worldview filled with many rules and regulations that often protected their self-interests.
Compassion, mercy and love
It was this context that Jesus enters in today’s Gospel. He breaks these prejudices and oppressive order in society. He does so not with worldly power, as some of sectors expect of the Messiah, but with the power of the Kingdom of God, of compassion, mercy and love.
It was a clash of “powers.” The Pharisees would not surrender any of their powers that allowed them to lord it over the people, in this case the law of the Sabbath.
Jesus’ power heals and sets the man blind from birth free. It was a freedom from the physical infirmity, but more deeply, it was the freedom from being ostracized and left in the margins.
Most deeply, it was the freedom to believe and to choose to worship the Son of Man—the greatest and deepest freedom Jesus gives him.
In our Lenten journey, we reflect using the lenses in this story. How much of the Pharisaic worldview and attitude is in us, even in its most residual form? What are our personal struggles, or as we say in Filipino, mga bubog natin, like the man born blind? Who is the Jesus in our life or inside us?
Each one of us operates using a bias or even a prejudice that we are often not aware of. As the world of computers and technology would say, we have our default mode. It is our comfort zone that prevents us from seeing an “inconvenient truth.”
Suffer and sacrifice
Our Christian faith is by nature an “inconvenient truth” that invites us to embrace the Cross and Resurrection, yes, to suffer and sacrifice, but more so to know the power of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in our life.
The Pharisee in us will refuse this. Not only do we have comfort zones or default modes, but we have built our lives on them and view the world from this lens. What are these in our life?
Each one of us also has his/her struggles, mga bubog: the pain, the woundedness, the traumas that have handicapped us. These often separate us from others, and create our shadow side that we are embarrassed to reveal to others.
Yet it is through this brokenness, this woundedness that God’s grace enters our life, in the same way that Jesus met the man born blind in his lifelong handicap and shame. Here was his deepest encounter with Jesus that restored him to wholeness.
What is this brokenness, this woundedness that we must bring before Jesus, and in it encounter him most deeply?
Finally, who is the “Jesus” in our life, the people who made us believe in Jesus’ presence, in God’s love in our life? We sometimes call them angels. They are blessings. They bring Jesus to us, and us to Jesus.
As we enter the final stretch of our Lenten journey, we look deeper into ourselves, into our heart and soul. We do so in the midst of this global pandemic, and we pray that this moment of introspection, reflection and prayer may lead us to a greater awareness of self, a greater acceptance of the Pharisee, the man born blind, and above all, the Jesus in us who will heal and make us whole.
Jesus will set us free, and like the man born blind, may we praise him with our life, and bring his light to others in these troubled and challenging times.—CONTRIBUTED