Sunday of the Blind Man
The Gospel appointed for this Sunday tells us of the healing of the blind man. As our Lord and His disciples were passing by, they came upon a man who had been blind from his birth. The disciple asked Christ: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Christ responded that the man’s blindness was not the result of either his sin or his parents’ but he suffered the condition that the works of God might be displayed in him.
We must be careful in our judgments of why this or that happens in our life or in the life of others. It is far better and much wiser to simply acknowledge and assume that God can take whatever circumstances might befall us and work these toward our salvation and to His glory.
Our Lord did indeed show forth His works and healed the man born blind… giving him the gift of sight.
And then, for much of the rest of this Gospel passage, we see the resistance and the pressure of the Pharisees to question and intimidate the man and his family and we hear the simple witness of a man born blind who now can see.
The formerly blind man is brought before the Pharisees where he is interrogated to give an account of what happened. Some that heard his testimony immediately denounced Christ saying: ‘this man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said: ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’
They called for the parents of the man born blind and asked them to verify if this was their son and if he had been born blind. The parents attested to him being their son and to his blindness from birth. But when asked to testify as to how he could now see, they feared the intimidation of the Jews – knowing they would be kicked out of the synagogue if they confessed Jesus to be the Christ. They instead replied: ‘Ask our son directly, he is of age and can speak for himself.’
Again, they pressured the man born blind – wishing him to denounce Christ. But here was a man who spent his whole life in darkness and who now could see clearly. There was nothing the Pharisees could say or do that would shake the joy and the gratitude of the formerly blind man. He could see! What an astounding and transforming gift of God! He spoke with boldness based upon the unshakable reality of his own experience. He had encountered God and nothing and no-one could take that away from him.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ… How do you respond when the world pressures and interrogates you? It is a difficult thing to be a member of what sociologist Peter Berger called the ‘cognitive minority’. This term refers to a group that subscribes to views not held and accepted by the majority within a given culture. It is certainly the case that Christianity, and specifically Orthodox Christianity, is a cognitive minority in today’s world. And that minority status and gap in values seem to be emphasized more and more as the world falls further and further into apostasy and becomes less and less tolerant of any view that does not conform to the ‘group think’ of the majority.
Being in the cognitive minority can be a precarious and a lonely place. It takes independence and courage to hold one’s ground in the face of the spectrum of reactions that the world may thrust upon you for being and believing differently. That response can range from amusement to suspicion, from annoyance to intolerance, from alienation to confrontation.
The sociologist Peter Berger identifies at least three ways in which most people respond to being in the cognitive minority.
In the first case, those that find that their viewpoints are at odds with the majority become shaken by doubt in the face of such challenge and isolation. Those values and points of view that do not conform to the majority become weakened and may be compromised or completely discarded.
In the second case, the person goes underground. In an effort to avoid the expected conflict with the prevailing crowd, the person holding the minority view simply is silenced and marginalized. Conflict is avoided by burying one’s views from sight.
In the third case, the person may see the prevailing majority as the enemy of the truth and he or she goes to battle – proselytizing their different point of view, taking on a crusade fueled by a kind of bitterness and righteousness.
If we characterize the conflict between the views and values of the prevailing culture and the views and values of the cognitive minority as an argument to be won, then you have the first case being the triumph of the majority, the second case being an avoidance altogether, and the third case being a declaration of war.
None of these approaches will bring healing to a soul.
Let us look again at the story of the blind man in today’s Gospel. He does not fit the first case of someone whose faith will be trampled down by the intimidation of the majority. He stands fast to the truth that he knows and has experienced. He will also not make efforts to hide the miracle which gave him his sight. And, in the dialog which transpires between him and the Pharisees, we see him defending himself, but it is in a way which seems to almost rest in the truth rather than to force it. There is a confidence born of direct experience. He knows he was blind, and he knows that Christ healed him and that now he can see. There is an unshakable quality of confidence born from his direct experience. He does not need to prove anything to anyone… he simply stands in the truth and in gratitude to Christ Jesus Who gave him his sight.
And this is how it should be for us. We, as Christians, are undoubtedly in the cognitive minority in the world in which we live. We will be challenged, we will be mocked, we will be marginalized, intimidated, and even persecuted for not going along with the prevailing crowd.
Let us take our lesson from the blind man in today’s Gospel. Let us take our Christian life seriously and build upon those direct experiences of God’s grace which He so abundantly offers to us in prayer, in the life and the Sacraments of the Church, in the testimony of the lives of His saints, in the reading of the Holy Gospels. Let us immerse ourselves in what is sacred and what is beautiful and holy. These are the things which purify our heart… and it is the pure in heart who shall see God. And striving for that purity of heart and unity with Christ, let us stand firm in the knowledge of the goodness of God.
We do not need to compromise our faith, we do not need to hide in fear, and we do not need to poison ourselves in passionate anger against the tide of apostasy.
Christ has enlightened us from our darkness, and we must, like the man born blind, stand firm in gratitude, in fidelity, and in love to the One Who has freed us from such darkness and given us light and life. May Christ our God Who rose from the dead give us such courage and grace!