“It’s always fun until somebody loses an eye.”
That’s what the adult in the room will often say to the kids when playing around starts getting a little rough and dangerous.
Never were truer words spoken.
(I know this is a cheeky way to begin a Lenten reflection, but addressing a long Gospel like this
halfway during a long season of repentance merits at least a little bit of a lift!)
When I was in high school,
I was doing what big sisters do so well with little sisters: pillow-fight… in the living room… just before bedtime. It was just supposed to be playful,
just a little mayhem, minimal destruction.
Then the corner of her pillowcase scratched my eyes, and I could not see— literally.
I don’t remember being in pain as much as I remember being freaked out. When I realized I couldn’t see,
I started screaming bloody murder:
“You are SO dead! I’m gonna get you back for this!” My sister was likewise freaked out,
terrified that she had blinded me, and now crying tears of panic.
And since we lived in a very Catholic home, she rounded up every rosary she could find and began praying over me wildly
as I lay on the couch in darkness.
Imagine fistfuls of rosaries in a child’s hands, with the beads grazing over your face…
just crazy sobbing.
Meanwhile, my parents were in the kitchen
debating whether to take me to the emergency room.
Eventually, after what felt like forever, my own fear subsided,
and my vision began to clear.
My sight began to resolve and focus.
But honestly, I didn’t say anything to my sister right away. I let her continue her terrified praying and weeping, trying to make deals with God if only I were healed.
I let everyone worry a while longer… because I wanted some payback.
Twisted? Yes. Cruel? Yes.
Delicious? In the moment, yes.
This is just to tell the story, not excuse the behavior.
There was, on my part,
the temporary physical blindness,
coupled with a temporary emotional blindness.
And of course I’m sorry for aggravating the worry and anguish. “Sin first, ask for forgiveness later,” as that other saying goes. (So much for Catholic logic and truisms.)
I hope that that small, everyday life story
is one that you were able to see in your mind’s eye and imagine as a short film.
Today’s readings are likewise cinematic in their telling,
and they all play with notions of blindness and sight, darkness and light.
Samuel is out searching for the next king of Israel, and God presents him, at last,
with a candidate he doesn’t expect.
David, at first glance, doesn’t strike him as the kingly type. He’s a shepherd boy— emphasis on boy.
But as with so many other stories in the Bible,
God chooses the one that we as humans always deem “least likely to ”—
the imperfect or unusual vessel to elevate and to do the hard work: Jacob, the younger twin;
Moses, the one of dubious speaking ability; Ruth, the foreign widow;
Mary, the pregnant teenaged mom;
Jesus, the carpenter’s son from the backwater of Galilee; Paul, the zealous convert.
We hear God gently reminding Samuel,
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”
As we look at ourselves now,
if we were to see with the eyes of God—
perhaps with equal parts generosity and judgment— what would we see?
Are we living according to God’s desire and vision for us?
The psalm, second reading, and gospel acclamation next all come together to remind us
to let ourselves be led.
We are to surrender and trust in God as our shepherd, leading us through darkness and difficulty,
ultimately home to blessing.
Paul writes a word of encouragement to the Ephesians, telling them to wake from darkness and sleep,
and to walk in the light,
as their new faith calls them to do. That light,
John then reminds us in the preceding chapter of this Gospel, is Jesus,
the light of the world, the lamp to our feet—
the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus is here to teach us how to see as God sees— or as close as we can approach that.
Lastly, with the Gospel itself,
I want to highlight two lessons out of so many possible ones. The first one is this:
sometimes we suffer inexplicably, through no fault of our own
and not because of any sin or generational curse.
We are challenged to make sense of our own experiences. Neither the blind man nor his parents are at fault,
and yet he was blind his whole life,
until Jesus touched him and changed his life with this miracle of healing.
Disease, illness, and difference
need not be marks of bad character or signs of moral deficiency.
Rather, pain and suffering are part of normal life, and thus they offer moments
that call us to recognize God present and working in our lives even though that may not seem possible,
even though that may not make sense at first pass. Seeing the world through God’s eyes—
with grace, mercy, and spiritual generosity— can be difficult,
and we can only hope to grow with greater ease in that through time and prayer and practice.
Walk in the light
The other lesson to take from this Gospel
is Jesus’ lack of concern for the Pharisees’ being upset with him.
They’re upset because he broke the law forbidding work on the Sabbath. Healing is work.
Just ask any caregiver.
But to channel another favorite movie, When Harry Met Sally,
why should goodness and justice— and love— wait? In the final scene, on New Year’s eve, 1980-something, Harry realizes that he’s fallen in love with Sally,
and he’s racing through the streets of Manhattan to find her at a big, dumb dance
with a boring date she’d rather ditch anyway. And he breathlessly tells her,
“I came here tonight, because when you realize
you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” God can spark us, just like that.
Having light in our lives and seeing as God sees— these are matters of great urgency.
If we can bring light to others, shouldn’t we do that without delay?
If we can bring life
and help each other flourish and live in fullness,
shouldn’t we do that without hesitation? We can be light for one another now.
God is light for us now. Live now.
Walk in the light
Dr. Rachel Bundang is a Catholic feminist ethicist. Presently based in the Bay Area, she teaches on the Religious Studies faculty at Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco and the Graduate Program for Pastoral Ministries faculty at Santa Clara University. She has written multiple articles and book chapters and additionally serves on the editorial team for the journal Theological Studies. A founding member of the Asian Pacific American Religious Research Initiative (APARRI), her areas of interest lie at the intersections of race, feminisms, technology, inequality, and Catholic social teaching. As a liturgist, she preaches and leads music regularly at her home parish in the Bay Area and also offers retreats and workshops nationally.
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