Today’s Gospel highlights a community with turbulent currents and cross currents featuring blame, judgment, fear of neighbors and authorities, family separation, and ridicule by the powerful. In short, it could be modern America.
Yet, in the tumult of this divided community, the arc of the narrative moves from darkness to light. The blind beggar is washed clean and his eyes are opened.
Once his eyes are opened, he:
- Faces harsh judgment of skeptical neighbors;
- Is hauled in before the Pharisees and subjected to inquisition;
- Has his parents brought in before the inquisition;
- Is abandoned by his parents;
- Is ridiculed by the Pharisees again; and
- Is thrown out of the synagogue
The beggar knows he will be expelled from the synagogue if he acknowledges that it was Christ who opened his eyes, but he is unwavering. He boldly stands up to the indignant Pharisees and is immediately thrown out of the temple.
Jesus finds the exiled beggar and has another encounter with him. The beggar affirms his belief and worships the Lord.
When we hear this passage, our initial response might be bewilderment: “Why is it that no one seems to be expressing joy that the man who was blind since birth can now see?”
Yet are we much different?
With scientific advances in DNA testing, we see more and more instances where someone incarcerated is exonerated, often after spending many years in prison. Review of the cases often reveals the sausage-making process that is our criminal justice system. It isn’t pretty to see up close what really happens—inadequate resources for a proper defense, suppressed evidence, faulty witness identifications, and fear about releasing someone dangerous into the community.
Are the exonerations met with great joy that the innocent is to be set free? Too often, those responsible for erroneous convictions choose to defend their actions, rather than openly confront the inherent flaws in the system. The flaws fall disproportionately on those who are poor—our “beggars” of today. The powerful defend the status quo long after the quo has lost its status.
Are we any better than the neighbors in the Gospel? How would we feel to have an exonerated rapist released into our neighborhood after spending 15 years in prison? Would we feel joy about his release? Despite exoneration, many are still frightened of the newly released.
How do we feel when refugees from foreign lands are resettled in our communities? Is there great joy that they have escaped the physical danger, political instability, and the hardship of their homeland? Or do we judge them harshly like the neighbors in the Gospel?
This Lenten season, we pray that we, like the beggar, will be bold in the face of adversity, plainly stating “I do believe,” and moving from darkness to light.