My first job after active duty in the Navy was with a technology company in Northern Virginia. Initially I was assigned to work on a project for NavSea 07, the submarine programs office. My first supervisor was a good man named Michael. One day I walked into Mike’s office to ask a technical question. He was at his desk reading and as he stared down at the document on his desk, he was rather oddly turning his head to and fro from side to side. It was almost as though he were trying to read one page with only one eye. I asked him why he was doing that and he looked at me as though I was the harbinger of bad news. “You know everyone has a blind spot, so I was just adjusting to be able to read around my blind spot, but you know….” and his voice trailed off.
What Mike said was true. We all have blind spots. Medically they are called punctum caecum, literally, “spot of blindness.” It corresponds to a lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc. Our brains interpolates the blind spot based on surrounding detail and information from the other eye, so we do not normally perceive the blind spot. Mike’s blind spot had grown far larger than a single, naturally occurring point. He knew. It was the first indication of the cancer that eventually took Mike’s life. Mike was not unaware. He was afraid. His blind spot was not his vision, it was his fear. We all have blind spots.
In the first reading, Jesse had a blind spot about his youngest son, David. It took the Prophet Samuel and the Word of the Lord to see more clearly that David was destined to become the great king of Israel.
In the second reading, St. Paul is telling the gentile Christians in Ephesus, that they had a blind spot, but now they have seen the light – and they need to learn to see again, to discover what is pleasing to the one true God, and live in the light of Christ.
The gospel is a story about blind spots. There are Apostles who seem to accept the so-called wisdom of the people that illness and disability are the direct result of sin. And so they ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The neighbors, constraining God’s power by their own limited experience, have a blind spot about identifying someone who has lived among them for years. The Pharisees are blinded by their view that Jesus can’t possibly be the Messiah; after all, what messiah would break the rules of the Sabbath? The parents have a blind spot that makes them worry about the authorities/getting expelling them from the synagogue. They are blind to the joyful news before them.
Only the man born-blind, who now sees, is unencumbered by his expectations or what he thinks he knows. He knows he was blind all his life and now he sees. When the Pharisees can’t focus on this miracles, the man is exasperated: “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. 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.”
The man-once-blind stands center stage as this all swirls around him. When interrogated he answers. When everyone around him is running for the shadows, asking the wrong questions, he stands firm, almost screaming – are you paying attention! I was blind, now I can see! Even tossed from the Temple, he remains center stage. The world awaits his words. He can truly see and his whispered words echo to our time, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:38).
Blind spots: we all have them. Like my friend Mike we sometimes compensate for them to our detriment. Like the apostles we assume things are the way they have always been – even if things never actually were that way. Like the neighbors we sometimes won’t commit to what we know to be true. Like the parents we will not rejoice because of fear. Like the Ephesians we struggle to leave the old behind and embrace the path of light. Like David’s brothers, we stunned that we are not the chosen one. Like each one of us here today, we pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us…” and likely never pause to remember those for whom we carry resentment, anger, or a simmering antipathy. We set aside Matthew 5:24 “leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Lent is a time when we are indeed called to sit a while with ourselves, reflect and examine our lives for the blind spots. Lent is a time when we should ask others what they see and what they see in us. It sometimes takes a community.
Years ago a group of friends and I were camping in the Utah desert. Miles from civilization, we had an amazing night of clear skies and no moon. We all laid there, wide awake in our sleeping bags, gazing at an amazing sky filled with a million points of light. My friend Kim broke the silence saying something about the fuzzy clusters and globs of light. Someone handed her a pair of glasses. The silence was eventually broken as she said, “Oh my….”
Take the time to muse and ponder that you may at last and truly see. This Lent let us join the man-born blind and whisper words that echo in the ages to come, “Lord, I believe”