As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” John 9:1-3
A blind man asked us if we had a plastic bag; the kind that you find in the grocery stores. None of us had one. He didn’t mind. He thanked us and walked away. He wasn’t just passing by. He is a familiar face in the center. He has been here a long time. More than twenty years ago we shared a bench together. He sat next to us and eavesdropped on our interactions with the children. Then he initiated a conversation. I can’t remember what we spoke about. I just remember him. The benches are gone. The government removed them. Now, we don’t have a place to sit and chat. Maybe this blind man would have sat and chatted with us again if there was a place to do it. I think that the plastic bag was just a pretext to connect with us. It was too bad that none of us had one.
If I had the chance to talk to him again, I might ask him what he thought about this story from the gospel. Maybe not, I think that my courage might fail me. Besides, it is too personal. This story touches the innermost being of those who live with a disability. I would be asking too much of him to talk about something that so sensitive. However, I do wonder if he ever asked the “why” question. On the other hand, I have never heard our children or teens question God about their situation. They just deal with it as part of life.They don’t believe that they have a say in the matter. They are right. However, it doesn’t mean that they have asked, “why me and not others”.
The disciples did ask the question. They wanted to know who is to be blamed. It helps us have control over the situation when we know that there is a cause for every effect. They wanted Jesus to identify the cause of unjust circumstances. However, life is not so simple that such complex issues can be reduced to one or two reasons. Atheists choose the simplistic route. They say that the world is ruled by chance and some of us are just unfortunate. If they find this answer satisfactory, then all the better for them. However, it didn’t suffice for the disciples. They wanted an answer to help them understand God’s presence in all this suffering. Jesus answers in a way that would bring comfort to the sufferer but perhaps not to those who are curious about his suffering.
Jesus made it clear that his blindness does not put him outside of God’s actions in this world.
Our blind acquaintance is part of a movement or organization for the blind. They meet in the square where drug dealers and addicts mingle. Consequently, they are always in the middle of people of dubious character. It is because I judge these people with my eyes. Our friend uses other faculties to discern the character of people. Perhaps he has a way of perceiving their true nature better than me because nothing bad ever happens to him. I think that the presence of the blind or anyone with a disability awakens the humanity in the hearts of the people. At least this is true in the environment where we work. The most dangerous gangsters will make sure that no one harms or bothers them. I have seen a career criminal helping the blind cross the streets. It was purely a gratuitous act of kindness. For the wayward soul, it was his chance to remind himself that there is still a kind and gentle person in him despite his tough exterior. He may believe that these people are God’s gift for him to exercise charity. However, this was not what Jesus was saying when He said that God’s works might be revealed in them. He did not mean that the blind or the lame exist to help us become more charitable. They exist because they reveal an aspect of God’s beauty that is perhaps only accessible to them. We need them to discover this hidden beauty of God.
When I served in a parish here in Brazil, there was a young woman who was wheel-chair bound. She had a number of physical disabilities which got aggravated over the years because she could not afford the proper health care. She comes from an extremely poor family and she spent her whole life confined in a tiny shack with moldy walls. To make matters worse, she was highly intelligent young woman. She was fully aware of her plight. Unfortunately, she spent most of her life wondering if she lacked faith and was not healed for this reason. It was a cruel thought implanted in her mind by years of indoctrination. We used to visit her weekly. It wasn’t act of charity on our part. It was mainly because we enjoyed being with her. Her friendship gave us a reason to face some difficult situations in the parish. She did not possess out-of-ordinary wisdom; she was just a simple person who helped us see God’s beauty in an otherwise dark period. Most of the time, we even forgot that she was disabled.
There was a complex and difficult man who befriended her. He was an alcoholic and adulterer. He was also an abusive husband. He was the epitome of everything that we are taught to despise. I am not sure how they met but they became good friends. They came from two different worlds. He had very little regard for anyone or any faith and she was a devout Christian. For some reason, she aroused in him a sense of compassion. He tried to help her family in whatever way he could. It wasn’t gratuitous but his intentions were pure. He wanted to get to know this young woman. His friendship with her was one of the most revolutionary thing that happened in his life. It was the first time he had a relationship with a woman where sex was not the primary goal. It wasn’t romantic in nature for both parties. It was really because of envy. A person whom the rest of the world would look at and see only a disabled person, but she became an object of envy for this man. He saw that she had a fulfilled life and he only had known failure and misery. He desired what she had. She helped him discover it. He eventually gave up his old life. It was a slow process but he attributed it to his friendship with this young woman. She helped him see the beauty of God and he could not return to his old ways. I met him after this transformation. He is an odd combination of a brute and saint. Only people in process of becoming saints manifest these qualities. He was a wild man who was transformed through the powerful witness of a frail wheel-chair bound young woman. I am grateful to God for the years we spent in this parish. This young woman is one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us. Unfortunately, she still thinks that she needs to healed to have a fulfilled life. Maybe one day she will realize that God has already given her a beautiful life.
The story from the gospel is about healing, but not just physical healing. The blind man was still rejected after he gained his sight. The problem was not his blindness but the lack of vision of those who can see. They could not see the beautiful thing that had happened to him. They only saw what they wanted to see. When we see a blind person, or a beggar, what do we see? The disciples were taught to see a cursed person or worse, an incomplete person. Jesus healed their vision. Maybe He can continue heal our eyes so that we too can see the beauty in people whom society considers as cursed.