I was in a store on Essex Street on the lower east side where they sell T-shirts wholesale. If you buy a dozen, they’re only $4 each, and I asked the guy behind the counter, an orthodox Jewish guy, what were the best ones. He brought me a shirt and I started to look at it, and he said, ‘don’t look---touch, feel it. You gotta feel it to know what it is,” he said. And so I didn’t look, I touched, felt it, and it was nice and thick and it felt, ummm, good. “I see, said the blind man,” I said, and looked up at the guy. I suddenly noticed that he was wearing really really thick glasses, and he was looking at a bill or something with the paper this close to his glasses. I immediately felt embarrassed, and he just looked at me for a second, this long pause, before he asked me if I wanted the shirts. I bought the shirts and quickly left.
My mother always used that ironic phrase, “I see, said the blind man”, telling me that I needed to see things more deeply, like often when I would complain to her about something my father had said or made me do. One time, towards the end of her life, we had come home from her doctor’s appointment, and the prognosis was not good. She could see that I was so sad that she was so sick. “What’s the matter?,” she asked me as we were walking up to the stairs in front of the house. “Nothing,” I tried to say, cheerfully, withholding my tongue. She paused for a moment, because she was out of breath---part of the condition that was killing her. And then she said, “Look at the azaleas!”. They were all in bloom, gorgeous red, pink and white bushes. I bought a new one each year for her on Mother’s day. “They always give me such pleasure, every spring, every new year…”, and she looked at me like she was looking right into me. The flowers bloom into new life every spring. She was showing me that there was no need to be sad for her. “I see, said the blind man” I said to myself softly, in the ironic tone my mother would use. She saw in my heart what only a mother could see, and she tried to give me comfort.
I recently came across an old movie called At First Sight. It’s based on a true story about a man who lost his sight at the age of three, but regains it temporarily after an operation. He has to learn how to see again—I mean really see. Babies do it naturally, sorting out all the visual information their sight offers them, but they are also trained to see things by their parents and others close to them. The character in the movie has to learn to interpret the subtle looks on people’s faces, like the way my mother was able to read the sadness in my face. And in the course of the movie you have to wonder what we are blind to, even when we have been given the gift of the sense of sight.
When Jesus smeared mud on the eyes of the blind man, the man went to the pool of Siloam to wash it off, and as he did so, he was able to see. I love that blind man in the Gospel, there's this funny honesty to him, cutting right through all the baloney. He's like a baby, walking around seeing all these things he's never seen before and sophisticated men are gossiping and wondering if he's the same blind beggar they used to see at the gate of the town, and he just comes right up to them and says, "Yup, I'm the one all right." They ask him how he was able to see and he tells them about Jesus and the mud and the spit, and when they ask where Jesus is now so they can go after him, he just says, "I have no idea." What you see is what you get with him. Maybe it always takes someone simple to see things as they really are-- a blind beggar, or a shepherd, like David, soon to become king. Shepherds are always known for their simplicity and honesty.
It is more truth than the Pharisees are willing to bear, because their real target is Jesus, and when he points out to them that their questions reveal their own blindness--only God can make a blind man see--when he sheds light upon their darkness, they throw him out and call him, and Jesus, sinners. They are so fearful that this miracle of sight might threaten their view of the world. They are so frightened that their alternate truth may be revealed for what it is. The brainy guys, the smart guys don't want to get it, they just don’t want to see it, even though it's staring them right in the face. Like it says in that wisdom book, The Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye”.
It's like Plato’s famous myth of the cave from the Republic. People are chained in a darkened cave, and the only things they can see are flickering shadows on the wall, which they assume is all there is to reality. But one of them escapes from the cave and crawls into the light, and when he returns to tell his fellow prisoners about the truth of the world, they dismiss him and ridicule him. They would rather cling to their chains and embrace the shadows than embark on a journey into the light of faith.
And how different from them at times, are we? Given the light that has been revealed to us, don’t we cling to our own spiritual blindness, hold onto the ways in which we have sometimes been trained to not see? What truth are you blind to see? Like the Pharisees, don’t we have our own strategies to remain blind to the truth that God wants us to see? In a world of fake news, aren’t we guilty of choosing to see only what we want to see, and denouncing the truth that may challenge our status, our wealth, and the myths that make us feel better about ourselves at the expense of our brothers and sisters? Are we blind to the truth that we are all the same, brothers and sisters? That no matter our uniform, the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our political views, our wealth or our poverty, our cool-ness or our geekiness we are family? Don’t we need to see the truth all around us—that we treat one another poorly at times, that women have been taken for granted and abused forever in almost every corner of the world, that we don’t take our faith seriously, that we are blinded by our addictions to the latest fashion, the coolness of our technology, our obsession with Facebook or Twitter or pornography or food, booze or drugs? That there are people who are in desperate need on our sidewalks, and in our city, our country, and in nations all around the world? That we are not really defending all life on this earth or the good earth itself that God has entrusted to us?
"I see, said the blind man," but in the case of the gospel blind man he didn't really see until the end of the story. Oh, he saw his hands, and the mud from his eyes floating in the waters of the pool of Siloam, he saw the sophisticated men who called him a sinner, but he didn't really see as a blind man ironically sees until the end of the story. He didn't 'see' like a mother sees, until he saw the one who opened his eyes, he didn't truly gain his sight until he recognized Jesus for who he was. "Lord,” he called Jesus, "Lord, I believe...And he worshipped him." He finally saw, through the eyes of God, with love.
And the same is true for us. In a few minutes, we're going to come over to this dinner table, and we're going to put some of this wine out and some of this bread, and we're going to pray together over this food, and we're going to ask God to make it into something altogether different, the body and blood of Jesus, who makes blind men and women see. And you know what? God will do that, he will change wine into blood and bread into body and you and I will see it, even though to the sophisticated eye it will look exactly the same. It's not magic, it's sight, and our eyes will be opened if we recognize Jesus for who he is underneath it all, the Lord, the one who makes blind women and men see. During the consecration, when we pray over the bread and the wine, close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, pray you see the truth that God makes happen. There's an old saying, "seeing is believing" but in faith it's just the other way around, "believing is seeing".