The disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The story from John’s gospel about Jesus giving sight to the blind man speaks to us strongly at this moment in time: “Who sinned?” “Why is this happening?” “Who do we blame?” These are questions that we are tempted to ask when faced with unexplained suffering. A dear student sent me a Biblical passage from Second Chronicles wondering about the description of a plague during the time of King Solomon and how it might relate to our current situation. As you may know, in Jesus’ day there was a common belief that God delivered punishment upon sinners and even visited the sins of the parents onto their offspring. Some of the great Jewish prophets disagreed with this perspective, and so does Jesus, as we see when he answers “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
God’s works being revealed in and through the blind man always brings to my mind the amazing story of Jacques Lusseyran, the blind French activist who during World War II overcame many of the limitations of physical blindness by tuning into the light within him. His faith in the inner light led to a deeper understanding of outer events, and he became a resistance leader who brought safety to those who were fleeing German occupiers, until he eventually entered and survived the Nazi camp at Buchenwald. If you have read the Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, set in France and Germany during World War II, then you know of the blind girl Marie Laure and her spiritual gift of inner seeing. The author of All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, acknowledges that he owes a great debt to Jacques Lusseyran’s memoir, And There Was Light. In his memoir, Lusseyran describes the inner light:
“Light is an element that we carry inside us and which can grow there with as much abundance, variety, and intensity as it can outside of us…I could light myself…that is, I could create a light inside of me so alive, so large, and so near that my eyes, my physical eyes, or what remained of them, vibrated, almost to the point of hurting… God is there under a form that has the good luck to be neither religious, not intellectual, nor sentimental, but quite simply alive.”
Lusseyran recognizes that God is in this light and that God is deeper than religion, intellect, and emotions; God is the inner aliveness that allows us to see from the heart. Jesus says of the blind man, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” God’s works were certainly revealed in Jacques Lusseryan, just as they were in the blind man of John’s gospel. And interestingly, the blind man in the gospel story recognizes Jesus as Lord, while most of the others do not, as they are more focused on the outer world rather than the inner light.
So how do we, in this time of confusion and uncertainty, connect with this inner light? When we find ourselves wondering “who sinned?” “why is this happening” “who is to blame” it will serve us well to shift our focus to the light of God within us, to deepen our prayer life, and to see in such a way that we may be fully present to those who are suffering, to those who are facing limitations or sickness, or are losing hope.
Our faith in God does not call us to avoid suffering or to blame others for it. Our faith in God calls us to enter into suffering, to accompany each other through it, to not turn away, but to hold one another through the darkness as together we begin to tune into the inner light. We see in Jesus Christ that God does not turn away from human suffering, but enters wholly into it and transforms us all through his suffering on the cross. As Christians, then, we are called not to turn away from the hurt of the world, but rather to enter into it on God’s path of transformation. As we go forward, may our transformation be guided by the true light within ourselves and each other, as we walk this strange new day together, through the difficulties, through the darker hours, through the season of Lent, towards a light that is not far off, but rather closer than our own breath.
Let us pray.
God, in you there is no darkness; your way is the way of light and truth. Give us faith in your light to shine hope into our lives this day. Help us to journey to the depths of our hearts where your light shines most brightly, illuminating the darkness of our uncertain times. Amen.