Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Man Born Blind and the Significance of Human Suffering

Happy Sunday, Coffee Talkers!

Today's Gospel reading recounts Jesus' healing of the man born blind, and the subsequent controversy over the healing. This whole story is very interesting, and has many layers of meaning worthy of reflection. To me, though, the most striking part of this Gospel comes at the very beginning of the story:

As he passed by 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 he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."
What?! Let's just stop the story right here, and take a second to consider the significance of what Jesus is saying. The disciples must have been knocked off their rockers with that answer -- this man's blindness, his disability which would normally be seen as a result of sin and a sign of God's disfavor, "is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."

And when I really think about the application of this passage in my own life, I am knocked off my own rocker! I mean, can I really believe that my faults and failings, my shortcomings, those things that are wrong with me might have been not only allowed by God, but actually willed by Him that His works might be made known through me? It is really mind-blowing.

But when I think of others, I can more clearly see the truth of this passage. Two examples come to mind right away. The first is a man who goes to Mass at my parish. I do not know his name, but his witness has made a tremendous impact on me and countless other people. This man is blind and deaf. He attends the Mass where an interpreter for the deaf is present, and as a hearing person interprets the liturgy into American Sign Language, a deaf seeing person sits next to the blind man and signs into the palms of his hands. And his face is radiant with joy as he receives the word of God! It is really a moving and beautiful experience to be at Mass with this man. He also assists now with the distribution of communion (again, assisted by a seeing person), which pretty much puts all of my excuses for not volunteering for various activities because of my limitations to shame. Let me reiterate, I have never met this man, but his life has made an indelible impression on me and so many others. The works of God are very clearly visible through him.

The next person I think of is Kevin, who I knew a bit from theology graduate school. When I knew Kevin, he was already wheelchair bound, but he was hardly defined by it. While I didn't know Kevin very well, I was always impressed by his joy and passion for life. Kevin plays basketball (at least one million times better in his wheelchair than I could ever do standing!), and I learned that he is currently working on developing text books for Roman Catholic religion classes. You can read more of his inspiring story (and see him in a cool commercial!) by clicking here:

I think that it is often difficult to see the meaning of our own suffering, even if as people of faith we trust that is has eternal significance. But when I consider the deaf and blind man at my parish, or Kevin, or the many other people who have moved me and so many others by their joyful witness to faith, hope, and love in the midst of life's most unthinkable adversities and trials, I am strengthened in my own journey. And I realize something: not only do we have difficulty understanding the eternal significance of our human suffering, but we are also largely unaware of the impact our suffering makes on others here and now. I mean, that man at my parish and Kevin have no idea how their lives have impacted me, but truly through their lives the works of God have been made visible to me and countless others.

May all of us pray for the grace to be transformed by the pain and trials of this life's journey, that others may see our witness of hope in the midst of tragedy. And if they ask God why we have suffered unjustly, may they find comfort and truth in Jesus' answer, mysterious though it may be: it is so that the works of God might be made visible through us.

Peace and all good,

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