By Richard Edmondson
One of the most beloved of Christian hymns is the song “Amazing Grace.” It combines a beautiful melody with an uplifting message (that we can be forgiven for our sins is nothing short of “amazing”) and offers up two of the most famous and memorable lines ever written: “I once was lost but now am found/was blind but now I see.”
The words “was blind but now I see” are taken literally, verbatim, from the Gospel of John:
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!“
The person doing the speaking is a man who was born blind, but who, as a result of a miraculous encounter with Jesus earlier that day, now has the ability to see. The story is told in John chapter 9. The text informs us the blind man made his living as a beggar, and we can presume he must have been a familiar sight on the streets of Jerusalem. It seems his parents were even known in the community as well. For such a man to suddenly have a functioning sense of sight, this after a lifetime of blindness–well, it created a bit of a sensation as you may expect. Some were so astonished they questioned if it was even the same man, and the formerly blind man, and his parents as well, were summoned before the Pharisees to provide an explanation as to the mystery.
The Jewish leaders at this time had already imbued themselves with a rancorous hostility towards Jesus. We are also informed that the day on which all this occurred was a Sabbath. In the exchange which takes place, the Pharisees question the man as to how his eyes came to be opened:
“He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.
Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders still did not believe the man’s story, and of course they would have spurned any talk of Jesus being a “prophet.” So at this point, what do they do? They send for the man’s parents.
“Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, and who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”
The text then adds: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.”
The passage is important for what it relates about fear of Jewish leaders by ordinary Jews, this of course applying to the time of Jesus, but it’s a fear which continues very much today. Synagogues (and churches for that matter) were, and still are, places where social connections are made. For many people, social connections are essential for making a decent living. Author and musician Gilad Atzmon, famous for his critique of “Jewish identity politics,” now finds it difficult to schedule an appearance without Jews organizing pressure against the venue owner to cancel the event. They are essentially trying to stop him from making a living. He has, metaphorically speaking, been “put out of the synagogue.”
Former South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who found Israel guilty of war crimes in its Gaza war of 2008-09 but who ended up renouncing his own report, would be another example, as would David Cole, the Jewish youth who filmed videos exposing fraudulent claims about Auschwitz gas chambers and who had so many death threats made against him he was forced to go underground and change his name.
And then of course there is the example of Jesus–who denounced Jewish leaders as liars and hypocrites and ended up paying the ultimate price.
Ordinary Jews, it would seem, have a great deal to fear from Jewish leaders–more so, I would submit, than from the legions of “anti-Semites” said to be lurking behind every fence post. Fear limits our choices. (And a small number of people benefit from the rest of us having our choices limited.) Fear is a powerful force, so powerful that some people prefer a life of blindness to a functioning sense of sight. We don’t want to believe that people who hold power over us have minds of evil. And so we choose to be blind to it. Sadly this preference for blindness is a human trait, one that is often true for Gentiles as well as Jews, though there is one thing which can be said with assurance: if ordinary Jews and Gentiles ever came together to overthrow the Jewish elites, the downfall of the elites would become a certainty.
The man born blind seems almost on the verge of waging just such a battle with the Pharisees. The exchange grows so heated the latter end up throwing him out. And as usual, the Jewish leaders are acting like hypocrites:
“Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “”Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
In other words, “We’re scholars. We know more than you do. We know more about God than you do. You’re nothing but a commoner. You’re not fit to lick our sandals. So stop questioning our lies and get out!”
The man finds himself back once more on the crowded streets of Jerusalem. Not too surprisingly, he runs into Jesus again (Jerusalem at that time was a much smaller city than it is today), and an interesting exchange takes place. Jesus asks him:
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
The blind will see and those who see will become blind. When people are presented with the truth, they either accept it or reject it. If rejection is the choice, then they have no eyes to see. This is what it comes down to. Another important point to consider here: the words, “For judgement I have come into this world…” would seem to contradict certain other passages, such as John 12:47, in which Jesus speaks of not having come into the world to judge it. But the difference in this passage is that we are talking about people’s individual choices: we can either choose light, or we can choose darkness. We can choose truth, or we can choose lies. In making these choices, we render a sort of judgement upon ourselves by default. As the Gospel of John also states, in its very opening lines, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,” and as John additionally states–not in the Gospel but in his first epistle–“God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all,” and then a wee bit later in the same letter:
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
In this very, very important passage, John, who was the youngest of all the disciples, is giving an affirmation of one of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings: love one another. The capacity to love opens our eyes. Hate blinds us. This is a vital point, one all ordinary Jews and ordinary Gentiles would do well to remember.
So life is light. And when we make that journey of the heart, we emerge from the darkness and into its brightness. Yet how do we cope with the cognitive dissonance that can, and often does, come with opening our eyes to the truth? Today we can point to any number of issues confronting us and upon which people have chosen a path of deliberate blindness. Recognizing who owns the media, the seemingly endless wars they are getting us involved in, and control of our money supply by a handful of private bankers–these are a few that come to mind. Yet if there is one single issue that has resulted in more willful blindness than any other, it would probably be 9/11.
That there are people high up in the American government so evil they would kill American citizens is a truth most people refuse to see. That the people who did this likely were motivated by loyalty to a foreign government is even harder to accept. It is something most Americans find too frightening to compass or envisage. The official 9/11 story spares them from having to try. It offers refuge in darkness. The official 9/11 story is a contrived fable designed to comfort the willingly blind. It was concocted by those who had every reason to feel confident that it would be lovingly, even religiously, embraced by the masses. A Jewish billionaire took out a lease on the World Trade Center and insured it for billions just six weeks before the attacks occurred??? Don’t bother me with details like this. They’re not important.
Choosing sight over blindness clearly is not without its drawbacks: it can leave us in a state of disorientation, wallowing in the entrails of grief–grief for our country, our families, ourselves. But we carry it a step further. We make the journey of the heart. It is a journey that takes us into a wondrous land of light and love. And this brings us closer to God. As John put it, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called children of God,” and again a bit later, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”
We overcome the world by making that journey of the heart. The journey of the heart is a journey into the love of God, a journey into a land in which our footsteps feel buoyed, where the love that God has lavished upon us fills our newly acquired vision and predominates all that we see.
And when we dare to speak the truth that we see we with our wide-opened eyes, we will be called names: crazies, lunatics, conspiracy theorists, yet these are but the cries of the willfully blind. When we hear them we should keep that in mind, and we should also keep in mind the eternal interplay between light and darkness–and here I’ll offer up one final quote from the opening lines of John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
The darkness has not understood the light and it probably never will. But that power of understanding that the darkness lacks–it is within our reach. All it takes is opening our eyes and choosing sight over blindness.