Wanting to Belong
A Sense of Belonging
The Man Born Blind
As Jesus 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. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" —which means Sent—. So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, "Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is, " but others said, "No, he just looks like him." He said, "I am." So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?" He replied, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went there and washed and was able to see." And they said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I don't know." They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see." So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, "What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?" His parents answered and said, "We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, "He is of age; question him." So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, "Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner." He replied, "If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." So they said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" They ridiculed him and said, "You are that man's disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from." The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out. When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he." He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains.
“The Man without a Country” is a short story by Edward Everett Hale that tells the story of Lieutenant Philip Nolan, who renounces his country during a trial for treason. The judge sentences him to spend the rest of his life at sea and never to have any conversation or news about the United States. He spends years on the sea, and never finds out about the great happenings of history during his lifetime. When he finally enters into agony and they go through his things, they find a map of America drawn from memory, matching the America he knew before being sentenced for treason. They share with him the story of the United States during his fifty-five years of captivity and recognize that he dies a patriot. His story shows that we all have a great desire for belonging.
So many people suffer from a sense of rejection. They feel that they do not fit in with their culture, their society, or their family. This leads to a crisis of identity and is often acted out in an unsavory manner.
The Man Born Blind is no different. Yes, he is suffering from a physical impairment. But perhaps he had an even greater fear of being excluded. Coming into contact and receiving a miracle from Jesus endangered his position, precarious as it was, within the Jewish community. His parents are so afraid of the leaders of the synagogue that they dodge the questions directed to them.
Born in sin
The Pharisees try to write him off, judging him by his blindness to be born in sin. Too often, we still come across the idea that our moral life has a direct aspect on physical well-being. Or, we fall into the grip of the ideology of entitlement when we judge people’s material wealth and success on our perception of their moral character. But Jesus says that "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." Jesus wants to change the categories of judgment. It is not enough to separate the good and the bad. Jesus wants to call all of us out into the light.
Finding the Way Home
The Blind Man has to choose. He receives the miracle of receiving his sight. We can even see the use of a curious sacramental, as Jesus mixes dirt and spittle to make mud to rub on the man’s eyes. He washes them in the Pool of Siloam. This leads him to receive the gift of sight. There is robust baptismal imagery here. As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the Easter Vigil, we know that the waters of Baptism will bring new believers into the Church. To stand with Jesus is to risk being thrown out of the synagogue. He is losing the social safety net that has taken care of him all of these years. But he is gaining a new freedom and appreciates the miracle worker that has changed his entire future. How often do we allow ourselves to be sucked back into the past, dependent on what we already know rather than striking out into an unknown future, full of possibility? It feels risky and dangerous, and many of us retreat back the other way. The Blind Man shows courage and begins a radically new life.
What is holding us back?
We have to let go if we are going to follow Jesus. We want to belong, but we must decide where to belong. We have to choose our values. This implies sacrifice. Recently an actress, Grace Van Dien, shared that she was leaving acting, at least for a time. She shared that some of the things that were being pressed upon her did not match up with her values. She had to pay a price for her integrity. We might think that it is unfair and that things should be different. And we would be right. But it is often the way the world works. If we are going to be faithful to ourselves and to our status as believing Christians, we will be called to turn our back on the things of the world. Neither family, political ties, nor human respect should prevent us from living out our faith.
Learning to see
This man spent decades in darkness. He had to enter into the world of the living abruptly. It would take time to learn everything from this new perspective, but he had the faith to guide him. The same thing can happen to us when we enter into a life of prayer. Old attitudes and prejudices that we have had may have to melt away and give way to our newfound faith. We all desire to belong; we will be happy if we belong to Christ.