A week before World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, a group of German pilgrims from Paderborn were staying in Bendigo as part of their experience in Australia. One morning, part of the pilgrim’s activity was to work with the pilgrims from Bendigo and do some volunteering works at St Vincent de Paul. So I was there with some of those German pilgrims and with me was a young man with autism. (Don’t worry, I’ve got the copyright from the person concerned to mention him in my homily today). While at St Vinnies sorting out linens, clothes, and all sort of stuff, though I don’t like eavesdropping but I heard two German pilgrims talking about the person with autism there. They were saying something not good or making not-so-good comments about him. I pulled them aside and said to them: ‘You know what, you might not believe in this. Be careful what you say about that young man. At the moment, he is studying in the University, taking on a degree on Graphic designs. Not only that, this year, he has just been awarded as the “City of Greater Bendigo Young Citizen of the Year Award.’ That caught the German pilgrims with surprise and utter disbelief. And if I would have the chance to talk with those German pilgrims again, I would really tell them with pride: That he (the person they were talking about negatively) is doing very well in life, sharing his amazing talents and capabilities, travelling around the country giving talks and promoting awareness of Autism.
I’m sharing this with you not because I wanted to stand up as a hero for that particular person. He doesn’t need one because He already is. I am sharing this with you because sometimes in our life we get caught up with the appearance of someone or on the physical disability of a particular person or to any form of disability for that matter.
The disciples of Jesus were even caught up with the appearance of a person as we have heard in our gospel today. They can’t help but ask Jesus: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ In saying this, the disciples had started putting up wall between them and the blind man- the wall that says: ‘Because you are a person with disability, you are a sinner, and because I am perfectly normal, then I am a saint.’
But Jesus stood up for the man. He immediately toppled down the wall that comes between his disciples and the blind man. And he did it beautifully by letting them see the inner beauty and dignity of the human person, despite his/her disability. This is what he said: ‘Neither he, nor his parents sinned. He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’
This is the beauty of our God. He creates us as an extension of his creative power. And for him we are all beautiful. For him, what’s in our heart is more important than how we look. We could see this same God in our First Reading (1 Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13) today telling Samuel (as he auditioned the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem for the position of being the King of Israel) ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height…God does not see as man sees…man looks at appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.’
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, it is our mission to see others through the eyes of God. We can do this through Christ, who is the light of the world, the one who transforms the darkness of our life into light- and thus making us ‘children of the light’ (cf Eph 5:8-14).
So we need to take Christ be the light of our lives in order to see others through the eyes of God. How?
First, like the blind man, we need to open ourselves totally to God and let him touch our lives. This means we open our hearts for God to touch us personally. The beauty about letting God be our personal friend and God is that we become courageous to stand up for him despite criticisms, despite people discrediting our claims, despite all odds we may have to overcome. This is the experience of the blind man. Jesus touched him personally (making a paste with a spittle). And because of that personal touch, his life was changed for the better.
Second is, we need to obey what Jesus tells us to do. The blind man went to the pool of Siloam when Jesus told him to, and then he was cured. The miracle of healing happened only when the man went and did what Jesus told him to do. This leads us back to the miracle at Cana in Galilee. Jesus said to the servants to ‘fill the jars with water’ which they did, and because of that they were privileged to have witnessed the very first miracle that Jesus did- changing water into wine. This also calls to obey the greatest of the commandment that Jesus asked of us: to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Third way to see others through the eyes of God is to balance our lives with a sense of humour. This doesn’t mean we just take life lightly, or taking life as a joke, rather this means we need also to look at the light side of life, or looking at ‘the bright side of life’. We know that there are always people who want or try to discredit us, or look down at us. The disciples, the leaders of the Jews, the Jews themselves, the parents of the blindman were trying to question his personal encounter with the Lord. But the ex-blind man, stood up on his ground with a sense of humour. When the Jews turned to parents of the man asking about his cure from blindness, the parents told them: ‘He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ They sure knew how to get out of the complicated situation aren’t they? I like the ex-blind man’s attitude over the situation when facing the seriousness of the Jewish leaders. When the Jews accused Jesus as the sinner, or being not from God because he worked during the Sabbath making a paste with his spittle for 30 seconds maybe…and that’s hard work for the Pharisees, the ex-blind man just said to them: ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner: I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ In a way, he’s saying ‘I don’t care if he is a sinner or not. All I care is that I can now see and you can’t stop me from seeing things.’ Then he added: ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’
As we keep up with our observance of Lenten season, let us reflect on this: God made us the way we are to be the reflections of his mighty and beautiful works. The example of that person with austism I mentioned above is just one of the many proofs to this truth. Looking at our lives now: Are we showing that inner beauty of God in us or are we covering it up with our selfishness, insensitivity and indifference to the plight of others?