How To See

Often my father would say: “I see, said the blind man.” He wasn’t making fun of blind people; he wasn’t the kind of person. But he was indicating that he understood something conceptually. It is this same kind of seeing that is at work in the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in John’s Gospel.

I recently came across a story out of the sixth century Gaza monastic tradition that offers a profound commentary on this Gospel narrative. A monk had developed a profound hatred of a fellow monk and decided he would find a way to get this fellow monk into trouble. Since the fellow monk was a bad monk, he was obviously guilty of something, so getting him into trouble should be no trouble at all.

This hateful monk kept a sharp eye out for anything his hated fellow monk did wrong and–sure enough!–he saw this fellow monk wandering among the fig trees, picking figs, and eating them. This sort of gluttony was most unbefitting a monk! He ran straight away to the abbot and told him what he had seen.

The monk’s vengeful glee did not last long. The abbot informed the monk that he had sent the slandered monk off on an errand for the monastery and there was no chance that he was eating figs at the time when the vengeful monk saw–or thought he saw–him doing that. The vengeful monk was proven to have been seriously deluded and was shamed before the community for his slanderous accusation.

In the world view of the sixth century monastics, the illusion was caused by demons and the story was told to warn monastics of the tendency of demons to cause such illusions. What we can see easily enough today, just as the sixth-century monastics could, is that it was hatred on the part of the monk that inspired the demons to give him such an illusory sight. The monk thought he could see, but was blinded by his own hatred. We see much the same dynamic at work in the Gospel story: the accusatory “Jews” thought they could see but were blinded by their hatred of Jesus and, by extension, of the man Jesus had healed. The formerly blind man loved Jesus for what Jesus had done and could see clearly at all levels. Imagine what this vengeful monk could have seen if he had loved his follow monk! Did he learn to see after this incident as God meant him to see?