Our first reading tells of the rejoicing that surrounds the Lord gathering his people again. This is something we can relate to as we come out of lockdown, a lockdown that many have felt harder than last year. There is a great sense of joy at simply being able to gather again. To visit each other. Some but not all of the pressure seems to have been lifted, if only for a moment. And I would like us to focus on this theme of opening up, because it is not a bad metaphor for the spiritual life.
I may have told this story before, but the Dominican Fr Paul Murray tells a story of meeting Mother Teresa in Rome. Fr Murray knew Mother Teresa quite well, and so when he saw her in Rome he went up to greet her and ask for her prayers. But before he could say anything, she got in first. She said to him: “Please pray for me. I am just so open to the world.” She had a profound sense of the vulnerability that comes with solidarity, a keen sense of the communion that flows from knowing God as our Father and seeing Christ in the smallest.
Spiritual maturity as a deepening sense of openness and vulnerability is a good way to think about our gospel today. It is easy to be open, it is easy to make oneself available and to listen attentively when things are nice, when people are amicable, when the world seems to fit in with what I was going to do already. However, our gospel today presents us with a more realistic picture of the openness, of solidarity.
Do you have someone in your life who is annoying? An acquaintance, perhaps even a friend, that is always after something? Someone who when his or her name comes up on the phone there is always the temptation to let it go to voicemail? To the disciples in today’s Gospel, this is how they see the blind man. He is yelling and making a nuisance of himself. He is dragging down the scene. Jesus has more important things to do. Or so they think.
And so they try to shut him up. They try to shut him down. This is the opposite of opening up. They definitely don’t think of doing what Jesus does. Jesus asks the one question that we all know you should never ask if you want a quiet life, if you want to retain some sense of control. Jesus asks the other person what do you want?
This is a key question for Jesus. He asks it is of his first disciples in John’s Gospel. It is also one of the biggest questions one can pray about. It is a question that can plumb the depths of a life. It is a question that can spiral out of control without the graces of faith, hope and love.
But it is also a question that rises from one’s encounter with another person, especially another person in need. But to voice the question that rises immediately from the face of the other person, to voice the question is to name one’s own responsibility. The wound of the other person demands I become a healer. I am forced to open up. In the face of such a demand, I must rack my brains, trawl through skills, experiences, contacts and imagination, even face up to my own poverty, in an effort to respond. I must open up.
This job of healing will be a crucial one in the coming months. There are a lot of wounds. There is a lot of tentativeness. We have forgotten many things we used to know by heart. We have probably even forgotten things precisely because they were second nature. We didn’t even know we knew them. And people are going to demand them from us. They need us.
For society to open up properly, we must open up properly. To do this, we are going to need to pray. We need ask Jesus for the gift of healing. We need to be healed and we need to heal.
But one thing we all know is that healing requires time, so we must pray for patience. Patience with others and patience with ourselves. We must open up to our neighbours and their needs, and this will be a process. It will not be a quick fix. And we must open up to our own poverty. We might struggle to know what to do. We might struggle to hear at first, and then when we do hear, struggle to know what to do. But this struggle is worth it. This is what spiritual growth looks like and feels like. This will be us being stretched. So, let’s pray for patience.
But when we pray for patience, let us realise our place in today’s gospel. Like the blind man, we persist in hope. This is not patience tinged with melancholy. It is patience tinged with hope, because our God is with us and he wants to heal us and through us heal our neighbours. So, let’s pray with confidence. Let’s pray with faith. Our God has come to get us. And so we can live from that knowledge. We can live from that peace.