The gift of physical sight is a two-edged sword: We can see many things at once in our field of vision. But we can also be very easily distracted by what we see in front of us. It’s hard to focus.
When we use only our ears, however, our hearing brings us more quickly into focus – on what is important and what needs to be done. When we listen, we have to right away clear out all the other noise and chatter into a singularity of mind.
Yes, the blind beggar in the Gospel story receives his sight. That is the obvious miracle. But just as great a ‘miracle’ is that the blind man first had to hear Jesus. He had to focus on Jesus’ voice that told him what to do.
He had to listen to Jesus’ instruction to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash. The Pool of Siloam – a relatively recent archeological find in Jerusalem – was located in a public space. It was not someone’s private swimming pool. It didn’t belong for the exclusive use of a wealthy and privileged individual.
It was a place everyone could access, a place people went in that part of the city for fresh drinking water, a place also recognized for ritual bathing. The Pool of Siloam was designed for everyone to use, including the blind beggars of the city.
For his healing, the blind man had to go outside the sphere of his own private world. He had to go beyond himself, so to speak, into a public place.
Besides the obvious physical threat, the greatest danger during this global pandemic is to become completely turned in on oneself. Perhaps you, too, in your social isolation practices have started to feel a bit of ‘cabin fever’ by now. It’s been a few days. The initial novelty is starting to wear off. Our restlessness is fed by fear and despair. How long will this last? We may feel within our hearts a growing and relentless sense of foreboding. And this will undo us if not checked.
The solution to this inner dis-ease is not to violate the protocols of social distancing and the instructions of the authorities. But it is to find ways, creative ways, to focus on another, and their needs.
I was moved by the heartfelt image from Italy, of an eighty-year-old woman on her birthday standing in her tiny apartment kitchen. Her window was wide open. Tears were streaming down her face as she listened to her neighbours sing to her in unison, “Happy Birthday”. The chorus of voices echoed in the narrow open spaces between the multileveled rowhouse neighborhood.
As always but even more today, people are still starving. Not just starving for food and for certain paper products. But starving for love, starving to belong, starving for shelter, starving for justice.
May God grant us the courage to focus mind and heart, and first listen. Listen to and focus on the voice calling us to let ourselves be loved. Listen to and focus on the voice calling us to go beyond ourselves to the other, in loving deeds.
Indeed, we are experiencing a global solidarity in the midst of this public health crisis. Even in the suffering of this experience, may God grant us courage to find new ways of affirming our solidarity in the life, the love and being of Christ.