He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. (Mark 8: 23 – 25 NRSV)
I have reached that point where I need a magnifying mirror to shave in the morning. The reading glasses come out for most restaurant menus. It has been slightly irritating to me because I have enjoyed the last seven decades without corrected vision. I have always trusted my eyesight.
The science of sight, however, is now alerting us to the fact that none of us really see that well at all. Our human brains, highly developed compared to other species, are simply not large enough to process all the information that is received through the optic nerve. As is the case with memory, we would do well to be skeptical about how clearly and comprehensively we perceive reality. One might say that humans have both selective memory and selective vision. (If you would like to experiment a bit with this science, go to http://dansimons.com/videos.html).
I do not think it is coincidental that so many of the miracles of Jesus involved the healing of blindness, or that Jesus, when condemning the Pharisees, accused them of blindness, calling them “blind fools!” (Matthew 23: 17) The story from the eighth chapter of Mark reveals the only time we know of that the healing touch of Jesus did not work fully the first time. I happen to believe that the blind man in this story is one of the great role models of the New Testament. Even though he had been touched by Jesus, he was aware enough and courageous enough to admit that he still did not see everything clearly.
The season of Lent calls us to self-examination, and perhaps a big part of that should be a checkup on our vision. We are all victims of confirmation bias, or the tendency to receive most of our information from sources with whom we agree. The more we listen to or read our favorite commentators, the more confident we become that we see everything perfectly. It can be extremely humbling to admit, as did the blind man in Mark, that we perhaps do not see clearly. That is a rather vulnerable position to be in. And yet that can be the beginning of a more vital relationship with Jesus, and more loving relationships with our neighbors. That, alone, would make the Lenten journey worthy of our time and discipline.