Pharisees: “That man cannot be from God: he does not keep the Sabbath.”
Blind Man: “Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of someone born blind; if this man were not from God, he wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
These two reactions represent two fundamentally different ways of dealing with reality, especially when it is unexpected.
The first begins from an empty, narrow, and legalistic premise: “it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath”, and then proceeds to a self-serving conclusion, “this man cannot be from God”.
The second starts from experience and reality: “ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of someone born blind”, and ends in an astonishing but reasonable conclusion, “if this man were not from God, he wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
The Pharisees look for a pretext in the law to force reality to become what they wish it to be. The blind man does not reject the law, but he begins with the stark facts of reality and experience and then, together with the law, he comes to a new and bold conclusion.
The Pharisees force reality, the blind man embraces it.
The blind man’s eyes are opened. The Pharisees’ remain closed.
When Jesus healed the man’s blindness, he revealed the blindness of the Pharisees.
Of course, this kind of blindness continues in our own day.
“Oh, you’re unable to perfectly obey the law? Well the council of Trent says that it is, in fact, POSSIBLE to observe the commandments so you are ANATHEMA buddy!” (Assorted Neo-Pelagians)
As opposed to…
“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking” (Pope Francis)
“That divorced/remarried couple don’t have an annulment so they aren’t really married, they’re just adulterors and fornicators and their relationship is not a real friendship. Consequently, they cannot even be good parents to their natural children and should probably separate too.” (Assorted rigorists)
As opposed to…
“when a second marriage has shown itself for a prolonged period of time to be a virtuous reality and has been conducted in a spirit of faith, particularly in the raising of children…those living in such a second marriage should be granted permission to receive communion.” (Joseph Ratzinger)
The Pharasaical approach starts with blind law and ends with cruel blindness. The other approach starts with experience and reality (a second marriage that is a ‘virtuous entity’ or the experienced fact of powerlessness), and then finds a new synthesis with revelation and law to open up new and unseen paths.
This illustrates what Pope Francis is talking about with his principle, found in Evangelii Gaudium, that “reality is greater than ideas”. The Pharisees had their ideas, and they dictated what the reality must be.
But the blind man has no ideology to do violence to the facts. He humbly accepts the truth in every facet that he finds it, however unexpected; he finds it in the person of Jesus, in the experience of his healing, in the collective experience of history, and in the law of his people.
The Pharisees of our own day say “That pope cannot be from God: he………..”
But they are letting their own settled ideas dictate what the reality should be. Their ideas have lost contact with reality, the two are no longer in a fruitful dialogue.
Our preconceptions of the law, of doctrine, of the nature of the Church, etc., these can be used to mask reality; as when formulas like “the immutable, unchanging, perennial teaching of the Church” obscure the historical reality of the struggle, turmoil, ambiguity, and uncertainty that actually marks the development of doctrine.
Other forms of masking reality include but are not limited to: “angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.” (Evangelii Gaudium)
This is ultimately an incarnational principle. The Word became flesh, it is incarnate in the fleshy realm of human history. It was this Word made flesh that the blind man encountered and which gave him a wisdom above the Pharisees.
God’s presence is here even in the messy and dirty tents of the field hospital and even amongst the wheat and the weeds in the fields outside it.