If you’re quick to notice at twilight during warmer months of the year [remember them?], the erratic flight of bats can be seen. They seem to stagger through the darkening skies giving credence to the popular expression, blind as a bat. [For example: “Bless her heart! Ethel Jean is blind as a bat without those coke bottle glasses of hers.”] Despite the familiar expression, bats are anything but blind, drunk, and staggering. Those wily creatures are indeed cursed with small, not all that helpful eyes, but they are most certainly neither helpless nor clueless getting around in the waning light into nighttime darkness. Nocturnal creatures, they have developed highly sophisticated sonar tracking systems. Coupled with wings which have evolved from their frontal appendages, they also boast an amazing agility for flight. In fact, they are the only mammals which do so. [Sorry, flying squirrels simply glide; bats flap their wings – aka, fly!] Their various groups comprise about twenty percent of known mammals. Bats may not “see” all that well in the conventional sense, but they can hone in on an airborne mosquito and nab the tasty [to them, at least] morsal in a moment. Their erratic flight patterns are the result of midair hunger being satisfied by skilled fliers. Blind indeed!!!
The gospel and New Testament readings for the fourth Sunday in Lent address blindness, too, and bats may well offer help in understanding the particularly lengthy passage from John [9:1-41]. Jesus encounters a man born blind. If his disability were not enough to bear, people around him wonder or surmise that it must be divine punishment for his own or his parent’s sins. Jesus scoffs at such gossip and superstitious claptrap, telling his disciples and others that the man’s blindness and suffering are instead an opportunity to manifest God’s abiding love and glory. As he has done before, Jesus uses his own spittle to make a bit of mud to rub on the man’s eyes. Given John’s tendency to connect significant events in salvation history, the parallel to God’s creation of Adam should not be overlooked. Jesus is ushering in “a new, healed creation.” Then, instructing the man to go to a specific pool to bathe, the man discovers that he is healed. People are dumbfounded that he has been given eyesight.
As another popular saying suggests, “No good deed goes unpunished.” After his healing, the man is brought before the Pharisees who question him and then his parents to see if his story is credible or simply a hoax. Fearful of and begrudging Jesus’ growing reputation, the religious leaders threaten to exclude any who declare Jesus the Messiah. When questioning the man yet again to see if they can trap Jesus in a wrongdoing, the healed man’s patience wears thin. John’s account continues: He answered, I do not know whether he [that is, Jesus] is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? [John 9:25-27]In frustration, the man continues. He finds it astonishing that the leaders so easily malign and reject the one who has healed him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing [John 9:32-33]. For his faithful response, the now-sighted man is driven out by the crowds.
A number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments observe that people troubled by or not wanting to believe that God is working in their midst “…have eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear.” Jesus embraces that sentiment as he addresses the man he earlier had healed. Jesus explains that in obedience to his mission, Jesus heals and restores the suffering people God so dearly loves. Those who witness such healing witness, in fact, are granted a glimpse of God’s glory revealed. To then deny or try to explain away such blessed goodness is a sign that even religious leaders can grow blind and deaf in their suspicion and fear of losing their own authority.
It is possible for us, too, to become complacent in daily life, not expecting to behold holy wonders and signs of God’s powerful presence all around us. In our self-important busyness and mind-numbing multi-tasking thought so impressive and productive we risk a different form of blindness. Our eyes and ears may still be functioning, but our spiritual vision and hearing cease. Beyond our need for practicing humility as a daily virtue, we also could benefit from a lesson those cagy bats provide. Bats have learned not to depend upon their own eyes while grocery shopping. They have discovered the astounding power of sonar to navigate in the darkness of this life. We, too, might benefit from not trusting our cursory and sidelong glances at life around us but rather focus our hearts on expecting, and thus finding the signs of God’s presence and power busily at work. And in doing so, we might just discover that we are a part of that holy work, but we just couldn’t see it at first! It is as if we are waking from a stupor [Ephesians 5:8-14]. Or, as “Amazing Grace” puts it: “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”