We’re now into Part 3 of the The Lord, titled “The Decision.” It’s an apt title, as in the first two chapters Guardini discusses the resistance we all feel to Christ, and our simultaneous need for him.
Jesus heals a blind man by making clay and rubbing it on his eyes and asking him to wash in the “pool of Siloam,” after which the blind man is able to see for the first time in his life. The story unfolds in John 9 with the Pharisees investigating this miraculous cure and exiling the formerly-blind man. Jesus hears about this and responds: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
This isn’t just Jesus saying literally “I will heal blind people,” though in this case I guess it kind of is. He’s speaking of the readiness of man to accept the truth. The blind walk through the world unable to fully perceive the things around them. Thus they are constantly on alert, and open to anything which will assist their understanding. When someone comes by who offers a way for them to perceive more fully, they embrace him. But there are those among us who “see,” or fashion ourselves as sighted. We are overconfident in our perception, in our wisdom, in our learning, in our mastery of spiritual matters. Thus when Jesus comes and challenges what we presume to know, offering a more perfect perception, we recoil. We cling to what we already have. “I know the ways of the world. Who is this who presumes to teach me, a master?” This is the state the Pharisees are in. They hold themselves as masters of the Law, and therefore as masters of spiritual matters, for the Law is all there is, in their mind. They are closed to any other possibility. The unlearned and the lesser folk, like the blind man, are open to receiving Christ and kneeling at his feet. The Light they encounter opens their eyes, and they can now see. But those who “see” are made blind by the Light. They turn away, and instead seek to extinguish the flame.
Perhaps it’s easiest to think of this in the context of a shepherd and his sheep. Or perhaps that’s just my lazy segue into chapter two, as it’s the “Good Shepherd” narrative in John 10 that Guardini looks at next.
The shepherd lives amongst his sheep. He cares for them, leads them, and is constantly on the lookout for dangers in order to keep them safe from harm. The sheep trust the shepherd with their lives, and follow him wherever he leads. We are to be as sheep, with Jesus as our shepherd. But the state of man is such that we resist our shepherd. We defiantly seek to establish our own self-determination, to be the masters of our own fate. “Who is this shepherd to tell me what to do, when I know these lands just as well as he does?” We are like a flock of wild sheep, which the Good Shepherd tries to bring into his flock. He calls us, he tries to herd us, but we flee. We prefer to wallow in the mud and the muck, for the mud we know and in the mud we feel safe. Little to we realize that the mud has encrusted over our eyes. We are blind to the truth of the offer that is being made—the offer of salvation. We cling to the world out of selfish greed and pride, when it is the world that is actually enslaving us. True freedom lies in the care of the Good Shepherd.
It’s easy to look at the Pharisees in Scripture and say that it’s the powerful among us, the learned, and the rich who will be blind in the end. Surely they are most like the Pharisees, who reject Jesus so easily. And it’s certainly true that power, riches, and the haughtiness that can often result from great learning are strong dangers in this case. Those with those things, perhaps, have the most to lose by accepting their true place as sheep and Jesus as their shepherd—by realizing that the world in which they have placed all their faith can never be enough. But the fact is we all have this reaction to Christ. We all resist. We all feel the urge to scamper off away from the flock and wallow in the mud and muck. The challenge is allowing ourselves to trust our shepherd, and that he will lead us to perfect freedom.
Every day of Lent, I am writing a reflection piece on two chapters of "The Lord" by Romano Guardini. If you'd like to read or follow along, you can find the full calendar of where we're at below, or Click Here for the main landing page.