4 Lent A – March 10, 2013 – Take Off the Blindfolds
Today I would like to introduce you to two works of art that you may or not be familiar with: Synagoga and Ecclesia. You can find these sculptures while entering the main portals of some European and British cathedrals. Ecclesia is standing upright and looks very confident. That statue represents the church. Synagoga, on the other hand, is drooping and wearing a blindfold, which is a reference to Jews who did not accept Jesus as the messiah.
Similar sculptures were used earlier in history to depict debates between orthodox teachers and heretics.  In this example they symbolize the cultural and doctrinal attitudes of Medieval Christians who believed that, because of Jesus Christ, Judaism was no longer necessary. Today the Catholic church no longer teaches this theology.
In today’s gospel we heard the familiar story of Jesus restoring sight to a man born blind. One interpretation is that the man represented the struggle between early Christians and the synagogue authorities.  The two statues, Synagoga and Ecclesia, could have easily symbolized this late first century confrontation.
The gospel purposely focusses on the humanity of Jesus and how he cared for other humans. It stresses that through the historical Jesus, God entered history to provide a way to be saved from all that is evil. The blind man in the gospel, like last week’s Samaritan woman, gradually comes to accept Jesus as the sovereign one, the messiah. His testimony was the celebration of a major change in his life.
In our time we are careful not to equate physical blindness with not being able to recognize Jesus Christ. What message, then, do we Christians take away from this gospel? People can experience the radiance of Jesus Christ’s bright light when they take off their blindfolds. The message is a call for reshaping our own lives. In this week’s second scrutiny we pray that our Elect — Ron, Camille, Wendy and Star — will continue to grow in awareness of God as the source of light.
The two statues, Synagoga and Ecclesia, represent the ability to perceive things clearly or not. But, it is not always easy for us to remove the blindfolds. Do we accept ourselves as we really are or as we think we ought to be just to please others? How do we appreciate and respect people who are quite different from ourselves? Are we quick to judge people because of their color, the clothing they wear, how they speak, what their physical abilities are, where they went to college? Do we live in sociological and political ghettoes defined by labels like rich or poor, Catholic or Jew, Democrat or Republican?
The Dominican priest Timothy Radcliffe, in his book What is the Point of Being Christian,  describes Catholics in a couple of ways. He wrote that Kingdom Catholics are those who identify with Jesus Christ who broke boundaries and reached out to everyone. Their theology is outward looking, rooted in experience and emphasizing liberation.
Communion Catholics, claims Radcliffe, view the post-Conciliar church with skepticism. They feel that if the church is absorbed by secularism it will lose its identity, its doctrines and traditions. According to recent surveys most Catholics, however, do agree on the need to reorganize the way the church does business. Where is the common ground? Right now, both groups are feeling left out of the church and are blaming each other.
The cardinals in Rome have been discussing their expectations regarding the new Pope, the governance of the Holy See and its offices, the Vatican Bank and the organization of the Curia. Now, it would be a remarkable historic moment if the cardinals found a way to consider the concerns of both Communion and Kingdom Catholics not to mention countless others who have left or are leaving the church. What would be required? Taking off the blindfolds.
1 Rowe, Nina, The Jew, the Cathedral and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century, 2011, Cambridge University Press
2 Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, pp 1816 and 1833
3 Radcliffe, Timothy. What’s the Point of Being Christian (NY: Continuum) 2005 in Dionne, E.J., “Polarization, Church and Country,” Commonweal 03/04/2013. http://commonwealmagazine.org