When you read Saint John’s portrayal of the Lord Jesus in his Gospel, suddenly it will come to you that the beloved disciple’s portrayal of the Lord Jesus is complex. For although John portrays Jesus as a totally transfigured being, he also portrays the human side of Jesus in the way that the other Gospel writers do not. This can sometimes be jarring. As John presents him, the Lord is not always shown as Jesus meek and mild. In the Gospel of John, Jesus has some very human moments. Among these are moments when he’s dealing with frustration, or when he’s sick and tired of trying to explain the same thing over and over again to those who fundamentally don’t get it. And, there are a few moments when his divine patience wears thin when he is dealing with those who do not see him for who he was and what he was about in his earthly life.
The picture of the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel shows us one who can be somewhat abrasive on occasion, who is sometimes obtuse, and who can resort to the use of sarcasm and irony to get a point across.
I don’t know about you, but what I appreciate about John’s portrayal of the Lord Jesus is that it gives an element of hope to the likes of me and you, who also struggle with lack of patience, who sometimes become angry and deal with that anger through sarcasm and who possess just enough cynicism that we, too, appreciate the element of irony in life.
So the great irony in the healing of Bartimaeus is this: it is a simple matter for the cosmic Lord of all creation, the divine Word incarnate to bend down, to spit on the ground and make mud with his saliva, and in an act reminiscent of creation to spread the paste/mud over Bartimaeus’ eyes. It is a small matter for Jesus to tell him to go wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Reconstructive eye surgery is apparently simple for Jesus. But helping people to see the light of God in front of them is a different matter. It may be a simple matter to heal Bartimaeus. But the same cosmic Lord of all creation, the same divine Word incarnate cannot restore sight to the spiritually blind scribes and Pharisees.
Spiritual blindness, of course, can have its origins in ignorance. When it comes to the topic of ignorance, moral theologians make a distinction between vincible and invincible ignorance. Since invincible ignorance implies an ignorance that is so profound that it cannot be overcome. Invincible ignorance implies that there is a circumstance which exists in which the primary actor cannot know the consequences of an action and therefore is not culpable.
This week, in the news, a case was reported in which a mother, Wendy Lavarnia of Phoenix allegedly left a loaded gun within the reach of a two-year-old child. That child was able to reach the gun and when he did, he pointed, fired the gun and shot and killed his brother. It would be presumed that the two-year-old acted in a state of invincible ignorance. You could not say the same for the mother. Vincible ignorance is of a sort that can be or might have been or ought to have been overcome. Probably the mother did not know when she set the gun down, that the two-year-old could reach the weapon and did not know that the child would point and fire the weapon and she might say that she was ignorant of those things. But hers is vincible ignorance; she reasonably ought to have thought that placing the gun within reach of the two-year-old could have the potential for tragic consequences.
But Jesus makes it clear that in the instance of the Pharisees that theirs is neither vincible nor invincible ignorance. It is a willful rejection of the grace of grace of God—a refusal to see the light in front of their very eyes. And, sadly, though he may be the cosmic Lord of all creation, the warning for them, and by extension for us is that there is a sort of blindness that even He cannot heal.