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  1. Politics
10 April 2008

The blindfolded Christ

In the last of our serious on blindness and faith, John Hull considers the divide between the sighte

By John Hull

When I began to read the gospels after I became blind in my mid forties, I was worried to discover how very much Jesus was a sighted person. Given the assumptions of his society, this could hardly have been different, nevertheless the thought had not occurred to me when I was myself a sighted person.

Sighted people, for the most part, do not recognise themselves as sighted. What I mean is that they seldom appreciate the extent to which they live in a world which is a projection from their sighted bodies. This leads to the common mistake of thinking that one’s own world is actually the only world, and so sighted people tend to unconsciously look upon those who are not in their sighted world as being without any world, and thus to be pitied. It took me a long time to realise that blindness is actually a world, a distinctive human way of living and being.

What worried me about the sighted Jesus was the way he fell in with common assumptions and prejudices about blind people. For example, he said that the blind could not lead the blind without both of them falling into a ditch. This, however, is a misunderstanding. One blind person who is familiar with an area can very well lead a second one. The one who knows the route goes in front, while the second one comes slightly behind, touching the leader’s elbow, and swinging his cane in case there is a ditch on the unprotected side. This works perfectly well, although I admit it is slower.

Another thing that bothered me was the thought that there had not been any blind people among the followers of Jesus. The reason again was obvious. Jesus would have restored their sight and so they could become disciples and they wouldn’t be blind any longer! Trivial though it may be, I found this thought disturbing. Where, I wondered, does that leave blind people today? Many blind people have told me how sighted people feel uncomfortable to have them in the congregation. If they are Christians, why haven’t they been miraculously restored? As naïve and literalistic this line of reasoning may be, it hurts just the same.

Then my attention was drawn to the story of the blindfolded Christ. The soldiers, you remember, blindfolded him when they mocked him.

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Now, being blind-folded is not the same as being blind, but it is getting closer. Jesus had restored the sight of others, but now he took a kind of blindness upon himself. Now he entered into my world. He became my blind brother rather than my sighted Saviour.

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This experience has profoundly affected my understanding of the Christian life. Jesus goes in front, because he knows the way. I tag along behind. So far, no ditches.