The iconic images of the three monkeys – See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – certainly contain some decent advice for our living. In the best interpretation of those axioms, they are a choice not to consciously be involved in things that are less than our truest and best selves. Make the choice not to look at things which will tempt you, listen to things that will degrade one another, say things that will be harmful or hateful to others. We get that.
But it can also be a way of traveling through life as spectators, as accomplices in a wide variety of evil because we choose NOT to be involved in the ‘stuff’ of life. It is easy to see this in the political sphere, while doing Social Justices courses in the seminary. How many dictators or corrupt regimes did we as the United States support in the 60’s and 70’s because it was ‘in our best interest’, while turning a blind eye to the pictures of the atrocities, a deaf ear to cries of the victims, muting our voices of protest because it will cost us access to oil, to minerals, to airbases vital to our strategic interests.
Closer to home, I confess, I am challenged by the readings of Lent 4.5, because they make me AWARE of the concrete effects of my use of food, water, energy and the like. I lived quite comfortably not seeing that it took 1,500 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. I loved not hearing that my energy uses consumes the equivalent of 20 lbs of coal a day. In a different, but connected vein, it was hard for me this week to accept that my not speaking out to my legislators made me complicit in the execution of another man who needed to be kept behind bars because of his deeds, but not killed to prove murder is wrong.
See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. – These are not always the best way to go through life. Ask the blind man who was cured by Jesus in today’s gospel. Because those dynamics swirl around him.
The blind man’s parents make the choice to ‘speak no evil’ – “He is of age, ask him.” They knew they were likely to be expelled from the temple if they spoke up. So they throw their son under the bus in their conversation with the Pharisees. “He can speak for himself.” Don’t get us involved. It will cost us everything if we are thrown out of the temple.
The Pharisees choose the opposite – to “hear and see no good.” Unwilling to take the blind man’s testimony that he indeed had been born blind and now was cured by Jesus – their ‘seeking of the truth’ was the exact opposite – an increasing hardening of their hearts. The more the blind man stood his ground on the miracle and who had done it, the more deaf they were to accept the logical consequence – that Jesus is more than a prophet. The evidence was right before their eyes – they knew this beggar, they had seen how blind he was, yet, because this too would cost them, would force a choice of belief upon them, they chose NOT to see and to hear his testimony.
The blind man is the only one whose behavior is exemplary. He chooses to listen to Jesus when he calls him aside and smears the mud so he can see. He chooses to see, to explore the implications of his healing – “I just know this – I was blind but now I see.” But he doesn’t stop there – he keeps asking: “What does that mean about Jesus? And what does that mean about my life? Bit by bit, he chooses to speak up in ever deepening testimony about Jesus. He is: The man called Jesus; a prophet; a man from God; and finally Lord.
See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. How seductive those cute little axioms are. How easy a path they open for us that is NOT involved in the good of this world. Maybe the simple way to pray into this gospel is to pay attention to your resistances. What DON’T you want to see? When do you flip the channels on the news station? What articles in the paper do you skip over on a consistent basis because you know they will challenge your comfort zone? Likewise, what don’t you want to hear about? What truth in the Lent 4.5 readings, in the words from the Pope’s meeting with President Obama splashed across the pages, or even from our spouse/roommate as they gently challenge our behaviors are you being invited to let change your heart and your behaviors. Finally, will you speak out in the political arena, even though it is ‘just’ a municipal election on April 8th?
Because the same Lord who cured the blind man awaits us at this table and bids us to see, to hear and to speak, that all our brothers and sisters might know the love and life we know in Jesus.