“There is none so blind as he who will not see.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus what he wants, and the latter’s response is unambiguous: “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus gives him back his sight.
The episode of Bartimaeus is one of several healings of the sightless in the Gospels, the most famous being the man born blind, found in John 9, which is a standard text for Christian initiation on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. In that text, Jesus draws a powerful contrast between the man born physically blind, who recognizes that the hand of God has touched him, and the spiritually blind Pharisees, who stubbornly insist that the hand of God does the work of the devil. (The text also includes an aside with the parents of the blind man, who see but won’t speak).
Catholic moral theology makes a distinction between what it calls “invincible ignorance” and “vincible ignorance.” To commit a sin requires both knowledge and consent: I know X is wrong but I want to do it. That’s where ignorance as a factor affecting moral responsibility comes in.
“Invincible ignorance” is a lack of relevant knowledge which I do not have and could not be expected to have. If I honestly did not know something was wrong, and no normal person would be expected to know something was wrong, my responsibility is diminished, perhaps even excused. In my best judgment, that animal on the other side of the forest that I shot at looked like a deer, acted like a deer, and behaved like a deer. I could not be expected to know it was some weird guy in a deer suit. On the other hand, I cannot plead ignorance and say, “I didn’t know plunging a knife into somebody’s back wouldn’t be good for them.”
“Vincible ignorance” is playing dumb: not obtaining morally relevant information I could have and readily obtain in order to feign ignorance, “I didn’t know.” It’s not asking something because I might not like the answer.
Bartimaeus tells Jesus, “I want to see.”
The question for many contemporary Catholics is, “Do I really want to see?”
How often do we prefer not to know? Pretending we don’t see what’s happening under our noses?
Read more at National Catholic Register