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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Now that I am unblinded

The long-awaited phone call came from our GP – and so it was time to unblind me. You may recall that last summer I took part in the placebo-controlled phase 3 efficacy trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The big question was I injected with the vaccine for covid or with the placebo, a vaccine for meningitis. The vials were allocated at random and neither I nor those supervising the trial knew which vaccine I had been given. As it happens the last time I took part in a drug trial, for the effectiveness of statins in protecting against heart attacks and strokes, I was given the placebo. However, like tossing a coin, the odds are always 50:50. So I had to go through quite a complicated procedure starting with a phone call to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. They gave me an email address, which then led to a password controlled website – which in turn led to another password-controlled website. This finally generated an email. When it arrived, it was just like receiving the letter from the Lancashire Education Committee with my results for the 11+ all those years ago It took my Mum and me some ten minutes to work out what it was saying, so carefully and sensitively was it composed. It turns out that both my doses were MenACWY. I then had to find out what MenACWY was – to finally discover that I was protected against meningitis but not covid. “The national guidance is for you to have the vaccine as part of the roll out.” Oh well, that means Tuesday morning at Hants Lane clinic along with Jacqui. To quote John Milton: “They also serve who only stand and get the placebo.” (Here comes the Iceland delivery – just hold on for a few minutes) Strange word, ‘unblinded.’ A technical term with an obvious meaning: it seems to assume that being blind is the norm and that we need to be ‘unblinded.’ And we can’t do it ourselves. Like the Greek mystery religions, we phase 3 volunteers need a series of passwords to navigate our way to the truth. Which leads us straight to Jesus, who had a remarkable ministry of unblinding people – although I have never seen it described in this way, not even in the Message translation. And as such the Gospel writers see it not just as Jesus restoring physical sight but more especially opening our eyes to see God wonderfully at work in our world. The blind being given the gift of sight is a key theme in John’s Gospel. In fact he devotes a whole chapter to the man born blind being at the pool of Siloam. Thanks to Jesus he can now see; in contrast, it is those Pharisees who would contest Jesus’ ministry who are the blind. So Jesus explains: For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ (John 9:39). You can’t get any clearer than that. For the message of scripture is clear: left to ourselves we cannot see, we need God to unblind us. In fact, popular culture today would agree that we cannot see. But tragically we never will. Our lot is simply to stumble through life without direction or purpose. There is nothing in our postmodern world that could give us any bearing. Even worse, according to psychologist Daniel Kahneman; “We're blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We're not designed to know how little we know.” That’s why the Gospel of Jesus is good news. To quote the man healed at the pool of Siloam: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25). This leads me straight to John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” I once was lost, but now I am found Was blind, but now I see. You will know that Newton as a sailor was involved in the slave trade You would have thought that his conversion to Christ on 10 March 1748, changed everything. It didn’t. He went on to captain no less than three slave ships, sailing – as it happens – from Liverpool. As he himself recounted: "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards." It took time for God to unblind Newton, as he read scripture and began to see the slaves in his cargo hold with new eyes And I guess that applies to all disciples of Jesus. Our eyes may be opened but it takes time for us to see. Like the blind man of Bethsaida, his unblinding was in stages. A strange, unexpected story, found only in Mark’s Gospel – but that’s typical for Mark who tells you as it is. As Jesus touches this blind man’s eyes with spittle, he asks him if he sees anything. Not really, he says: "I see people, they look like trees walking around.” (Mark 8:24). It takes a second touch before he can see clearly. This gives us both hope and humility. Hope – because such is God’s love and commitment to our wellbeing that he wants to unblind us, above all to see his Kingdom even in the world around us. We see with new eyes. And humility, for us to realise that like John Newton, it may take time for us to find our focus. We’re still learning, we’re still discovering more about God’s incredible love. As the apostle Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus, he prays for us, “for your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do.” (Ephesians 1:18)

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