Gospel: John 9: 1-41 Blind from Birth Man Receives Sight
Lent IV Year A
OT: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13
Psalm: Psalm 23
NT: Ephesians 5: 8-14
Gospel: John 9: 1-41 Blind from birth man receives sight
Back when I began at All Saints’ Booval, the church was in a strange configuration which really didn’t work liturgically, and which the wardens and I sorted out before my commissioning. There was a large wood and silver crucifix hung over the pulpit, and another plain cross high on the left hand wall, moved from its original position suspended over the wall behind the altar when the new projector screen was put in (before I arrived). On the wall behind the altar were two wooden plinths, originally intended to hold flower arrangements (before the drought kicked in). And between those plinths, on that wall behind the altar, was the All Saints’ banner, a black and silver shield-shaped thing, with three gold crowns and “holy, holy, holy” appliquéd onto it. I liked that banner, and thought nothing of its positioning. I became used to it being there, and stopped seeing it. Until a friend of mine was visiting and I showed her the church, and she commented about the banner. “Are you worshipping yourselves?” she asked. I was shocked. “Well, no,” I said. “But shouldn’t a cross go there, behind the altar? Isn’t that the appropriate focus? Rather than a banner?” It was an insightful comment, which floored me at the time, and floored the wardens when I told them. “Well, of course,” they said. “Your friend is right!” After that, we developed a system of putting the crucifix behind the altar for Lent and Advent, and the plain cross for Easter and other times. And it was important: the journey we took together was from being internally focused, worried mostly about maintenance and property, to being much more cross/Jesus-centred and outward focused. Seeing is believing, and what we choose to see or choose not to see has an impact on how we think and how we behave. It’s easy for us to become so used to “the way things are” that we fail to see, to really see what’s around us, and are blind to what’s really going on.
Sight, blindness, light, and darkness run through John’s gospels, and are significant metaphors for faith and belief in Jesus. Consider: the disciples see a man born blind. All they can see is the question of who sinned, the man or his parents, that he should be blind. Jesus sees something different: an opportunity for God’s glory to shine and dispel darkness, the opportunity for someone to experience grace upon grace. He is the light of the world, and so the light of the world, who was with God in the beginning and said “let there be light”, bends down in an act of new creation and makes mud which he slathers on the man’s eyes, telling him to wash in the waters of the pool of Siloam. The pool of Siloam was a spring, its waters used for rites of purification. And we can’t help but hark back to last week’s reading where Jesus talks of the water he will give welling up in the believer’s heart to eternal life. The fellow going to the pool is that act of faith, and because he believed, he was able to see.
Then there’s the blindness of the man’s friends, his parents, and the Pharisees. They don’t believe, are unable to believe his story, or that Jesus would be able to do such a thing as make a man born blind able to see. Through the course of questioning, the man who has been healed grows in faith, ironically because he has had to keep telling the story to these unbelievers. If he wasn’t sure at the beginning, not knowing who the man who healed him was, he sure was by the end! “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing,” he says. But the Pharisees reject him utterly, even his own parents won’t stand up for him out of fear, and so he’s cast out of the synagogue on the allegation that he was born in sins, and nothing had changed. It’s interesting that in this middle bit of the story, Jesus doesn’t appear; he is present in the man’s ability to see, and in the man’s faith.
Jesus searches him out and finds him… a deliberate act on Jesus’ part when he heard what had happened. And he reveals himself: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man born blind by this stage has the capacity to be able to see who Jesus is, and so says, “Tell me who he is, so I can believe in him.” “I am,” Jesus replies, and then accepts the worship the man offers (the only time in the gospel this happens).
From blindness to sight, the man born blind’s physical state is paralleled by a gradual awakening in his spiritual state. Jesus, as always, both meets him where he’s at, and stretches him to move further… a deepening of faith. At the same time, the Pharisees, who claim to see, because they are the good ones, the inheritors of Moses, in the end are blind, because of their unbelief. They are unable to see who Jesus is, don’t want to see, don’t want their traditions, their norms, their status quo to be challenged. “If we can keep everything the same, just like it’s always been, so things will be comfortable, everything will be perfect. These are the rules of belonging, and if you don’t fit them, tough.”
Consciously or unconsciously, as a community we tend to be more like the Pharisees, or like the man’s parent’s, than Jesus or the man born blind who receives healing. As individuals, as well as a community, we would do well to follow the example of the man born blind, to witness to new sight, and light, and our belief in who Jesus is. But better yet, we hear Jesus’ invitation to see things differently: to see, instead of problems, opportunities for his light to shine in and through us; to see, instead of our own or another’s inadequacies, the grace at work in us, and in them; to see that God’s judgment is always mercy which heals and restores; to see the growth the Spirit brings in our lives, and in our life as a Christian community. And in seeing these things, to believe the truth: Jesus, the light of the world, came into the world to reveal sin for what it is (willful blindness to God’s goodness, mercy, and love, and to our identity as God’s own people), and to heal and restore to right relationship the world and all who dwell in it.
One further thing we take from this today. The man born blind’s own faith grew in proportion to talking about his experience of what Jesus had done for him. Sharing his belief and experience with others opened him to yet further experience of grace: Jesus finding him and revealing himself to him. This is something we struggle with – and I often wonder why. Sharing our faith in Jesus, is as simple as telling someone about an experience we had in which we see God at work.
This week, two invitations: to see things through Jesus’ eyes; to tell someone of an experience we’ve had of God’s work in our lives. May we know his light in us.
The Lord be with you
And also with you.