13 December 2019
Exodus 1: 8 - 14, 22, 2:1 - 10,
Our gospel reading gives us a fascinating story of the furious
rage that is evoked when the lights go on for someone, when their eyes are opened and they begin to see what is really going on. Such
enlightenment, such an alternative view of who's in charge and where the truth comes from cannot be tolerated, and the forces of darkness strike back with naked hostility.
Who is Jesus? What is his identity? Have we got it right? What about when everything goes wrong if we follow Jesus? Conflict between Jew and Jew asks this question in the early church as
John gives us the signs of an alternative cure and an alternative vision.
The setting is that Jesus is at the feast of the tabernacles. Each night the temple is lit up by hundreds of candles, it can be seen all over the city, the light of God is shining in the city. God is at the centre. John proclaims Jesus is the light of the world. You'd have to be blind not to get it.
Jesus sees a blind man begging, minding his own business, and the disciples swarm after Jesus like a trail of medical students following a specialist on his ward rounds. What caused this to happen, did he sin or his parents?
Jesus cuts through their speculations and faulty logic. Disability doesn't mean sin, shattering common beliefs,
Sin does cause suffering but suffering is not necessarily caused by sin. But because he is blind he will now be able to show God's works in a way that a sighted man could not.
Now listen - Jesus took clay and moulded it and the result was that the man could see after following instructions to go and wash it off in the pool of Siloam.
This is not a healing, it is an act of creation, Just as in the beginning light was created so now Jesus took a man who did not have sight- who had never seen, and created sight - gave light. Something new has happened. I am the light of the world says Jesus.
No wonder the authorities got upset. They had no precedent for this and could only fall back on old criteria, the scriptures and Law.
Jesus is a sinner, there fore this cannot be God's work.
They said - it was done on the sabbath therefore cannot be God's work, because this man does not observe the Sabbath .
Jesus had broken three sabbath laws, healing when it wasn't urgent, kneading on the Sabbath when he moulded the clay and putting spit on the eyelids were also forbidden.
This may sound familiar, the Pharisees are going for spiritual one upmanship, the high moral ground. They are keeping the Law of Moses, Jesus is not.
In modern terms God told me that. Or God says.
Hard to argue with, but John's audience will be beginning to understand that the Law's sole function now is to point to Christ's validity. That rather than remaining faithful to Moses and the Law these Pharisees are betraying it.
Faith freedom may well make mistakes but it does free a blind man to see on the Sabbath.
They launched a vicious smear campaign. They tried to discredit the man whose eyes had been opened. He was a liar and a fake they said, he was a sinner and he knew nothing. They tried to threaten his parents in order to get them. to pressure him to pull his head in. And of course they tried to discredit Jesus as well. He was not from God, he is a lawbreaker, a sinner, a deceiver.
They apply a simple test, if the healing violates God's law it must not be from God. that 's a good rule and its one which we actually use still but it leads them to a false conclusion. They are relying on Rabbinic interpretation to determine what is allowable. Jesus had in fact disobeyed , not God's law , but human interpretation of that law.
Jesus is giving new sight to those who would see, the authorities will not see and are the ones who are blind.
This is one of the core reasons why we have the debate on human sexuality throughout the Christian church today, about what is allowable and what is not allowable. We cann't work out what is God's law and what is human interpretation. Who is blind and who can see is still a question for us.
What about the Man?
The Pharisees can't do away with the evidence of the man who can now see, which everyone can see for themselves, so they drive him out, his parents abandon him because to support their son would mean they too would be rejected from their society.
Is this God's work?
If you think these reactions are over the top then listen to this story from World war 2. Wheeler Lipes, a 22, year old navy Pharmacists Mate, performed a successful emergency appendectomy in a submarine USS Seadragon 120 feet below the Pacific Ocean enemy in waters during World War II. --He relied on makeshift instruments -- bent spoons for retractors and alcohol from torpedoes for sterilization. He and an assistant wore pajamas rather than operating room gowns. The patient, a seaman, who would have otherwise died, survived -- "Though a news report on Wheeler Lipes' feat aboard the USS Seadragon amid World War II won a Pulitzer Prize and prompted the Navy to make a movie about his actions,
Lipes was never honored.
Its taken 60 years for the Navy to acknowledge him with a medal. The man who survived has in the meantime lived a full life.
Why - the reaction of the Naval medical community. Like the Pharisees were very angry
One doctor reminded him that he was not authorized to perform surgery and said it would have been better if he had let Darrel Rector die. Another physician actually tried to hit him. Others in the medical community, According to a Radio report on February 19, 2005, spread rumors that the surgery had never taken place, that it was a lie.
Wherever rules matter most, even if they are divinely warranted in scripture, and people take second place, we have darkness.
The light has come into the world , For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that we might have life.
The man, newly sighted is alone, rejected maybe thinking his was better off being a blind begger and then Jesus himself, hearing that he has been driven out from the synagogue, seeks him out and reveals his identity and the man recognises him. Lord, I believe".
This isn't a picture of being made happy, but being made whole The man in the story didn't immediately find life was great in fact all hell broke loose. . For the man can see the world with new eyes But when people have really seen the light for themselves, it is almost impossible to get them to shut up and go back to sitting in the darkness. Life in the light is too beautiful and more than makes up for the hostility it provokes
"It becomes clear that insight among the sighted is dangerous thing.... Those who see more than others see are a risk to those who think they see all there is to see... The more established, secure, and comfortable the religious community, the more averse it is to the risk of visionaries...."
There is also a warning, Jesus tells us that sin is when we say we know the rules, and yet can't recognise God's work.
John points us to the good news that Jesus is the light sent from God, the one who leads us into wholeness and life which is lasting.
We are invited to choose, light or darkness, to see or stay blind
May God guide us all in our choices.
Lord Jesus, with your healing fingers of light,
please gently touch our eyes, so that we may see the right way to go, the most loving way to treat each other,
and the goal for which we were born. And for which this church is formed in your name.
- I apologise for any non acknowledged references- please let me know
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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