17 January 2021
Life is not fair. There is never any guarantee that something else will not cut across all our careful planning. And through the ages humans have some up with all sorts of answers to try to appear as though we have some control over the unexpected.
In the story from John's gospel today we find an illustration of those who shut their eyes in case they were challenged by a new way of seeing and a lone man who knows who has healed him and will not be shaken from saying so. One who sees the light and those who see but are blind.. And we are invited to see where we stand in the story.
In those times people thought that you could see because light shone from within out of our eyes like a sort of searchlight to see the world around you. Its not surprising that John takes the incident of the blind man to illustrate the one who is the source of all light. Jesus is the light of the world. I am - the name of God- the light of the world - Let there be light!
First the disciples get jolted out of their prejudices. The blind beggar was born blind. Why?
The conventional answer was that someone had sinned. The parents had not only the disappointment and fears for their child's welfare but were also landed with the blame for producing the blindness. It still happens - think about it. Usually it’s the mother who gets blamed for not doing whatever is the latest theory .
The disciples of Jesus took for granted that the prevailing belief was correct.? They ask who had sinned?
Jesus slams through it all - his blindness has got nothing to do with sin. In fact quite opposite because right now in front of your eyes, this man is going to be used to show God at work.
Jesus took some earth, mixed it up and placed it on the man's eyes and sent him off to the pool of Siloam to wash it off.
The man could see.
The story of the cure takes two verses; the controversy surrounding the cure, 39 verses. Jesus had worked you see, on the Sabbath. He had taken earth and kneaded it like bread and that was not allowed. Everything is being questioned. Who is this man? Good or bad? Can we make the facts fit God into our understanding rather than allow God to change our boundaries?
Richard Lischer of Duke divinity school reflects that we can sympathize with the Pharisees. They were only trying to observe, describe and explain the phenomena. Haven't you ever listened to the testimony of someone who has been "healed" at Lourdes, who's thrown away the crutches? And haven't you wanted to ask a few follow-up questions?
The question of Where's He from is through all the Gospel of John. The authorities sink to the oldest of all debate tactics: attack the source of your opponent's argument. Poison the well. Where is this Jesus from? What rabbinical school did he attend? Where did he learn to break God's law? The formerly blind man replies, "He restored my sight. Where do you think he's from?"
The formerly blind man doesn't know all the correct religious phrases with which to interpret his salvation. He isn't pious in the traditional sense. What he knew for sure was that once upon a time he sat in darkness, and now the whole world was drenched in sunlight. And he acknowledges that.
"One thing I know," he said.. "One thing I know," one of us might say is that when I was going through a bad time I hurt so much I couldn't sleep or eat, or I was so filled with hate I couldn't think, but somehow I got through it, and I've come to recognize that the somehow was Jesus. "One thing I know." he says. We start with acknowledgment. Of who is your shepherd, of whom is the healer, the light of the world.
The man's statement has a terrible consequence for him and for all of us. He is cast out of the synagogue. He is cut off from Torah, family, the sweet--smelling incense of the Sabbath, the certainity of the Law -- all because he looked deeply and directly into the Light.
If some scholars are right, this story reflects the historic parting of the ways between the synagogue and the Jews who believed in Jesus. We were once so close. Just how close we still are can be seen in those moments when we acknowledge our dependence on God, and place no limits on who and how God saves in Jesus Christ. Hidden in the joy of new beginnings is also a tragic ending -. Where does Jesus have the conversation with the man? Outside the synagogue?
Those who had known the man as a blind beggar, find the change unsettling. They ask questions, first of one another, Is this not the man who used to sit and beg then of the man. Then how were your eyes opened?
They take him to the Pharisees, who ask questions of their own. Where is he [Jesus]? How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs? What do you say about him?
Then they bring in the man’s parents and ask questions of them; Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?
they, in turn, direct the questioning back to the man.? What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
The questioners get more and more angry each time the man responds. He is telling them nothing they want to hear, nothing that fits into the beliefs and experiences that they carry. The newly-sighted man answers from his own experience. “One thing I do know,” he says, “that though I was blind, now I see.”
He finally asks a question of his own. “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” that’s too much for them and they send him away: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”
These questioners aren't wanting to know. Their questions are designed to reinforce the boundaries of what these people already know, and to keep their belief, safely contained.
These questioners are arrogant. and it would be easy to dismiss them as the bad guys in this story. But they are within us too. I know the times, when I have been defensive of what I think I know, when I have asked a question—of someone else or of myself—that built a wall rather than opening a door.
Let us this Lent ask the questions, of others and ourselves, that expand our vision rather than confining it. Good rinse our eyes. They help us practice seeing. They widen and deepen our vision. They clarify our perception of what is present in our lives and of what is possible.
John wants to make sure that we know that Siloam, the name of the pool in which the man washed his eyes, means Sent.
We are all being sent. Sometimes we are sent beyond the boundaries of what others find acceptable or comfortable or convenient. Sometimes we are sent beyond the limits of our own vision. Whether or not we know where we are going—and sometimes especially when we think we know where God means for us to go—we always need to learn how to see. Like Jesus with the blind man, God calls us to claim the vision that God gives us, so that, as Jesus says, God’s works might be revealed in us. In order to know where and how and by whom we are being sent, we need to keep visiting Siloam to do the washing that will keep our eyes clear.
John closes this story with questions that are good eye-clearing questions. Jesus, John tells us, finds the seeing man and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answers Jesus’ question with a question: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” His question leads, not to a wall, or to a law, but to worship.
The Pharisees who have the final line. Overhearing the exchange between the sighted man and Jesus, they ask, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
How well is your spirit seeing these days? What questions will help keep your eyes clear so that you can see, and be sent?
Richard Lischer - Christian Century, March 3, l999
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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