Sunday – Lent 4

Greetings on this Sunday Morning.

This week I prepared a Worship Service for the Congregation. So this morning, I am simply going to post the Gospel Lesson and my sermon/reflection. And a prayer. Have a peaceful and blessed Sunday. You can see the Gospel enacted or scroll down to read and listen while I read.

GOSPEL READING: John 9:1-41

Gospel Reading Enacted:  The Man Born Blind:   YOUTUBE VIDEO

OR Gospel Reading in Print (NRSV): Listen along here as I read the the following lesson:

A Man Born Blind – John 9:1-41. As he [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he [the blind man] went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,“Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.”

Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”  10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”  16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”  20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”  25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

BORN BLIND: John 9:1-41

A Written Reflection by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald

John 9:1-41 is a very “heavy” reading.  “It challenges, it asks questions of the community to which it was first spoken, and it asks questions of us.  It challenges us to see beyond our boundaries, to ask the hard questions about goodness, and propriety, and where God is situated–not just in our community, but in the world, among all the people? 

            When the writer of the Gospel of John tells a story, he has an agenda–and his agenda is this:  that we all should know who he, the writer, believes Jesus to be.  Whatever story he tells, whatever comment he makes on the stories, he does so that we can see and understand.  Therefore, he tells us not just that this man was blind and healed–because that kind of healing has been done before–but this man was born blind.  “Born blind” is a whole different ball game – a whole other level of healing –and just in case we don’t get the significance, the writer of John’s Gospel says: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If he were not from God, he could do nothing.”

            Blindness is on many levels on this story.  There is not just physical blindness, there is social blindness and spiritual blindness; there is an inability to see beyond labels and false belief.  

            Now when Jesus’ own disciples first see the blind man, they see a sinner, or at least the child of a sinner.  The disciples are expressing the social/quasi-religious beliefs they know; that is, that certain illnesses happen because of sin. But Jesus tells the disciples they are incorrect.  This man is not a sinner, and neither are his parents; he is simply blind. In other words, people are not punished for sins in this way.  Some things just are.  In first century, middle eastern culture, people believed that things like being born didn’t just happen.  There had to be a reason – someone to blame. 

            Have we changed all that much?  What do we do when things go wrong and there is no one to blame?  What if things happen beyond our control, and the reason is beyond ability to discover?  Sometimes we have no control.  How scary is that!  The things that happen that we don’t understand are much easier to live with if there is someone to blame.  The worst recent example of this is a man in the mid-western U.S. who contracted the Coronavirus.  The scariest part for him was he received death some threats.  ….. I know – unbelievable.  This is an extreme example of blame the victim, but it happens in our society.  If we can just blame the victim, then we don’t have to deal with the bigger problem of what created the victim in the first place.  And if we just get rid of the victim, we’ll all be safe, right????  Well, we know that isn’t true – at least I hope we know it – but it still happens today.

            So then when someone is born blind – well why not blame the blind person, or his parents – why not assume they sinned.  That way, we know if we don’t sin, we have nothing to worry about – no blindness for us . . . .  right?  Isn’t that what the “blame game is all about?”  If we can find the source of the problem (i.e., lay blame), then we don’t have to worry.  The world is all safe and predictable . . .  right? 

            Well wrong ….    way, way, way wrong.  As Jesus points out, the man is blind and there are no sinners.  So watch out, you may be next – there is nothing you can do to predict the outcome.  And as if that weren’t enough to the first century Pharisee’s world upside down, the man is healed.  Now that is scary.  Nothing is predictable anymore.  No one  is safe anymore.   Instead of rejoicing that no one is to blame, and stuff just happens, instead of rejoicing that Jesus’ facilitates the healing of this man, thus proving his point that no one is to blame; people are angry and upset. 

            And especially, some Pharisees in this story (I say some, because the writer of John is particularly hard on the Pharisees).  How are the religious people supposed to have any authority if what they are teaching people has just been proved false?  This is a problem – such a big problem that the people who clearly see the man is no longer blind are having difficulty accepting the truth of what happened.  Instead they prefer to believe that this is someone who looks like the man born blind. 

            The Pharisees hear about this healing and are sceptical …….. you know, the Pharisees, the nice good-living, God-fearing folk who want to make sure the neighbourhood is safe and free of “sinners”.  The Pharisees, just to be certain this is the same man, ask the parents to confirm that this fully sighted man is indeed their son who was born blind.  And, if the problem of having to deal with a born blind man who can see weren’t bad enough, Jesus healed him on the Sabbath – – oh, the shame of it all!  The man’s parents are afraid they might be ostracized from the believing community, so they refuse to give testimony and tell the interrogating elders to speak to their son for themselves. 

            In the meantime, the man born blind is wandering around with this newly acquired vision, and Jesus has taken off – he has places to go, people to see.  This poor, newly sighted man is trying to adjust all by himself.  No one is helping him–as a matter of fact no one even seems happy for him–there is no celebrating–people are just disturbed that this can happen.  It is way outside their comfort zone.

            The man born blind, quite understandably, defends Jesus; and for this, he is accused, still, of being born in sin and therefore not one to be listened to. His testimony is discounted.  Fear has kept those questioning him from seeing what the blind man knows and experiences.  That he is, finally, o.k. 

            Eventually Jesus hears of the man’s problems and returns to identifies himself as the one who healed the man, and  the man follows Jesus. How sad that this great and wonderful healing has taken place, and people greet the fellow with fear and suspicion!  How could they wish him to not have sight?  Are they incapable of seeing goodness for goodness’ sake?  They are used to seeking God, not in acts of compassion, or in healing, but in following a set of rules and regulations, rules and regulations that help them control and label their universe.  In the prevailing cultural, social and religious world view at that time was that blind, crippled, diseased people were sinners, or their parents were–all the imperfect people were considered impure – sinners, not accepted by God—while the healed people were forgiven people.  But this one was too much to take in and accept.  It turned everything upside down.  This kind of healing was unheard of.  Everyone, the man, his parents and those who knew them had accepted the blindness was the result of sin – they could work with that- so now what.  And then there was the fact that the healing was done on the sabbath. 

Fear, anxiety, suspicion – these are the things that blind one to the humanity of others.  Thank goodness, you say, we are not like that?  Aren’t we?  How often, in fear or anxiety, do we shy away from the unknown, do we put walls around acceptance and find compassion difficult?

            I read a story about “Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell.  He a personal story that was fundamental to his being part of the founding of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (You can find the whole story, in Mitchell’s words, in his book, The Way of the Explorer.)

            His mother, legally blind without glasses, was healed in 1972 by Norbu Chen, an American trained in ancient Tibetan Buddhist and shamanistic practice. After a week of seeing without glasses, she called her son to inquire if Norbu were a Christian. (Her fundamentalist Christian faith offered only two options—his power was divine or satanic. And if he were not Christian, it must be satanic.)  The day she learned the truth about Norbu, she had to go back to using glasses.  Mitchell comments:

 “I was both distressed and intrigued by this incident – distressed that such an incredible healing would be dismissed, and by my mother’s agony in making this personal decision; but the intrigue, the fact that the sequence of events could occur at all, left an overriding impression. How could I have been so ignorant of something so important? It set me on the search for other persons like Norbu and gave me a clear indication that I needed to learn something more about the role and power of belief in our lives. Whatever the clinical implications, it was clear to me that one’s internal life, the subjective life, had fundamental importance. This was something science didn’t address….It…is my opinion…that disbelief prevents one from seeing what one wishes not to. My belief in the rationality of science blinded me to the equally rational consequences of disbelief….”

            We all have our blind spots–those places where fear rather than love rules our hearts–where compassion withdraws its help because of jealousy or anxiety or ignorance or fear.  Like the people in the story of the man born blind, it is easier to blame another for their difficulty than to help them unconditionally.  We all see with eyes that are coloured in some way by what we cannot accept.  Who have we criticied that we could have befriended, that we might have helped?

Who do we or others decide are worthy or unworthy, are included or not included in God’s realm?  Do we judge by creeds, by statements of faith, by doctrines, by strict observances, –or by the faith itself, by the acts of compassion themselves?

            Healing blindness by faith was not that improbable in Jesus day, though telling frauds from authentic healers might have been.  The story is not about Jesus ability to heal physical blindness. It is about spiritual blindness–about setting up rules to control what is not in our control.   It is about deciding who is worthy and who is not when that is not in our jurisdiction either–it belongs to God and God alone–the story is about letting occasions for rejoicing slip from our grasp because we are afraid, or lack faith, or do not see. 

Prayer

May we never be blind to God’s justice and God’s love.  God, give us eyes to see as you see, ears to hear what you hear, and hearts to care and understand.  Amen.

Benediction:

May God bless you and keep you. May God shine God’s face upon you and be gracious unto you. May God show you every compassion and give you peace.  Amen.


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