March 19, 2023
20A Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Joy Borne of Seeing as God Sees
As 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 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.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 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.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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.” 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. 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.”
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 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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.” 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. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
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.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 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?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 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.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” John 9:1-41
On the First Sunday in Lent the scriptures invited us to journey into the desert with Jesus to face ourselves, to re-examine our priorities, and, where necessary, to reorder those priorities so that they more closely conform to God’s will for us, namely, “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”
On the Second Sunday in Lent, in the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus, the scriptures raised up for us the metaphor of being “born again” of the Spirit, that we might move from living our lives in fear, to living our lives in the freedom from fear that faith in Jesus makes possible.
On the Third Sunday in Lent, in the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, Jesus uses the image of “living water”, to speak of the gift of a joyful life, borne of release from shame, that flows from our opening ourselves up to being loved with “a love beyond all telling”.
This morning, on this Fourth Sunday in Lent, the continuing theme of repentance, conversion, and renewal is reflected in images of darkness and light, blindness and sight, in the wonderful story of the cure of a man born blind. He is unnamed because, in truth, is not his name the same as the one by which each of us is known? Once lost, but now found. Once blind, but now I see.
It would seem, that this story told by John, like others in his gospel, has a song within it. When I listen to the story, I remember that song, by Johnny Nash, released in in 1972, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.”
The words fit quite well with the scene portrayed in the gospel. We have a man suddenly given sight, rejoicing that he can now see! The song speaks of the “rain” and the “dark clouds” now being gone, the “obstacles” now visible, have thereby becoming “avoidable”. There is the overwhelming feeling that, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day!” Doesn’t that song just fit this story?!
Except no one, other than the blind man, wants to celebrate. Nobody else seems to see it as a “bright, bright, sunshiny day!” They all, for various reasons, seem to be in a dark, very dark, self-protective, and ungenerous place.
First, the neighbors who have always known him as the “blind man” don’t even recognize him. Their response raises the question of how well, how clearly, and how deeply they ever really saw him? Did they ever truly see him for who he was, or was he always just the “blind man” identified only by his outward disability? Did they ever see him as a person, or only another one of those many beggars? Did they ever see him the way Jesus saw him?
Do we see others as God sees them or do see them in the epithets, and through the dark lenses, and even blinders too many prefer to seeing?
Do we see the young black man as a criminal-in-waiting or as a victim of white bias and unacknowledged racism?
Do we see the poor as the lazy slugs that some would have us see them, or as people, who in their day-to-day struggle for survival, are left no choice but to buy food rather than remain current in their rent?
Do we see the elderly in need of health care as leeches on the common purse or as claimants of a basic human right?
Do we see women as objects to be manipulated and used by men or as subjects of their own power and destiny?
After the blind neighbors, come the blind Pharisees, the “law and order” crowd. Their focus is the issue of Jesus working on the Sabbath. They miss the bigger picture because they are preoccupied with obeying the law. And they are blinded by their need to paint Jesus as a lawbreaker and not see Him as an agent of God’s compassion and mercy. Do we assign more value to laws, even patently immoral laws, than to the requirements of justice and mercy?
Do we see the recent downing of a military drone over the Black Sea as an act of aggression against American sovereignty and its right to fly at will in international air space, or do we see the 38 million dollar price tag attached to that drone, one of 11,000 in the arsenal, as an act of aggression against those whose need for affordable housing is not being met with the federal funding that alone can solve this violation of a basic human right to safe shelter, and a gross failure of responsibility of our government to insure safe shelter for all.
Do we see the news that Vladimir Putin has been found guilty of a crime against humanity for removing thousands of children from their parents as a just conviction, but remain blind to the fact that no one has been, nor probably will be, criminally charged for the separation of thousands of children from their parents at our southern border?
Do we see the refugee in flight for his life as a potential terrorist or as one terrorized by forces of political or criminal oppression?
Do we see the undocumented immigrant as a criminal or as one injured by both the broken economic system that he has fled for survival, and a broken immigration system that willfully remains incapable of giving him safe harbor?
In the first five books of the bible, the divine command to protect the “resident alien” is repeated no less than 33 times. In the gospel Jesus again and again replaces the blindness of nationalism with God’s vision of catholicity and universal embrace of all His children by all His children. To be faithful disciples of Jesus one has no option but to protect those without the power to protect themselves.
Lastly and most astonishing of all are the blind man’s parents. When faced with the possible condemnation by the powers that be, even they retreat into the darkness of fear from going to their son’s defense. Their response when asked about him is, “He is of age; ask him.” They throw him under the bus.
Like the others, they are unable to see the awesome thing that has just occurred before their eyes. Do we live from place of fear, paralyzed by all the unknowns and what ifs, or does our faith allow us to hang out on the edge taking those thoughtful risks that life invites and often requires?
Yes, a miracle happened or as John names it, a “sign” has been given. Yes, a sign that points to something beyond itself, to a truth that we are supposed to see and take in.
Here John seems to be saying that the institutions and people that are supposed to help us see clearly, that are supposed to give us vision, often fail us. That the community, our governing authorities, our religious leaders, even our families, can be stuck in darkness. They can lead us into self-centered ways of being where we ultimately care only about ourselves and are unable to empathize, to understand, to sacrifice, or to give of ourselves for others, and thereby unable, also, to share in their joy.
Such is the present neo-fascist climate that has been foisted upon us by those who refuse to see the signs of God’s work in this world and choose instead the blindness of their self-deceit and self-interest, and the lies they compulsively tell, that they might increase their power and control over others.
In John’s story of the man born blind, like in his story of Jesus turning water into new wine at the wedding in Cana, like his story of Nicodemus meeting Jesus in the dark of night to learn about being born anew, and like his story of the woman of Samaria at the well who learned about the new, living, flowing water that Jesus was able to offer; here again we are given a sign, that, those who have eyes to see, may see.
The truth that John is trying to tell his community, trying to tell us, is that disciples of Jesus have something quite precious to offer the world. That there is a light available to all people and it is known in the person of Jesus. The precious gift that we give is the light that we are and are to be in this world.
But sometimes we get wrapped up in things that distract us from our first purpose – which is to witness to a “new way of seeing”. We are not to see as those neighbors in the gospel story, as those Pharisees, and those parents, but to see rather, as God sees. We are to see with Kingdom eyes.
When we do so, and only when we do so, do we find ourselves transformed and made whole. And we become the first beneficiaries of the miracle we would affect for another. And together with the other, whom we see and love as God sees and loves, we bathe and dance in the light and joy of that bright, bright, sunshiny day.
March 19, 2023