4th Sunday in Lent — 30 March 2014
St. Paul’s, Durant — 9:00
1Sam 16:1-13 | Ps 23 | Eph 5:8-14 | John 9:1-41
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
It was an unheard-of thing for a man who had been born blind to be healed. But Jesus does not heal this man in order to create awe and wonder among the spectators. Jesus never performs stunts like that. Nor does Jesus heal the blind man simply out of compassion for him, although certainly Jesus does have compassion for him, and is concerned for his wholeness, and that’s at the heart of it; but there’s more. The miracles of Jesus are always signs—that is, they point beyond themselves, they are indicators of the Reign of God. They are the signals that God’s Dominion is breaking in, and they tell us what that Realm and its Sovereign are like. And because this healing, like all Jesus’s miracles, is a sign of the Kingdom, Jesus is careful to make something clear right from the start: “Look,” he says, “this man’s blindness is not a punishment for his sins, or for his parents’ sins, or for anyone else’s sins. God doesn’t do that kind of thing!”
That’s worth repeating: “God doesn’t do that kind of thing!” [Digression: Why is it that anytime anything horrible happens, people start in with this business about “Lord, help us to understand why.” Now, let me be clear; I’m not trying to get on the case of people who have really suffered some terrible loss, and for whom this is a genuine cry of pain from the heart—the families of the passengers on Flight 370, for instance, or the families and friends of the dead and missing in the Darrington, Washington mudslide. But when horrible things happen, there are always others, often enough clergy types, who are not personally really emotionally involved, who solemnly intone, “Lord, help us to understand why,” and in that case it seems to me to be actually just a pious anger-denying way of saying, “God, this is all your fault and we want to know what you have to say for yourself!” Maybe it makes us feel more secure to think that God is pulling the strings on every little thing that goes on in the world, but the truth is, God is not, at least not directly. God does sustain the world in being, right down to the last charm quark, but God doesn’t micromanage, and God is not a control freak. We can be safe, or we can be free, but we cannot be both safe and free. And in this world, God thinks it is most important that we should be free. The price of human freedom is high, and God paid it too, on the cross. The question is not “Why?” The question is, “What are you going to do about it—how are you going to respond to this?” End of digression.]
So Jesus says, “This man’s blindness is not a punishment for his sins—God doesn’t do that kind of thing—but his blindness does present an occasion, an opportunity, on which God’s love and power can be shown.” For God’s Realm is one in which people find healing, true wholeness. God wants us to see, really to see (with our hearts and minds more importantly than with just our eyes), and Jesus is for the world the Light of the Kingdom of God.
Well, the healing of the blind man provokes a big squabble with the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very devout and very committed to God’s Law—so much so that they had gotten the notion that they had some exclusive franchise on being very devout and very committed to God’s Law. They were the true believers. (Does any of this sound familiar?) The Pharisees – at least as they are portrayed in John’s Gospel, not altogether fairly -- were “more religious than God.” And they were all out of joint because this was not an orthodox healing. It was done on the Sabbath, for one thing, and practicing medicine counted as work, certainly for a non-emergency elective procedure like this. The man had been blind all his life— could he not have waited one more day! Further, this Jesus of Nazareth was practicing healing without a license. He wasn’t ordained. He didn’t have a degree, he wasn’t board certified. The Pharisees were so concerned about their religious system that they couldn’t see the power of God even when it was right in front of their eyes. It was the Pharisees who were the blind ones in this story! And thus I think the importance of the concluding verses of the chapter, dripping with irony (as often in John’s Gospel!). The Pharisees were blind to God’s obvious will concerning the well-being of God’s People. To watch Jesus give sight to a man who had been blind all his life, and then to gripe because he wasn’t the right kind of healer and it was the wrong day of the week, was a wicked, wicked thing to do. And if you don’t think we do the same kind of thing today, I urge you to think again. Those of us who are traditionalists at heart, and I include myself, need to watch ourselves very very carefully—we so easily assume that “We’ve Always Done It This Way Before” is an exact representation of the will of God. For all their professed devotion to God’s Law, the Pharisees could not see God’s mighty works right before their eyes. And they not only could not see them, they would not see them.
In what ways do we choose to remain blind? What are our favorite little snippets of what we perceive to be “God’s Law” that we stubbornly cling to even when it is perfectly clear that God is up to something new? Where are we letting our religion get in the way of our faith in the living God?
Lent is a time for looking at ourselves and our lives and our faith and our ministries as Christians. What is it we are really up to? Are we just maintaining a comfortable familiar system of piety to make us feel good about ourselves? (Or, as many Christians do, a comfortable familiar system of Lenten piety to make us feel good about feeling bad about ourselves, which amounts to the same thing.) That’s what these Pharisees were doing, though they would have denied it, just as most of us would deny it. Or are we really concerned with God’s mighty works, with turning human blindness and brokenness into occasions for the breaking in of the healing power and love of God?