Making room for new things

April 3, 2011

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Given while serving as a seminarian

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Year A (RCL) – 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

We often joke when talking about going to therapy that at some point it always boils down to the realization that “It’s all our parents’ fault.” For anyone who thought that this was a NEW concept, you need to look no further than today’s gospel when some two thousand years ago we hear the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Now for some of the parents out there, the ones who are inclined to carry this kind of guilt, and you know who you are… this question may have been enough to send your mind wandering, so you probably missed Jesus’ response. I’ll repeat it for you because it is good news, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Then Jesus precedes to make mud, mixing dirt with his own saliva, spreading it on the eyes of the blind man and telling him to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The beggar went and washed and when he returned he was able to see, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. This man was now, on his own, having to explain what had happened.

His neighbors, those who had seen him everyday begging in the street, weren’t even sure this was the same person. Even when the man himself was saying “I am he,” they continued to question if this was truly the blind beggar.

[Now, there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder if their inability to recognize him was as much about how we don’t really look at those that are in need around us, even when we see them every day. But, in this case, it’s more likely that the transformation of this man was so dramatic that his whole personhood had shifted in some way. He had a different way about him after experiencing the healing power of Jesus.]

Amazed and confused by this healing, the people took the man to the religious leaders for an explanation – surely it was their God that had performed this miracle! But after asking the healed man how this had happened, the Pharisees were no closer to an explanation. Instead, they shifted their attention to the fact that the healing had occurred on the Sabbath, and because of this, perhaps it wasn’t the work of God at all, but instead the work of a sinner.

Now, for our modern-day American Christian culture, this sounds as absurd as if you had run across the street to push someone out of the path of an oncoming car and then later you got a ticket for jay-walking!

But in the Jewish culture, then and now, observing the Sabbath is central to their faith and it demonstrates that they are followers of the God of Moses. It’s an outward sign of who they are, not to mention, it’s one of the Ten Commandments, this wasn’t a small thing.

Now Jesus, a Jew himself, certainly would have realized this, so by performing the healing on the Sabbath, he was making a point… as we see in many cases, Jesus’ message is not straight-forward, there is always something we have to wrestle with, something we have to work out. The religious leaders are being challenged to look at this healing in a new light.

But instead, holding tightly to their faith tradition, to the letter of the law, the Pharisees again confront the man who could now see, imploring him to “Give glory to God!” that is “Tell the truth” and admit that Jesus is a sinner for having done this work on the Lord’s day.

And the man responds, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

And as the interrogation continues to escalate, the man becomes more and more convicted of who Jesus is, and challenges the authority of the Pharisees because they are unwilling to see the gift of sight that has been given this man and acknowledge that it is good.

[Perhaps there’s a bit of frustration, too, on the part of the healed man, since his blindness would have been characterized by others as a bad thing, the result of someone’s sin, and now his sight was at risk of being labeled in the same way.]

Remember, too, that this man’s life had been transformed… and not necessarily made easier. By this point in his life, he had figured out how to navigate the world as a blind man. He knew no other way of being.

It actually makes me think of a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian …there’s a man carrying a beggar’s cup, saying “Alms for an ex-leper… Spare a talent for an old ex-Leper,” and when asked about the “EX-leper”, he explains that he had been healed, but quickly follows this with … “One minute I’m a man with a trade, the next minute my livelihood’s gone”… So, too, perhaps for this blind man, but neither he nor the character in the movie are interested in returning to their infirmity.

So how does today’s lesson move us forward on our Lenten journey?

Certainly the issue of sin and particularly who is a sinner permeates the story. The lesson actually starts and ends with a focus on who has sinned and whose sin remains.

For those of you of my vintage and older, and perhaps younger, too, I’d venture to guess that we think of Lent as a time of focusing on our sinfulness. We give up things as a sacrifice. We are called to repent… to change our ways.
This lesson can surely fit into that formula – thinking of sin not as a particular act, but as anything that separates us from God… Anything that blinds us or keeps us from seeing what God wants us to be doing in our lives.

In this way, we can say that the Gospel lesson reminds us that we are all born blind. Jesus reveals himself as the “light of the world,” and gives us a model by which to transform our lives. Using his example, we are able to open our eyes to what God would have us do… to how God would have us live.

Or, instead of focusing on sin, because honestly, who wants to focus on sin, we can see this passage and the others we’ve looked at during Lent, as taking us back to our earliest Christian tradition…

Lent as a time of preparation for baptism. A time of opening our eyes and seeing things in a new way. A rebirth. In this way, the act of giving something up during Lent, or taking something on, is intended to change our habits and cause us to get out of our comfort zone.

By giving something up, we make room for something new to happen. We find that this thing that was so important to us isn’t as important as we thought it was… Or maybe we’re still fixated on that thing we gave up – perhaps it ended up being more important than it should be?? Is it blinding us from seeing something else we’re being called to do?

Will we allow ourselves to be transformed to such an extent that others don’t recognize us? Do we dare make this kind of visible, transformational change, one that may result in others trying to keep us the same as we were before? Are we willing to risk losing the support of those we love and the security of what we’ve grown accustomed to?

The man born blind washes in the pool of Siloam and his eyes are opened. Even through the challenges by neighbors and religious leaders, and without the support of his family, he not only maintained his belief in Jesus as prophet, but dared to be cast out. Ironically, he was an outcast as a blind man, and now he became an outcast because he acknowledged the source of his sight – Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to his disciples “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” In allowing our eyes to be opened, to live a transformed life, we are revealing God’s work, we are reflecting God’s light in the world.

As we move into the second half of Lent, let us acknowledge those places in our lives where we are blind, let us find comfort that it is this blindness that provides a place for God’s work to be revealed, and by allowing our sight to be restored, let us bring the kingdom of God into our midst, with our eyes wide open.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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