2014 29 March

Lenten Study 4: the blind Man Receives his Sight

Posted in Steinbach United

Lenten Study by Moderator Gary Paterson


Hi, it’s good to be with you for this fourth week of Lent, as our “Turn Around Take Off” journey continues with yet another encounter between Jesus and, well, this time, with a man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). Once again, like the story of the Samaritan woman, we see Jesus in action, choosing the way of compassion. When his disciples raise questions about the connections between the disability of blindness and sin, Jesus brushes away their analysis.

And of course, while Jesus dismissed the theology that says illness or disability are a result of sin, either your own or that of your parents or even your grandparents, certainly other people bought into that theology. So the blind man not only had to deal with loss of sight and its economic consequences, but also the moral condemnation of other people.

So Jesus responds with compassion, and at one level, like the story of the “Woman at the Well,” it’s a “go and do likewise” story. Live a life of compassion, be a healer; bring sight to the blind. See what needs doing, where people are really hurting and respond concretely and practically.

I find myself thinking of other gospel stories where Jesus heals a blind person (there are lots of them, and that in itself says something significant), particularly the one from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 18), where Jesus asks very specifically of the person who was blind, “What do you want me to do for you?” Not a bad question! And the response is direct and clear, “Lord, let me see again!” When we are out and about in the community, maybe that’s the question we need to ask people (ask the spiritual but not religious perhaps, or those living on the street, or Aboriginal people), “What do you need? What do you need from me, from the church?” And then listen very carefully and respectfully to what they say! And then do our best to respond to THEIR need, not ours.

So the man receives his sight, although only a couple of verses are given over to the description of the miracle itself. A little spit, a little mud, a little Sabbath-breaking kneading, a washing in the pool of Siloam… and it’s done. The rest of the story is all about what happens after – and it’s all about metaphor. Jesus is the Light of the World, with echoes from the Prologue to John’s gospel, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Maybe the question we have to ask ourselves (and our church) is, “Do we really want to see?” For clearly John wants us to be thinking about spiritual blindness, and the ways in which we are not seeing clearly. Short-sighted folk who don’t have a view of the larger context; the far-sighted, who can’t focus on what’s right in front of their noses; middle-aged folk, with their presbyopia and reading glasses; and then later, astigmatism, and cataracts. I know, I know, I’m stretching the metaphor; but can we talk about seeing with Jesus eyes, or with Jesus glasses… depth vision, 3-D, seeing differently, clearly, honestly, lovingly?

Maybe we need to be talking about a church that needs the gift of sight, that has been working hard for some time at not seeing what is happening all around… until suddenly the numbers and finances have brought a crisis, where we can’t help but see our present situation. But then what?

John’s gospel talks a lot about what happens after the healing – the reactions of the onlookers, neighbours, family, the religious authorities, the people who don’t want to believe that the man can now see. We doubt the capacity of God’s power embodied in Jesus Christ to bring about such change, to open our eyes to the fullness of life. We are disturbed when someone is transformed; when the system shifts.

Clearly we all spend a lot of energy in “not seeing.” We all have our defences, our blind spots – usually to protect us from hard truths, from changes that might be painful to make, even though they would enhance life – our own, and that of our neighbours.

But then it happens, suddenly we see and our world is turned upside down. Can you remember times when that has happened for you? When the lights went on, when you could say, “I once was blind, but now I see.” How did it happen? What brought about that change? A person? A prayer? A crisis, and falling apart? An encounter? Maybe it was the witness of another person, perhaps a survivor of Indian Residential Schools telling his or her story, forcing you to see, breaking your heart open.

So, our eyes are opened; we see, which sometimes means it’s hard to fit back into the old ways of living. Sometimes others aren’t so thrilled about the changes in us – maybe they’re feeling threatened, judged, uncomfortable. That seems to be what happens in this story to the man who receives his sight. He’s confronted by interrogation and anger and eventually he’s kicked out of the community because he insists on telling the truth of what happened to him. He becomes a witness, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” And he even asks the religious authorities, (surely with typical Johannine irony), “Do you also want to become his disciples?” Is this what we are called to do? To witness to how our lives have been changed, even if speaking this truth sparks pushback. Can you remember a time when that happened?

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.