In the beginning. We know these words. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.”
In today’s gospel, we see Jesus, the NEW ADAM, bend down and use dirt and spit to fashion a man anew. Through the babble of voices that surround him, in his darkness, the blind man’s HEARING is PIERCED. The blind man hears, “As long as I am in the world, I am the LIGHT of the world.” And those WORDS CUT through his darkness and isolation. Then Jesus spits into the dirt, and fashions a NEW man out of this BLIND man.
This new man SEES and HEARS things differently, now that Jesus has taken hold of him. Today’s gospel says much about sight and seeing. What do we hear? What DON’T we want to hear?
What do we see? What DON’T we want to see? Having our eyes opened is a wondrous thing. HEAR-ING Jesus is a wondrous thing. He takes us out of our isolation, yes, even when we have to stay indoors.
WE are to remember that we are a part of the BODY of CHRIST, yes even now. ESPECIALLY NOW. Jesus RESTORED the blind man to his community and family, and they were repelled. The religious leaders reject him. His parents are afraid of him. ONLY Jesus extends a hand to him – to live a new life with him. Can we HEAR Jesus’ voice in the darkness of the babble of voices that surround us? Can we turn to him for our LIGHT in the darkness?
Perhaps you’ve seen on a news program in November of last year, when a boy who was color blind was given special glasses to see color. For the first time, he could see red! Blue! Green!
He cried and hugged his mother. It’s amazing and touching for those of us who have grown up with color to see someone go from nothing to an abundance. In this case, color.
We’re living through difficult times, when it is essential to strain to HEAR Christ’s voice. It is essential that we allow him to lead us out of the darkness of fear and anxiety. He is here beside us. He is here NEXT to us. Speaking softly, but speaking nonetheless. Perhaps this is a time we need to remember when Christ was VERY CLOSE. Can you point to a time when like the hymn, Amazing Grace, says, “NOW I SEE”?
NOW I HEAR his voice guiding me through the valley of the shadow of death. Can you recall a time? When we are walking in faith, those stories help us stay centered on Christ. What are YOUR stories when you could hear Christ calling you? What are your stories of when Christ pierced your darkness?
One is when I first started attending a Lutheran Church. In my search for a denomination, I had been to a Quaker Meeting a couple of times. I had been to a very welcoming Episcopalian church. But it was at Saint Peter’s that the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. I was not the one who initiated the opening of my eyes. It was the Holy Spirit who did that work. Suddenly, I was feeling a kinship with Lutherans. The HS showed me they were my brothers and sisters! Wow! New family members! Suddenly it resonated with the truth. Luther and I had common cause.
Before that time, I had never spent a minute thinking about him, and now there he was, larger than life, with the Holy Spirit’s stamp of approval on him. Amazing. Amazing grace: now I see.
Christ was CLOSE. LEADING me to follow him even closer. I thought I was already close – but now Christ was drawing me even closer.
In today’s gospel, the blind man Jesus comes to HIM, just like the Holy Spirit comes to me, and comes to YOU. But getting this grace gets the man into trouble. An act of such kindness disturbs the religious elders. in which the blind man is supposed to stay blind, at least on the Sabbath. The religious leaders needed to be taught how to keep the Sabbath. They need to have their eye opened just like the blind man, so they can SEE what is important. But they rejected being in the student role; they thought they knew everything – smarter than God. How embarrassing for them that they don’t recognize God’s Son who is standing right in front of them.
The religious leaders DON’T SEE things Jesus’ way. Their hard hearts don’t allow them to SEE. Their hard hearts BLOCK their vision. Their stony and rocky hearts are huge obstacles to truly seeing WHO is standing in front of them. In today’s gospel, it’s all about SEEING and HEARING.
They REJECT his words of kindness to the blind man. This formerly blind man is getting more than his sight back, he is DAZZLED by regaining his sight, but NOW he is getting not a BONUS– but the whole PURPOSE of existence. He’s getting a relationship with Jesus, Son of God.
Just like the woman at the well, Jesus broke through her isolation. Jesus also breaks through this blind man’s isolation, too which is more than blindness. “Rabbi, who sinned – this man or his parents that he was born blind?” This is the way people think – under the law – somebody must have sinned. Who is it? Don’t kid yourselves, that’s a question we ask even NOW. Don’t we think to ourselves, often he/she must have DONE something to merit an illness or a handicap, you name it.
A handicapped person, a former student of theologian, Rolf Jacobson’s, who’s written about it on her blog, was born without a left arm. A person in her parent’s congregation said to her parents: You SINNED – that’s why your daughter was born without a left arm. People STILL think this way – who sinned – the parents or the man that he’s blind? Don’t we tend to assign blame when there’s illness?
Rolf Jacobson also said that when he was in high school, and struggling with cancer, someone came up to his mother and asked her if she felt guilty for not feeding him the right diet, cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables with anti-oxidants? The answer then is the same answer Jesus gave in today’s gospel: “Neither this man or his parents have sinned.” The wonderful thing is that Jesus has given the blind man more than sight. Jesus has given him a new identity. He’s no longer the blind guy – now he’s become a truth-teller. The Pharisees ask him: “Do you also want to become his disciple?”
Like the woman at the well, he has NOTHNG to lose, and EVERYTHING to gain. Is he willing to trade a seat at the synagogue (that thinks he’s a liar), or a place beside Jesus?
“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.”
We often understand sin as a moral category, as something we’ve done wrong, but here sin is NOT being in a relationship with Christ. The Pharisees says, “Surely WE are not blind.” The Pharisees sin by rejecting the relationship that Jesus offers to them as well. Being in RIGHT relationship with Christ is what’s essential.
Rolf Jacobson again: “The Christian life is to recognize that we are always partially blind. Christ is always the one bringing us more and more sight. He is the one who opens our ears. St. Paul says we see now as in a dark mirror, later we will see face to face.”
Luther says we are to always be in a state of repentance, because there is always MORE for Christ to reveal to us. MORE for us to SEE, and have a deeper relationship with him. When Christ takes off our blinders, we really SEE like we were meant to, and then we sing the hymn Amazing Grace, as if it were written about US.
For such a time as this – we look to Christ for HOPE as we go through this pandemic together. We cling to Christ for strength and we remain in community together, despite the social distance we must keep. We focus on Christ’s WORDS and let them lead and guide us out of the darkness of fear and into a new life of hope.
There are questions from today’s gospel – how are we seeing things differently this week?
What are we seeing these days? What are we hearing? Definitely we see how ephemeral and brief life can be. WE are a prosperous nation, technologically advanced, yet it hasn’t protected us from a new virus.
We see our mortality in those others who’ve gotten sick. We remember in prayer the NJ family with SEVEN members who have been hit hard. We SEE our health care system and workers under a tremendous strain. We see that we can’t take health for granted. We see and hear who are the straight talkers and who aren’t afraid. Where is Christ in our present story?
Christ continues to grieve and suffer alongside of us. Christ continues to companion us. He IS our HOPE. He walks with us.
In Luke’s gospel story of the 12-year-old girl Jesus says, “Fear is useless. What is needed is TRUST.” And then he took her by the hand and raised her to life.
FEAR IS useless. What is needed is TRUST. We are walking together a path the end of which we cannot see. Faith is a walk of trust, where often we can’t see beyond one step at a time. But one thing for sure, God gives us enough light to SEE to take that next step. And so we step out in faith, one step at a time. With each other. In prayer.
Will we learn to be church in new ways? Will we keep the connections going despite the fear? Will we be brave and SEE in new ways during this time? Will we remind ourselves that we continue to be the Body of Christ, or will fear shut us down?
Loving Shepherd, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer not to be put to the test, but here we are, challenged to SEE beyond our fears. Give us YOUR strength and courage to SEE our neighbors.
Give us the HOPE we need to see things through. We pray this in Jesus’ Name.