Friday, April 1, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Now I See

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light," Paul says to the Ephesians about the way of salvation. That theme of darkness and light is quite prevalent in Scriptures. Perhaps that is because it speaks to us on a deep level about our human condition. We know that when we are in the dark we grope for some sense of where we are. Who of us as children have not experienced the fear of darkness as we lay huddled in bed wondering what terrible creature lurked under us ready to pounce if we set foot on the floor? Light, even a small amount of light, helps us to get our bearings and recover our sense of direction.

We who are sighted can't really imagine what it is like to be blind. Perhaps you have seen the movie about the life of Helen Keller. She, as you will recall, was not only blind, but also deaf. Until her teacher opened the way for her to understand, to begin to see the light, she was locked inside herself, trapped like a frightened animal, unable to respond to the love of her family.

Sight is one of God's most precious gifts to us. To see the beauty of God’s creation, the oceans, mountains, lakes and trees, fills us with a sense of joy. Seeing our parents, our children, our friends, brings us happiness. To see where we can go, what we can do, and what we can make gives us a sense of freedom. We have sight, but often, as difficult as it is to understand, we simply do not see. We remain in the darkness. We miss the beauty in places and people. We are blind because we do not look. Not looking, being blind to the beauty around us, can make us miss many wonderful things.

Imagine being blind and spending one's entire life in the darkness. Imagine that darkness suddenly being lifted. For that is the scene in today's Gospel. Jesus heals a man who is born blind. The man actually receives much more than physical sight; he receives an insight that allows him to view Jesus, first as a good person, then as a prophet, and finally as the Messiah. "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he," Jesus tells him. It is a beautiful moment of faith and insight as the man chooses to come into the light and truly see with eyes of faith.

In so many seemingly ordinary moments, in so many disguises, Jesus stands before us offering us the opportunity of opening our eyes and seeing in a different way, seeing with eyes of faith. We see and seeing, we believe.

Not that it always happens that way! The Pharisees for example may enjoy physical sight but they are blind and choose to remain in ignorance and darkness. It comes out in their attitudes towards Jesus and towards the man born blind. “Who sinned?” they ask Jesus. “Who is to blame? Did he cause this or is it because of something that his parents did?” And when Jesus points out that suffering is not an arbitrary punishment from God they don’t get it. His blindness has to have been caused by some flaw in him or in his parents. They don’t recognize the person standing before them, sight restored. How many times have they passed by him without even a pitying glance as he sat by the gate looking for a handout? Have they ever really looked at him and seen a person with feelings and insights, with hopes and dreams? It is unbelievable to them that a blind beggar, nameless, not worth a second thought, could have been so blessed by God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians reflecting on spiritual blindness. He is quite clear about the responsibility of salvation. When we become enlightened we must live as children of light. Once we are offered the opportunity of seeing, then we must act on what we have witnessed and live as children of light.

Many choose to be blind, to live in darkness. In fact, like the Pharisees they may not even recognize their lack of insight. Don’t we all have blind spots? So the question for each one of us is, what darkness is there in our lives? Do we hide who we are or how we live? Do we live intentionally as Christians? Do we live authentically? What decisions change simply because we are Christians? Does it change the way we live, or the way we speak, the television programs we choose to watch, or how we make our decisions? Does it change our response to those in need or trouble? Do we look them in the eyes and see Christ in them? If it doesn't, are we living in the light? Are we living out our faith? Or are we simply deluding ourselves?

What blindness do we see around us? Have you ever heard as I have an attitude towards suffering that blames the victim? Many attitudes may be seen as a kind of blindness, not that it excuses the behaviour, just explains it. “Who sinned?” We get the mistaken notion that God causes suffering as punishment for the way we live our lives rather than seeing suffering as part of our human condition.

As humans we suffer from terminal blindness. There is simply no other way to explain so many of our attitudes. We are quick to condemn. We label. What a terrible thing that person must have done to be stricken with cancer! Or we blame God. How could God cause illness to strike that family? Why didn’t God stop the tsunami from killing all those people? Why doesn’t God end global warming?

Maybe the answer is, “I was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in me.” If we take that statement to its extreme we could say it of many facets of life. She was born into poverty so that God’s works might be revealed through her. Look at how she has overcome all of the odds. He was born homeless. She was born deaf. He was born a refugee. If there is any truth in it, then how do we begin to see what God is trying to reveal to us? How do we get out of the spiritual blindness that is so much a part of our society?

It truly is about allowing God to open our eyes. That is astonishing! By some miracle God has selected me enter into a personal relationship. By some miracle God has chosen you. God has opened our eyes. There before us stands Jesus. In so many seemingly ordinary moments, in so many disguises, Jesus is there speaking to us. We see, and seeing we believe. It is a beautiful moment of faith and insight that carries us through life.

Along with the seeing and believing comes responsibility. We choose to see. We choose not to remain in our blind state. We choose to hear the truth and to bear that truth into the world. God changes our notions and transforms us. What a miracle of God’s grace that is!

The Christian challenge is to overcome our blindness and live increasingly in the light of Christ. This involves a growing understanding of the truth revealed through Christ and a willingness to reflect it in the practical living of every day. When we are enlightened it becomes our responsibility. Because we know the love of God it is our responsibility to share that love. It is our responsibility to see other people as children of God. It is our responsibility to break down the barriers that cause hatred. It is our responsibility to speak out against injustice. It is our responsibility to see Christ in others. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to usher in God’s kingdom of Shalom.

Jesus loved the blind man enough to do what he could. Everyone else was sitting around wondering why he was blind and blaming him for his inability to see. We can expect God to respond to our problems with action in the same way that we are called to respond to the needs of others. And the wonder of it all is, that when we begin to open our eyes we will find that God’s ways are surprising. Shepherds become kings, blind people see, religious leaders are blind.

When we consider human suffering, it is good to remember that failures are not always just disasters. Jesus changed a disaster into good. A man’s blindness became a blessing. The work of God was displayed in his life. The light of Christ does not magically remove all of our ills and troubles; it enables us to experience them in a new way. Let us prayerfully do what we can to bring hope where there is none, and to bring light where there is darkness.


Chris said...

Interesting sermon. Curious about "Religious leders being blind". I truly belieive you are correct about how some view the world. It is sad how many go through life this way, can you imagine what the world really would be if people only took the time to open their eyes and hearts. I don't think the blindness is just in our eyes.

Chris said...

Interesting sermon. Curious about "Religious leders being blind". I truly belieive you are correct about how some view the world. It is sad how many go through life this way, can you imagine what the world really would be if people only took the time to open their eyes and hearts. I don't think the blindness is just in our eyes.

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