LENT 4A – 26th March, 2017 – St Barnabas’, Rivervale & All Saints’, Belmont
BIBLE READINGS: I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41
+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
Twenty years or so ago, during a break from parish ministry, I was working for a St George’s Terrace law firm. One day, during the lunch break, I was walking through the Hay Street Mall when, distracted by a street performer, I stumbled into another pedestrian and fell over. My “victim” called out, “Look where you’re going!” I turned and saw that he was carrying a white stick and waving it in my direction. It was, to say the least, an embarrassing situation: I, who am fully sighted, had tripped over a blind man 😦
Today’s readings – especially the Gospel – talk about the contrast of light and darkness and of seeing and not seeing.
The prophet Samuel is looking, at God’s instruction, for a new king for Israel. As instructed, he comes to the home of Farmer Jesse to see which of Jesse’s sons is the chosen one. Samuel meets the tall, dark and handsome Eliab, Jesse’s eldest, and immediately thinks that this is the one. But God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
How often do we fall for the most attractive person – whether in politics or business or relationships – blinded to the real person inside? And how often have we despised people who don’t seem to measure up physically or intellectually, but who turn out to be the wisest, the most compassionate, the most genuine?
So Samuel is forced to move on. He meets each of Jesse’s sons in turn, none failing to meet with God’s approval. Having run out, he asks Jesse if there are any more. “Oh, there’s only David – but he’s just a shepherd!” Not anything to write home about, and certainly not king-material.
But as soon as David appears, God says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” It also turns out that this David “was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Take hope, everyone, you don’t have to be ugly to be acceptable to God! 🙂
Samuel is in tune with God and is eventually able to see the wood for the trees, as we say.
The Gospel story – that of Jesus, a blind man and the Pharisees – is, in dramatic terms, both comedy and tragedy. Perhaps we can call it a “tragicomedy”.
Comedy is properly described as a story with a happy ending. Various bad things may happen during the course of the play, but to use the title of a Shakespearian play, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. There are usually funny and ironic people and plotlines, and you could summarise it with “They all lived happily ever after”. Jesus’ parable of the lost son is one such “comedy”.
Tragedy, on the other hand, never ends well. We often see the “decline and fall” of someone apparently beautiful, respected or powerful. Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus would be more in the tradition of tragedy.
Today’s Gospel, then, is both tragedy and comedy, depending whether we are following the fortunes of the blind man or of the Pharisees.
Firstly, the blind man:
Here he is, blind from birth. Jesus’s disciples seem less concerned with the man’s predicament – how does a blind man with no social welfare or technology survive in a hostile environment? They want to discuss theology! For the record, we might suggest that the disciples are rather blind in their own way.
Thankfully, Jesus dismisses the theological stuff by saying that the blindness is no one’s fault – but that it will lead to God’s glory. He’s not going to argue theology when there is human need. So he creates mud, puts it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go and wash. He does as he’s told – no discussion, we might note! – and comes back healed.
Have you ever seen pictures of children just after their cochlear implant is turned on, and they can hear for the first time ever? I suspect our once-blind man had a similar expression.
So, his eyes are opened and he can see. But now begins the journey of gaining the sight which is faith in Jesus. He runs into people who keep asking him, “What happened?”, “Who did this?”, who is he?” And then he meets the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees! [This is where we all boo, isn’t it?] The Pharisees don’t like anything which challenges their authority and that of their faith.
Our man is asked, again and again, the same questions. His answers reveal his growing faith:
- “The man called Jesus made mud…”
- “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”
- “He is a prophet.”
- “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
- “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
- “Lord, I believe.”
His faith has grown, his “spiritual” eyes are opened and he believes in Jesus; his life is irrevocably changed for the better – body, mind and spirit.
The Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, are on a reverse journey, however.
They talk about Jesus thus:
- “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”
- “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”
- “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
- “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
It is clear that the Pharisees increasingly reject Jesus. His actions and teaching continually threaten not only their beliefs, but also their power and status, not to mention their relatively cordial relations with the Roman occupiers of their land.
My Dad used to tell me that his grandfather often told him, “There’s none so blind as them that don’t want to see”. I’ve also heard it said as, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts.” And how true that is for the Pharisees and other enemies of Jesus.
But never for us? 🙂
Well, in Lent, we are particularly challenged by the teachings and requirements of Jesus:
- “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
- “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
- “Who do you say that I am?”
- “You must be born again / from above.”
And we find ourselves called to leave behind our blindness and to walk in the light Jesus brings. “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”, he says, and leaves us with the choice.
The Pharisees move on into tragedy; the blind man into light and life.
As my unintended victim in the Mall said, “Look where you’re going!”
The Lord be with you!