3 Apr 2011
“‘I am the light of the world.’” (John 9:5) In the name …
I don’t know if you remember back to your biology classes or not, but we can see because of the rods and cones in our eyes. They respond to light by turning it into an electrical signal that alerts our darkness-enclosed brains to all the colours and shapes that are out there beyond our person. One works when it’s bright and the other when it’s dark. I used to keep the two of them straight for biology tests by thinking of rods as a blind man’s cane. Just like the blind man can’t see so he uses his cane, so the rods are the ones that work in the dark to help us make our way. Cones work in the light and they can see all the colours; rods work when it’s dark and they can only see shades of black and white. What’s kind of cool to watch is around dusk as it grows ever darker. That’s when both the rods and the cones start to fight for attention, and if we really concentrate, we can watch our vision gradually change, literally, right before our eyes. We can watch the same scene change as colours wash out of our sight. The cones at this time are becoming blind, and as they go dark they take colours with them. We can still see, but it’s like watching an old I Love Lucy show on television. The light doesn’t change the world around us, but it changes our perception of the world around us.
In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus calls Himself “the light of the world.” And sure enough, His light changes our perception of what’s around us. He and His followers are walking by a man born blind. This is taking place, according to John, in the shadow of the Temple, the place from which Jesus has just had to flee for His life. As they walk by this blind man, Jesus’ disciples turn to Him and ask whether it was this man or his parents’ who had sinned and led to his disability. The idea behind their question is that God has punished this man with blindness for one reason or the other. Disabilities are not accidents, they figure. They are not the unfortunate luck of the draw. They must be the consequences of sin. They must be the intentional judgment of God against a person.
Jesus is looking at the very same man, and to all of them Jesus reveals that God does not force suffering upon any person. Disabilities, disease, accidents, tragedies, these are not the work of God. Through the light of Jesus, we’re beginning to get a better look at God’s priorities rather than our own. By saying that God is not responsible for this man’s blindness, Jesus is telling us that God is a little bit less in control than we may like to think. If God is not responsible for this blindness, if this disability randomly affects this one man rather than another person, then the whole idea of God’s nature as all-mighty must be reinvented. The disciples are so sure that everything that happens in the world, the good and the bad, is because God wills it to be that way, that they must ask of Jesus “Who sinned?” There must be a moral reason for such an otherwise inexplicable condition. If such things as being born blind, however, can happen without moral cause-and-effect, then God’s control of creation has its limits. And this doesn’t fit in neatly with the God of a magnificent mountain-top Temple.
This is when the light of Jesus’ revelation helps us to look at things around us differently. When Jesus rejects the logic of His disciples, when He tells them that sin is not the reason for the man’s blindness, Jesus is willing to de-emphasize the power of God, that God is not so much represented by the imposing Temple edifice as He is in the act of compassion. The God whom Jesus reveals may not be as all-powerful as the others around Him wanted God to be, but the God Jesus reveals is more compassionate than any of them could have imagined Him to be. Jesus’ light is beginning to change how we look at God. The power of God is what the disciples and even the Pharisees wanted to see. It’s what they thought the definition of piety meant. God was supposed to be in grand buildings, not in simple human beings. Jesus’ light in our world helps us to see things differently and to see God also in a different light. Jesus is revealing that power is not God’s biggest concern. He’s pretty secure in that department. Jesus reveals that compassion is a priority of our God.
Jesus’ touch of compassion, this is the nature of God. This is what Jesus wants us all to see. And all of this is just outside the ornate Temple precincts to make the distinction as clear as possible.
Over at Greenfield Savings Bank, right around the corner here in South Deerfield, they have been going through a lot of reconstruction. Because of the construction they have had to close down the drive-up teller’s window. Instead, you can only walk-up to the outdoor window. To let their customers know about this they have placed a sign in their parking lot that says “Walk Up Teller Window Only.” What I thought was funny though was that they placed this sign right beside the construction workers’ outdoor PortaPoddy. This past Monday I had to go over to the bank for some church business and I mentioned this in passing to the teller who was helping me. Then on Wednesday I drove by the bank and I noticed that they had moved the sign. Maybe somebody didn’t think it was as funny as I did.
How we look at things can make a huge difference. When Jesus comes to us as “the light of the world,” He’s asking us to try and look at the world through His light. Light doesn’t actually change the world. Just like at dusk, light changes our perception of the world. And that’s what Jesus is asking us to try to do. He’s asking us to use His light to see the world differently. Just like the Greenfield Savings Bank story, it’s about how we choose to see things. Jesus is telling us of a God who doesn’t need the trappings of power. This is why when everyone else around Jesus saw a sinner; Jesus was able to see a person who was hurting. That’s the difference that the light of Jesus in our world can make, then and now. That He may be our light and that He may affect the way we see things too, for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo