30 Mar 2014
“‘You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.’” (John 9:37) (+)
Again this week we encounter a situation in the life of Jesus where revelation is possible only through the heart. Last week we met the Samaritan woman who responded with belief and even evangelism after Jesus showed her compassion. When Jesus talked to her instead of talked about her, she felt the presence of God. She could accept Jesus’ revelation of “I Am” not through wonders like the Transfiguration or through the power of God’s judgment, but through Jesus’ compassion. This week John introduces us to a man born blind who begs for a living in the city of Jerusalem. Because of Jesus’ compassion the man sees the presence of God and even defends Jesus’ spiritual identity before the religious authorities of the Temple.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus has returned to Jerusalem for a second visit, this time for the Feast of Tabernacles. Here He encounters a man born blind. Last week I tried to plant the seed of Bible study in your minds. This week let me try again by saying that if we read and studied the Bible a bit more, we would be able to know that John uses the major Jewish feasts to introduce the idea that Jesus has become our Christian temple. During the Feast of Tabernacles, for example, prayers for rain were prominent in the Jewish Temple’s liturgy. Daily processions carried water to the Temple and because the Jewish day begins at sunset the courtyards were lit by immense torches. This imagery of darkness and light then serves as the basis for Jesus to say to us today, “‘I am the light of the world.’” Jesus is the new light that replaces the old.
This is where the man born blind comes into the story, and it’s a story filled with irony and with hope. The irony first. The man Jesus heals has never seen anything in his whole life. He has no visual experience beyond the darkness of being born blind. Yet when Jesus comes into his life not only does the physical darkness give way to light, the man becomes spiritually enlightened. He sees Jesus more clearly than everyone else in the story; he sees Jesus with eyes of faith that have also been opened. The religious scholars, on the other hand, don’t refuse to see. They can’t see. Their own devotion to God blinds them to the presence of God in Jesus. And this is not a Jewish Christian distinction. This is something every generation of believers needs to be conscious of, including our own. We don’t want to make what we believe our god; we need to let God make what we believe. Even the man’s parents are unable to see. Jesus has healed their son, and yet they are hesitant to speak about this miracle for fear of how others will react. The irony is laced through this whole story, and John emphasizes this by repeating the account of Jesus making the clay and placing it on the man’s eyes several times, to the point where the man finally says, “‘I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?’” The authorities and even the parents cannot see what is new because they are blinded by the old, while the man born blind is open to Jesus’ new revelation.
And that’s where hope breaks into the story. Think about the world this man lived in. It wasn’t enough that he was born blind, that he was destined for a life of begging, that he would never see another person’s face, that he would never see anything at all. On top of this, everyone told him he was a sinner. A good and powerful God, they believed, would not allow this kind of thing to happen randomly. There must be a reason. God must be punishing him or his parents for something. And the only way he can survive is by begging for a coin here or there from the very people who are coming to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple of the very same God who struck him blind. I would imagine that he had every right to be angry with this kind of god, and it must have galled him to have to beg from people who thought him a sinner for no other reason than that he was blinded by this God.
Then his path crosses that of Jesus. He hears from the disciples what he must have heard a thousand times before, each time biting his tongue so as not to lose a possible coin thrown his way, “‘Who sinned, Rabbi, this man or his parents?’” But now for the first time he hears the voice of Jesus. There is no tone of accusation in Jesus’ words. It’s the same voice that the Samaritan woman heard at Jacob’s Well. “No one sinned to cause this,” the blind man hears for the first time in his life. For the first time he hears compassion not judgment. To him this is a brand new God. The story of Samuel anointing David that we heard this morning tells us that God sees us differently. The story of Jesus and the blind man tells us that that we also have to be open to seeing God differently.
After the blind man is healed he is still called “sinner” by the authorities. This man who knew what it was to be called a sinner day in and day out defended Jesus as a prophet and “from God” before those who also judged Jesus a sinner. Jesus then searches out this man. When He finds him, Jesus helps him to believe. This man doesn’t need to hear of God as “I Am,” of a grand and powerful God, so Jesus instead reveals Himself as “the Son of Man.” Jesus says, “‘You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.’” This man who was once terrified and angered by the God who blinded him now sees God in Jesus, now sees God as one with us, as actually one of us. He doesn’t hear God naming him a sinner. He sees God in Jesus searching for him, healing him and treating him with the dignity and respect that he had never known from other people of God. This is the God he worships. This is the God we worship. This is the God who calls us to see and to believe that Jesus is the new “light of the world.” Let us pray this morning that we may see ourselves, each other, and our God in this compassionate, caring light of Christ, and for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo