March 19, 2023

  “The Light of Christ”

(John 9: 1-41)

Ephesians 5:8-14          For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

John 9:1-42           As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”  the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “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.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.  Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 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.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

     It is a human trait for us to understand things occurring in our lives in the present based upon our past experiences.  Our brain stores life experiences for future reference, and to assist us in coping with issues in life as they arise.  The potential problem with this system our brain follows, especially when we experience repetitive or similar life situations, is that our old responses and behaviors can impede us from receiving new and wonderful experiences and outcomes.  That is why, for example, when we read a very familiar scripture lesson, I will ask us to suspend following our instinct to jump ahead of the text.  Instead, I advise us to listen and simply allow the words and story presented to unfold before us afresh as we read them.  Only then can we hear with our spiritual ears, and receive the unfolding of glorious new imagery through our spiritual eyes.  That is how we gain new understanding; how we are enlightened by the Word.

     The Gospel of St. John is probably my favorite gospel story.  I even recall that one of my pastors told a Bible Study group not to fear the seeming complexities of John’s message.  Instead, we were advised to read and view the earthly and spiritual contrasts John often shares as Jesus encounters the various characters of this gospel as beautifully crafted and poetic imagery.  John’s words often guide us to form vivid mental images of various scenes, scenes into which we can quite easily insert ourselves if we use a little imagination.  The stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well are good examples of such stories found in John’s Gospel.  For me, this morning’s gospel lesson was also an eye opening “Aha!” kind of moment when I read it without a preconceived expectation, and with my spiritual eyes wide open.  Interestingly enough, it is a story about Jesus restoring the literal sight of a blind man, and the repercussions that followed this encounter, both the literal and the spiritual outcomes.  This is a familiar story, and I have read its content many, many times.  It would have been easy for me to breeze through this text and arrive at a predetermined understanding that is based on past experience.  I intentionally chose not to do that this week.  Instead, I chose to simply allow this story to unfold as I read each section; even as I read each line.  Let me now share with you what I discovered, the new spiritual truth that was revealed to me as I opened my spiritual eyes to see something wonderfully new.

     As today’s lesson begins, Jesus is simply walking along the road with his Disciples, when they come upon a blind man along the way.  The Disciples ask Jesus who had sinned so that this man was born blind.  Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  Then Jesus spat upon some soil to make some mud, which he placed upon the eyes of the blind man.  He sent the man to the pool of Siloam to wash off the mud.  When the man did this, he was able to see.

      This event caused no small stir among the people, who both marveled and wondered about the manner of this healing.  So, they brought the man before the Pharisees.  We will recall that the Pharisees were a Jewish sect that held fast to the sacred Laws of Moses.  It was the Sabbath when Jesus healed the blind man.  This fact alone immediately ruffled the Pharisees, for the Sabbath day was known as a holy day of rest.  No work was to be done by Jews faithful to the Mosaic Laws on the Sabbath.  Therefore, the Pharisees dismissed the healing Jesus had given the blind man.  “This man,” meaning Jesus, “is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath,” they declared.  Not everyone in the crowd agreed with the judgement of the Pharisees, for some believed in the power of the sign Jesus had performed in healing the blind man.  The controversy raged on until the Pharisees had had enough of this discussion, and they put the man who had been healed of his blindness out of the temple.

     I have always understood this story to be about one of Jesus’ run-ins with the Pharisees, which it most certainly is.  But, as I read the story slowly and patiently, allowing it to unfold as I read it rather than jumping quickly to my previous interpretation, I received a surprising “Aha!” moment.  I was able to place this story of John within the context of the gospel message of this author.  By this, I mean that I was able to see the contrast between the earthly and the spiritual realities this story reveals to us.  I had always seen the Pharisees as a closed inner circle of religious power and authority, dismissing something that was “not invented here,” not created by and through them.  To some degree, I do believe there may have been a component of jealousy about Jesus, a relatively unknown man to them, performing an act of such power and authority over the world.  A component of fear and threatening was likely at play.  But here is the “Aha!”  The Pharisees strongly and intentionally followed the Law of Moses as their way to eternal life.  The Mishna and Talmud were sacred texts which were developed to further define the Mosaic Laws of the Tora.  They went so far, for example, as to define what daily life acts were and were not necessary “work” on the Sabbath.  For example one could not cook on the Sabbath; everything had to be prepared for the Sabbath meals ahead of time.  But, if a donkey’s foot became stuck in a rut or hole in the road on the Sabbath day, one could remove that foot and usher the donkey to safety under the law.  The Pharisees were, like our friend Nicodemus who was another famous Pharisee, fixated upon the earthly means of accessing eternal life.  For them, what one did was crucial to their eternal life.  Rules could not be broken, for they must be followed to the letter of the Law.  Jesus came to bring a new truth about the spirit of the Law to those people who would accept him and believe in him and the miracle “signs” he did before them.  These signs revealed a new and spiritual truth to those who would have their spiritual eyes open to receive it.  Jesus was, and is, the Messiah, the Son of God and the Christ.  He came as the light of the world to enlighten the world with his spiritual truth and his new Law, the Law of unconditional mercy and love.

     It took my being intentionally open to receive a new truth for me to have this “Aha!” moment reading John’s Gospel this week.  You see, the very life-coping mechanisms that we share with God’s other creatures can be a block to our being open to experience something new and wonderful. We have the ability to intentionally short-circuit our impulses to live in the “rut of the rote,” and to allow our spiritual eyes, ears, minds and hearts to be open to receive something new, a new truth to inform our daily living.  That is what living in the world without being of the world is all about.  So, this Lent, as we reflect upon our lives and hold them up to the life-example of Christ Jesus, may we be open to receive the truth, the light of Christ, as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us.  For, Jesus is the true light and life of the world, let us walk in his spirit and truth. May God’s people say Amen!