Lent 4 (A)
St Andrew’s Church, Lismore
19 March 2023
There are none so blind [video]
Today we have the latest in a series of significant encounters in the Gospel of John where Jesus meets and confounds various people.
Time after time he cuts across the grain of the accepted religious and social assumptions of his own culture.
Time after time fresh wisdom breaks through.
Time after time the people he engages misunderstand what Jesus is about.
This is a characteristic of how John likes to tell the Jesus story.
It is very different from the way that story is told in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Then as now there are different ways to understand Jesus. Different ways to appreciate him. Different ways to follow him. Different ways to tell the Jesus story. Different ways to live God’s truth.
Two weeks ago, we had the story from chapter 3 as Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is seeking insight but fails to grasp what Jesus is saying.
Last week we had the story of Jesus at the well, where he meets a woman from Samaria; an outcast. Eventually the woman seems to understand the message of Jesus, but we are not told that she became one of his followers (although she is Saint Photine for the Orthodox). Such a story of conversion and discipleship might be told in the Synoptics, but John has little place for women disciples trekking the paths of Palestine. And yet the women were there!
Imagine what this woman and Mary the Magdalene could have discussed, had they ever crossed paths!
Now there is an idea! If you remember nothing else from this morning, imagine a conversation between Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman. Two outsiders. Women with “reputations,” as the respectable religious folk would say. Both were condemned by centuries of male scholars as promiscuous women and scandalous sinners. Both were misrepresented. Take some time this week to imagine them catching up for a chat after Easter morning, when Mary has encountered the risen Lord.
Today we have the story of the man born blind, and next week the story of Lazarus. Controversy and misunderstanding are in full flight in both those stories, as well as in other chapters from John that we have not been reading this Lent.
In the Gospel of John, we find the tensions between the followers of Jesus and “the Jews” at a high pitch. In the Synoptics, almost everyone in the story is Jewish, and the opponents of Jesus are Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. But in John suddenly the opponents of Jesus are simply, “the Jews.” Here is the seedbed of Christian anti-Semitism that would climax with the horrors of the Nazi death camps.
Like the Letters of John, the Gospel of John is written within a framework of fear, hatred and division.
We see this so very clearly in today’s Gospel:
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.”John 9:20–23
So, we find that although this is supposed to be a story about Jesus healing a man born blind, that element only takes up 12 of the 41 verses. The bulk of the passages is about the hostility of the Jews towards Jesus and anyone who would be his follower.
Running through this long story is the unspoken question: Who is blind here?
Who is unable to see God’s love at work in their midst?
So, what wisdom for everyday life might we discern from this complex story?
I think the first insight is to embrace the idea that we need to look with fresh eyes. We need to remove the blinkers. We need to change the lenses through which we look at others.
And given the tragic history of hatred between Christians and Jews, not to mention Christians and Muslims, we need to look at each other differently. We need our sight to be healed.
Enough of the convenient circles we draw about people who make us feel uncomfortable.
Jesus hates such circles and will never stay inside the religious boundaries that we create. He erases the circles we draw. He leaps over the walls we erect.
Over the past year or so I have been coordinating an international project called, the Afterlives of Jesus. It is being published in three volumes, the first of which was released about 6 weeks ago, and the typeset pages of volume two are on my desk waiting for me to review them before they go to the printer. Volume three is not far behind.
What comes through clearly in the 30+ essays in those three volumes is that Jesus does not belong to the church. He means different things to different people and to different faiths. But he means a great deal to so many people, communities and cultures across time.
We no longer have a monopoly on Jesus, but we are a community that exists to live his wisdom and share his grace with everyone around us.
If only we had the eyes to see …
No more hatred of the Jews …
No more fear of the Muslims …
No more disdain for people with disabilities as somehow to be blamed for their situation …
No more insiders and outsiders …
No more them and us …