by John Jewell
Gospel: St. John 9:1-41
Focus Text: "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?" [John 9:39-40]
Paradise Lost and Found
One The Way: "A Blind Man"
Psychologist say that people who live in Alaska have a much higher incidence of depression during the days of prolonged darkness than the average U.S. population. They call it Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD for short. (How's that for an appropriate acronym?) One successful treatment is to sit under a natural light bulb for a certain time each day. The treatment also works for many depressed persons during the late fall and winter months when the days are shorter.
In other words we need light!
Last week we looked at the fact that we need water and our need for water has a strong spiritual lesson. Many people are spiritually dehydrated and have a need for something Jesus called "living water" -- namely a relationship with God that fulfills our inner longings for hope, joy and love.
As we continue our Lenten journey toward a recovery of Paradise -- or intimacy with God, we turn to the issue of light and the ability to see. Physical sight (as physical thirst) has a strong spiritual parallel.
Blindness is an awful thing. The ability to see is a wonderful blessing. One we likely take for granted much of the time. A woman in our parish has gradually lost her sight over the past two years. She is now totally blind. During the months when the darkness was increasing she said, "I feel like the whole world is closing in on me." When blindness finally came, she said, "Now the door is closed and I am in here alone!"
Blindness is terrible and ability to see the light is wonderful -- isn't it? When you translate this to spiritual terms, there is a very powerful concept we need to be aware of. There is an intense resistance to spiritual sight in our culture today! This isn't an alarmist thing -- it's reality. It is as though "something" does not want us to "get it" spiritually.
Resistance to the Light
An ancient Greek fable tells the story of people who had lived in caves beneath earth's surface for generations. Living conditions on the surface demanded this sub-terranian lifestyle. But -- there was always a longing within the people for the light. Stories were told about the sun and how on the "surface" there was light everywhere and everything flourished in the light. Sitting around the fires beneath the surface, children could only imagine what it would be like to live in the light.
Then stories began to be told about someone who would come and lead the sub-terranian dwellers to the surface where there was light. A deep longing was felt within the hearts of the people for the time when they could journey to "the surface".
Then it happened. A young man began to inspire hope in people's hearts about life in the light. He said that if people followed him, they would find a way to the surface and to the light. As the good news spread, so also hope spread and expectation was at an all time high.
And the day came. The young man announced that people should follow him to the surface. The journey was long, but finally the first few sub-terranian dwellers emerged into the light of day! And more followed.
They did not like the light! It was too bright. It hurt their eyes. They complained that it was better in the shadows of the sub-terranian caves. They wanted to go back. They demanded to go back!
And so was the light rejected! ¹
One of the central points in the whole Gospel story today is the incredible stubbornness of strongly held religious ideas which not only do not lead people closer to God -- they actually separate people from God. Jesus confronts this over and over again in the Gospels. It is one of the most persistent themes in the New Testament.
In Mark Jesus says, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition..." (Mark 7:6-8)
Of course, the Pharisees had decided early on that they had to get rid of Jesus. (Mark 3:6)
Today's reading tells an almost unbelievable story of people who are so imprisoned by their religious prejudices, they will will reject the strongest possible evidence against their prejudices. The reading also contains a very strong "between the lines" warning. You must have a willingness to examine even your most cherished and deeply held ideas and suppositions." A willingness to engage in self examination is one of the key virtues of the Lenten season. And, it is one of the surest ways to escape spiritual blindness and begin to see the long way home to God.
Light and Sight
There are two components in the ability to see. Light and sight. Someone may have the ability to see (that is they are "sighted"), but if there is no light in the outer world, they can not see in fact. There has to be a source of illumination. On the other hand, all the illumination in the world does not help a person who is blind. Light in the outer world does not translate into an ability to see.
The scripture lesson for today is long and the twists and turns are many -- nevertheless there are two statements of Jesus which can help us understand the key point of the relationship between light and sight.
Near the beginning of the story, Jesus says, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." [9:5]
At the end of the story, the man who had been given the gift of physical sight also received the gift of spiritual sight. Not only did he encounter one who gave sight, he came to know the Sightgiver. Then Jesus says, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." [9:39] ²
Jesus tells his disciples that he is the Light of the world. There is an expansion of this thought in John 8:12; "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
What happens next is crucial. Jesus gives the gift of physical sight to the blind man. (Notice the man didn't ask for this -- perhaps did not even consider that his congenital blindness could be healed). Now the man and the Pharisees are both able to see in the physical sense. The remainder of the passage shows how the Pharisees are spiritually blind while the man who was physically blind now moves on to spiritual insight. "He said, 'Lord, I believe.' And he worshipped him." [9:38]
The man who was once blind now has light and sight. The Pharisees have light, but they persist in darkness.
The Light of Life
Last week we were privy to the encounter of Jesus and a woman at the well. Jesus offered "living water" to her. Living water is that which quenches our deep desire for meaning and substance in our living.
Now we witness a blind man who not only gains physical sight, but discovers Jesus as the Messiah. She found "living water". He found "the light of life." Both of them emerged from difficult life circumstances and found a whole new dimension of life. Both of them were able to make gains on the long journey home to God.
What is the light of life? Today's story makes it clear that the light of life is to come to an understanding of who Jesus is. That is a joyful discovery that leads to worship. But, there's more. At the heart of the story is a message that speaks to our souls.
* God is attentive to and understanding of our particular life circumstances.
* God cares for a rejected woman, a blind beggar and you and me!
* God has a unique design for our lives. (The woman, the blind man and you and I all have unique circumstances and differing needs. God may or may not change our circumstances, but will help us to make sense of, get through or change them!)
The Pharisee Who Saw The Light
There is a wonderful story in the book of Acts about a "super-Pharisee" who was quite spiritually blind. Just like the Pharisees in John's story. This Pharisee was bent on destroying the infant church. Then one day he was literally knocked off his high horse and blinded by the light!
Have you already identified Saul of Tarsus? On his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem in chains, he is suddenly knocked to the ground by a blinding light and the voice of Christ. He spends the next three days in darkness (probably like the darkness you experience when you stare at the sun or have a flashbulb go off in your face). Saul (who is renamed Paul by Christ) has a return of his sight when a Christian named Ananias prays for him. The spiritual sight he received, however, changed his life and indeed the world. From that moment his whole life is directed at bringing the "light of life" to others. His ministry would be responsible for taking this light to the ends of the earth.
The Light of Life for John and Jane Doe
Most of us will not have the dramatic encounter with the light that Paul did. Yet, Jesus promised that all of us who follow him would have the "light of life". That is we would be able to "get it" -- in a spiritual way.
Sometimes we will -- pay attention to the words here -- "loose sight". Of what's important, what truly counts. In fact, it occasionally takes a tragedy to "wake us up". One of my constant prayers is, "Lord, help me not to get so wrapped up in the little things that I miss the big things. And above all, please help me not to loose sight of you in my daily living."
One more thing John and Jane Doe! In your lives there are some people who can not see in a spiritual sense at all. When you talk with them, it becomes apparent that there is not much more to life than what is "apparent" to physical sight. Like the man in our gospel story, they are blind. You may be their only chance to "see". Not that you hammer them over the head with a bible and drag them to church. But your life can point to "something more." So here's another great Lenten payer; "Lord help me to live my life in such a way that someone I know and care about will be able to 'see' you in me!" This makes you a "light bearer" -- someone who would rather light one candle in the darkness than curse the darkness.
One last thing. There are lot's of Pharisees in our lives today. There always have been. By definition they will be "religious" persons. They are "religious" people who can't see. They are harder to reach than the "unchurched". Why? They are so convinced that they are right and that others are wrong, they have no room for self examination. Do not let them discourage you. Do not let them make you believe they have a handle on the truth. Do not let them make you feel unworthy or unacceptable.
Do remember that the Lord Jesus Christ himself was not able to penetrate their darkness!
Meanwhile -- as Paul says in the epistle for today, "Live as children of light." (Eph. 5:8) In other words live like people who "get it".
Blindness - Physical and Spiritual
by Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, WA
Seeing Again for the Very First Time
by John Jewell
What the Christian Community Can Offer a Polarized Society
by V. Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, Dean, Washington National Cathedral
Devotional Thoughts for Sixth Sunday of the Holy Lent - Blind Man's Sunday
by HG Yohanon Mor Policarpos
Devotional Thoughts for Sixth Sunday of the Great Lent (Blind man's Sunday)
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 6th Sunday in Great Lent (Samiyo/ The Blind Man)
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