New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight 9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 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,7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 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?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 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.” 16 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. 17 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.” 18 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 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.” 22 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. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 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.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 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?”28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped him. 39 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Let your works be revealed in us, Lord. Amen.
On this 4th Sunday in Lent, we are gathering symbolically, in our homes as the parish of St. Mary’s, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are just starting a time of self-isolation; a time where we are not able to gather as a community in real time and space.
This is a time of blindness; we do not know how the pandemic will play out in our community, in our part of the world. We do not know how long we will need to stay in our separate homes. There is much we do not know. As I said in my update to you last night, it feels that we are in a desert time, and we don’t know where we are going. But we are not alone. God is with us, our friends and family as well: and we are being led into a new reality. And as Christians, looking back on our history, we trust that where we are heading is indeed the Promised Land.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, we read about a group of neighbours and religious leaders gathering around a man who has been healed of his blindness. The question is “How did this happen?” and “Why did this happen?” and “Who are you to do this?”
We’re all like that. When something amazing or terrible happens, we are full of questions and we want to understand something that often is beyond our comprehension.
The same is true of this pandemic. We want to know all about it. And yes, we do need to know how to protect ourselves and care for ourselves. But ultimately, subjecting ourselves to the news day in and day out, does not serve us. We need something else.
Could it be that we need this quiet time, this down time to clear our heads and days of all the distraction and busyness that usually pre-occupies us? Can we move from our heads to our hearts and begin to see how God’s works might be revealed in this challenging time?
Are we open to receiving the spiritual insight Jesus gave the blind man?
The healing the blind man received was pure gift. Let’s look at one dictionary definition of the verb “to give.” Three meanings are given:
1) to freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone);
2) to provide or supply with;
3) the capacity to bend or alter shape under pressure.
What’s interesting is that “to give” involves exchange or relationship. One needs someone to give something to; or to supply; or to be changed by. When we think of ourselves as separate individuals, we lose sight of the meaning of “giving.” We think it’s a one-way gesture.
Years ago, when I first arrived at St. Mary’s, I did an exercise with the young people during the Children’s Talk to show how giving is part of something mutual. I held up a mirror and asked someone to fold their arms across their chest. Looking in the mirror, what did was reflected back to them? (You can try this yourself!)
Then I had the young person extend their arms as if preparing to hug and look in the mirror. What happened then? The reflected person was extending their arms in return. Who was giving? Who was receiving? In the Divine flow we call the Holy Trinity, we have this kind of giving/receiving - where the interchange is mutual and ongoing. And the nature of this continual exchange is LOVE. The nature of the Holy Trinity is the outpouring of love in continual exchange. Nothing is held back. Nothing can be. It is the nature of Love to give and receive without distinction.
The person who developed Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, uses the image of a small child feeding a hungry duck to talk about this kind of exchange. He asks, “Who is giving, Who is receiving?” And who is getting more joy??
To get back to today’s reading from John – we hear the theme that runs all through the gospel. The idea that hearing, seeing and believing are all part of our relationship with Jesus. The blind man in today’s story first hears Jesus’ voice and obeys it, when he is able to see, he receives the kind of “sight” which prompts a series of changes within him. All around him are a crowd of naysayers and doubters and critics. But this man, who, note, never asked to be healed, goes from acknowledging Jesus by name, to calling him “Lord,” to worshiping him. He has received the gift of spiritual insight and knows who Jesus really is. He claims his relationship with Jesus, fully and with courage.
The question - “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” is just not the point. Jesus answers them this way - “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
God can speak through our brokenness, our limitations, our challenges when we think the opposite is true, that God speaks through our strength, our determination, our own plans.
This is such a time where we are aware of our vulnerability, our mortality – how our best laid plans are no match for a virus of this sort. We are pushed up against our blindness and many of us are wondering, “Are we alone in this? Who will help us?” and today’s reading tells us that we are not alone. We are in relationship with One who is ready to give us everything. Who offers us a way out of our blindness if we can get out of our heads and start to listen, see and believe.
These days are an opportunity to spend time listening and looking at how love is moving in the world. Where there is blindness, fear, hoarding, you can train your eyes to see, and your ears to hear, and you will be amazed at the actions and the faithfulness of those who are engaged in the giving and receiving of love in the world; who are reaching out to folks in distress, who are sending messages of hope and encouragement, who are caring for those who are really ill with the virus, who can make us laugh in spite of our fears. Those who know whose voice they are following, those who know that their leader is Love incarnate.
And I, for one, am seeing, and hearing how much love is being shared and made known in and through this tiny parish of St. Mary’s. And for that, we can only give thanks to God.