Lent IV, 19 March 23
How many actors does it take to change a lightbulb?
Only one. They don’t like to share the spotlight.
How many lawyers does it take to change a lightbulb?
How many can you afford?
Isn’t it funny how we use light bulb jokes to throw light on particular professions or groups of people. Largely, stereotypes admittedly. It’s unintentionally ironic, I suspect because, of course, we think of light as meaning we can understand things, we will be comforted by that knowledge, we will be able to live more fulfilling lives in the light rather than the darkness.
These are themes which permeate the impressive Gospel reading we’ve just heard from St John 9, the Healing of the Man Born Blind. I want to explore in particular what we discover about our life together as the Church.
Note that Jesus is not asked to heal the man unlike in some of the other healing miracles we have recorded. There is no record of the man’s faith nor of his request to be healed. What causes the healing is who Jesus is. “I am the Light of the World,” our Lord says. In the next chapter, Jesus teaches the crowds that He is the Good Shepherd and the Gate to the Sheepfold. And then in Chapter 11 Jesus says He is the Resurrection and the Life, as we will hear next Sunday at Mass when our Lord raises Lazarus from the dead. The Church then supremely is to be the place where Jesus is made known, we are the body and we proclaim the wonders of Christ our Head. We are nourished here by Christ’s Body and Blood that we may then live up to our vocation to be as Christ to the world.
The temptation to be judgemental is always present when Christians meet. This is because we take seriously issues around sin, we hear the Lord’s command to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we know there are expectations placed upon us as those who have been reborn in the waters of baptism. Moreover priests are given the authority by the Risen Jesus “to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins,” to use a phrase from Morning and Evening Prayer in the old Prayer Book. And despite all this we still sin. The call to conversion is one we are to hear more deeply that the Lord’s abiding in us may bear fruit. We also believe we are our brother’s keeper and our faith is never about “me and my God” but always “us and our God.” We are to be concerned how the person sitting next to us is doing in their prayer life.
This temptation to be judgemental is certainly here in the Gospel reading: the disciples of Jesus asked the question, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’” Whatever the intentions of the Apostles might have been - presumably simply to learn out of curiosity - this sort of knowledge must be used wisely for there is always the temptation to condemn the person we can blame for something: “Well, if it’s the man’s fault, I don’t need to help him.” So often we see this in people’s thinking as a reason not to help someone, that it is their fault. Similarly the temptation to blame parents, including the temptation of parents to blame themselves, for their children’s failings or problems. The group of young people over there up to no good, “Well, where are their parents?” people judgementally ask. My friends, we have on the one hand to discern between good and evil as evidenced in our lives and in the lives of others, and yet we do so not so as to judge them but continuing to love them we also learn the lessons for our own life. Jesus refuses to be judgmental and gets on with healing the blind person.
Spitting in the street is a terrible habit and I remember once nearly being caught accidentally in the crossfire, which was a bit yucky. To heal the man born blind, Jesus uses his own spittle, the saliva from his mouth, to make a paste with the dust of the earth. Our Lord could have just willed the healing, he’s not a magician needing to use magic words like Abracadabra. But remember this is not how God works, as we see at the dawn of time when God makes the Heavens and the earth. He doesn’t just sit there and will it; He speaks it into being. And this becomes an important part of the account of Creation, as in Psalm 33: “For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.” And there definitely seems to be something of a creation moment here: the man born blind is made new.
And note that our Lord uses the things of this world to enact that healing: His words, the spittle and the waters of the Pool of Siloam. It comes as a reminder to us to take our medication when told to do so. We can’t sit there thinking, “Oh God, will heal me if He wants.” For while that statement is in itself true God may well have chosen to heal you through the pills the doctor gave you, after all God made the world good enough so we could have wise and gifted medical professionals as well tablets and medicines with which to be made well. Our Lord also made the world good enough so as to provide the means by which we can be nourished with the Body and Blood of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. For the bread and the wine we offer here, created by God in part for this purpose, was ordained so as to nourish us spiritually with Christ who is not only light and truth, but also the Bread of Life, the Bread come down from Heaven.
And the man born blind made new is given a new lease of life. The narrative we heard in today’s Gospel ends with him worshipping the Lord and believing in Him. Having been able to see the wonders of the world for the first time, He is moved to put His faith in the Lord. Our faith too is to make sense of the world we see. Where does all this come from? Well, be it big bang or some other scientific means we know God causes it. What is the point of this world, this life? To give glory to God who made us so we can choose to be with Him freely and dwell with Him eternally. Why is there sin? Because God made us to be like Him, free, and that involves capacity to make bad decisions and to follow chaotic desires. We heard St Paul quoting a few instances in the prophecy of Isaiah where God’s people are bidden to be raised from slumber because God is doing something new and exciting in them (eg. Isaiah 26:19 and 60:1).
When the man is called to this wonderful life we will notice that few are there to rejoice with Him. The neighbours and those who had seen him begging, we are told, are shocked, confused and interrogate him. The Pharisees are quick to point out that that healing happened on a Sabbath and so, they say, Jesus “cannot be from God.” No one is simply pleased for him. No one is willing to, in the words of St Paul, “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). It’s a failure of empathy, to consider the needs of others, and to see those as important for we are all members of one Body, Christ’s Church. We might consider too when we struggle to be glad for someone when they share news, are we too caught up with our own concerns?
The theme of injustice runs gently through the event. Ultimately at one level there is the what seems to be a gross injustice of why some are born blind and others not. I don’t know as a simple parish priest how much folk being born blind is caused by genetic defects or particular events during pregnancy. It is not one of those things we can say God causes specifically but the ability to proclaim His wonders ought not to be diminished in those who experience such difficulties. I understand there’s been a series on Channel 4 with contestants to be the best piano player and a ten year old blind child with autism has wowed audiences with her piano playing. Inspirational.
There’s also the injustice of Jesus, who only did a good thing, being accused of doing a bad and being treated badly. That injustice is only going to spiral as the accusations made against him will only get worse and worse. We’ll see such injustice continue within the Christian family today; we all sin, after all. When we see it, our response should be to root it out but never to the detriment of love. We can’t start hating those who do bad things or we are just as guilty of failing to live out the Gospel of Love.
Jesus is the light coming in to world, may they light be shed on our relationships with others, especially as we celebrate Mothering Sunday. Closeness to Jesus means the man born blind is made able to see and this leads Him to faith. May we have confidence in the world we see around us and its capacity for healing and goodness. May we have empathy for those who share with us good news and bad news. And as we seek to establish God’s kingdom of justice and peace may we always resist the temptation to be judgemental, mindful always of the love and mercy we see in our Lord, who died that we may be forgiven. Amen.