By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, it is called Laetare Sunday from the Latin word for “rejoice.” On this Sunday, there is a lightening of the penitential austerity of Lent, and in some parishes, the celebrant wears pink vestments to mark this change. Since I’m not overly fond of pink, I’ve decided to stick with violet. However, in keeping with the lessening of our penitence, you will get a rather jaunty spiritual for the communion anthem.
Now let’s turn to Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel and the story of the man born blind. The story opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him whose sin was the cause of the man’s blindness, his or his parents. It seems a strange question to our ears. I doubt that most people today believe that their sins will be visited on their offspring. But in Jesus’ day, this idea was still prevalent. That explains the possibility of his blindness being due to his parents’ sin. But how on earth could his blindness be due to his sin, if he was born blind? The answer, of course, is that he must have sinned in the womb. According to Jewish tradition, this was possible. For example, if the mother worshiped an idol while pregnant, the fetus was considered guilty of idolatry as well.
In any case, Jesus dismisses both possibilities. The man’s blindness was due neither to his parents’ sin nor to his own. Instead, Jesus says, “He was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” The Greek here is ambiguous. It can be translated “He was born blind in order that God’s work might be revealed in him,” implying that his blindness was part of God’s purpose. Or it can be translated “He was born blind, and as a result, God’s works will be revealed in him.” Here, there is no implication that God willed his blindness, only that good will now come of it. Needless to say, I prefer the latter translation. I prefer to think that God was pleased to bring good from a bad situation that he had not willed, rather than that God actually willed the bad in order to bring about the good.
After declaring himself the Light of the World, Jesus then literally brings light to the blind man. He anoints the man’s eyes with mud and sends him off to rinse in a nearby pool. The man’s eyes are healed, and he is able to see for the first time in his life. The news of his healing spreads like wildfire, and it soon reaches the ears of the local authorities, members of the Pharisaic sect. The Pharisees question the man about his healing, and it immediately becomes evident that there is a serious dilemma. Jesus performed the healing on the Sabbath. Now, according to Jewish tradition, it is forbidden to do work on the Sabbath, and for the Pharisees, both making mud and healing the sick counted as work. The Pharisees are divided in their opinion about Jesus. Some argue that he cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath. Others point out that a sinner could not perform such a miracle. When the man born blind is asked to weigh in, he proclaims that Jesus must be a prophet.
At this point, John tells us that “the Jews” refused to believe the man’s story. (Keep in mind that John has an annoying tendency to refer to the Judean authorities simply as “the Jews.”) The authorities call in the man’s parents to testify, but they are reluctant to give evidence.
Again the Pharisees question the man, saying “Give glory to God! We know that this Jesus is a sinner.” Now this phrase “Give glory to God!” is ambiguous. On the one hand, the phrase might be a form of oath taken before giving testimony, similar to the oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” On the other hand, it might also mean “Give the glory for your healing to God, not to that sinner Jesus.” In any case, the more the authorities push the man, the more he becomes convinced that Jesus is, in fact, sent from God. In the end, the man born blind is excommunicated from the synagogue for his unrelenting defense of Jesus.
Here the story takes an interesting turn. Jesus, upon hearing of the man’s excommunication, seeks him out and reveals himself as the Son of Man prophesied in Holy Scripture. At this point, the man’s journey to faith in Jesus is complete, and he bows down before Jesus and worships him. He has received not only physical sight, but spiritual sight, as well.
Jesus concludes by proclaiming this mission statement: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” In other words, Jesus has come to offer people a choice, either to open their eyes and see Jesus for who he really is or to refuse to see and condemn themselves to spiritual blindness.
The world today is presented with the very same choice: to see the Light or to abide in darkness. According to John’s Gospel, the recognition of Jesus as God’s Son is the first step toward spiritual illumination. In the normal course of things, at least for adults, this first step is then celebrated sacramentally in baptism. It is no coincidence that the Early Church referred to Holy Baptism as the sacrament of illumination.
But if Christ is the “Light of the World” and the “Sun of Righteousness.” Are we not meant to be Lamps to the World and Rays of Righteousness? Are we not meant to reflect the Light of Christ? Of course, the answer is yes. And we do this by walking as children of the Light. We do this by deed and by word—by living righteous lives and by sharing Jesus’ teachings. St. John records the words and deeds of Jesus in his Gospel, so that his readers “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [they] may have life in his name.” All of us here should be living, breathing Gospels, so that those who hear our words and witness our deeds may have life, and have it abundantly. So, go forth from here today, and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Go forth from here today, and be Lamps to the World and Rays of Righteousness. And through you, let the Light of Christ shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.