Fourth Sunday in Lent
There were things I learned in my theological studies that really stood out for me, which I don’t have to return to my notes or books to remember. One of those is how 90% of the “you”s in the Bible are plural, referring to either Israel or the church (and the difficulty caused by a language that does not currently distinguish between the plural and singular forms of that pronoun—Canadians don’t have the “you all” found in parts of the United States—in a North American culture that is highly individualistic). Another is that the purpose of the four gospels is to convince the reader(s) of who Jesus is. This is particularly true for the gospel of John, for it is on this—belief that God is revealed in Jesus—that everything hangs.
There are two opposing story arcs in this text. We first encounter, along with Jesus and his disciples, the man born blind. Right from the get go, Jesus makes it clear that the man’s blindness is not due to any wrongful action on the part of himself or his parents. Sin in the gospel of John is not focused on actions (a moral stance) so much as on the decision about who Jesus is (a theological, specifically Christological, stance) and therefore how one will live in the light of that revelation. The man’s blindness, Jesus states, will be used to reveal the love and glory of God.
Without conversing with the man born blind, Jesus goes about healing him using the earthy particulars of dirt, spit, and water from a washing in the pool of Sent. The text says only that he “came back able to see,” so we can only imagine his response to the brilliant light and colors that would have assaulted his new found sense. What comes to mind are the reactions I have witnessed in videos of people who are color blind being able to see color for the first time using special glasses, or of deaf babies’ reactions to hearing their parents’ voices when their hearing implants are turned on for the first time.
But in this text we do not learn of the man’s reactions so much as we learn, first, of the reactions of his neighbors. Many of them do not even recognize him, now that he can physically see, despite his continued claims to be that formerly blind beggar. The man’s new ability to see has so rattled his neighbors’ reality that they haul him in front of the Pharisees. And so the second, opposing, story arc begins.
The gospel of John’s practice of using one, more concrete, level of meaning to point to a second deeper meaning is fully at work in this text. Throughout his encounter with the Pharisees, we witness the growing spiritual sight of the man born blind. His recounting of the way he was healed by Jesus moves to proclaiming him a prophet, and then as a man from God, grounded in the astonishing act of his healing—and here is the climax of the two story arcs, as the man born blind moves toward becoming a disciple of Jesus, while the Pharisees’ astonishing unbelief has them on a trajectory towards spiritual blindness, despite their physical sight.
Once driven out from the blind Pharisees’ presence, Jesus seeks out the man born blind who now can see. Jesus does not leave him alone, but reveals his identity to the man, who responds with belief and worship, giving glory to God (ironically doing what the Pharisees had instructed him to do).
Given that the man born blind is Jewish, Jesus is Jewish, the neighbors and Pharisees are Jewish, this text asks us as a church to consider if we are blind—and not as the Pharisees ask, assuming they are not. What political, theological, cultural, spiritual beliefs and assumptions might we be making that are leading us deeper into blindness and sin? We must discern these together in prayer. We can be assured on the one hand that the assumption we are right likely means we are blind, and on the other hand that confessing Jesus as Lord and worshipping him likely means we are on the Way to seeing.
And so this text confronts us mid-Lent, the season when we are given the gift of time to reflect on, re-adjust (re-turn, make course corrections to) our discipleship, and re-commit to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. “Do you also want to become his disciples?” knowing what we know of where this leads—into suffering and death…and astonishing new life. For “we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.”