by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Fourth Sunday in Lent — with some notes and more “food for thought” on miracles, revelation and the immutable law of love. Gnaw away!
Fourth Sunday in Lent: John 9:1-41
As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, was it this individual’s sin that caused the blindness, or that of the parents?” “Neither,” answered Jesus, “It was not because of anyone’s sin – not this person’s, nor the parents’. Rather, it was to let God’s works shine forth in this person. We must do the deeds of the One who sent me while it is still day – for night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” With that, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and smeared the blind one’s eyes with the mud. Then Jesus said, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means ‘sent’). So the person went off to wash, and came back able to see. Neighbors and those who had been accustomed to seeing the blind beggar began to ask, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said yes; others said no – the one who had been healed simply looked like the beggar. But the individual in question said, “No – it was me.” The people then asked, “Then how were your eyes opened?” The answer came, “The one they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash. When I went and washed, I was able to see.” “Where is Jesus?” they asked. The person replied, “I do not know.”
They took the one who had been born blind to the Pharisees. It had been on a Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened this one’s eyes. The Pharisees asked how the individual could see. They were told, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.” This prompted some Pharisees to say, “This Jesus cannot be from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others argued, “But how could a sinner perform signs like these?” They were sharply divided. They addressed the blind person again: “Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about this Jesus?” “He is a prophet,” came the reply.
The Temple authorities refused to believe that this one had been blind and had begun to see, until they summoned the parents. “Is this your child?” they asked, “and if so, do you attest that your child was blind at birth? How do you account for the fact that now your child can see?” The parents answered, “We know this is our child, blind from birth. But how our child can see now, or who opened those blind eyes, we have no idea. But do not ask us – our child is old enough to speak without us!” The parents answered this way because they were afraid of the Temple authorities, who had already agreed among themselves that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why they said, “Our child is of age and should be asked directly.”
A second time they summoned the one who had been born blind and said, “Give God the glory instead; we know that this Jesus is a sinner.” “I do not know whether he is a sinner or not,” the individual answered. “All I know is that I used to be blind, and now I can see.” They persisted, “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” “I already told you, but you will not listen to me,” came the answer. “Why do you want to hear it all over again? Do not tell me you want to become disciples of Jesus too!” They retorted scornfully, “You are the one who is Jesus’ disciple. We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this Jesus comes from.” The other retorted: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes! We know that God does not hear sinners, but that if people are devout and obey God’s will, God listens to them. It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth. If this one were not from God, he could never have done such a thing!” “What!” they exclaimed. “You are steeped in sin from birth, and you are giving us lectures?” With that they threw the person out.
When Jesus heard of the expulsion, he sought out the healed one and asked, “Do you believe in the Chosen One?” The other answered, “Who is this One, that I may believe?” “You have seen him,” Jesus replied. “The Chosen One is speaking to you now.” The healed one said, “Yes, I believe,” and worshiped Jesus. Jesus said, “I came into this world to execute justice – to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were nearby heard this and said, “You are not calling us blind, are you?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, there would be no sin in that. But since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
Jesus is in Jerusalem here and in the middle of a back-and-forth with the Jewish authorities, who continually reject him. (The whole section is an elaboration on John 1:11 – “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”)
In Chapter 8, Jesus is in the Temple and, amidst the lit lamps of the Feast of Tabernacles, talks about himself as “the light of the world,” which sets off a heated debate with the Pharisees about who Jesus is, with the Pharisees saying he is “a Samaritan and have a demon.” The whole argument reaches a crescendo when the Temple authorities “take up stones to throw at him,” which prompts Jesus to hide and leave the Temple.
This healing story presents an opportunity to continue the conflict with the religious authorities and to continue the themes of light and darkness that run throughout the Gospel. The disciples ask a question the Pharisees might ask, and Jesus rejects the premise of the question — instead proclaiming that his presence as the light of the world is the ultimate fulfillment of law. The Pharisees, in turn, reject the blind person who now can see … and Jesus responds to that by accepting the worship of the formerly blind person — and further castigating the Pharisees.
A few things to chew on:
*It’s incredibly human to look to assign blame in the face of tragedy. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer raises the uncomfortable question of whether God causes tragedy, but even more reframes every situation as an occasion where God’s power can be demonstrated.
The truth is that God’s power is most often not revealed in times and places of comfort. It is in the times of challenge and either deep tragedy that God’s power shines through the brightest. It is a common tactic in business to reframe challenges as opportunities … but this is not just some tactic to manipulate and motivate. Think of your life and the lives of others you know. Where has God’s power been particularly revealed through hardship and tragedy?
*This story also illustrates the difference between theological argument and transformational experience. The man Jesus healed doesn’t care about any internal church politics that are taking place between Jesus and the Pharisees. All he knows is that he had an encounter with God in Jesus that changed his life. When people come in contact with us or with All Saints Church, how are we helping them not so much learn about our internal workings but connecting them with Jesus ho can heal and change their lives?
Jesus doesn’t heal the blind man by himself. There is a mutual process involved. Jesus does his part by mixing spittle and dirt to make a clay with which he anoints the man. But that by itself isn’t enough. The man has to complete the process himself by going and washing in the pool.
This week, take some time each morning to think about a part of your life that needs healing.
Is there a place you are blind or a relationship that is broken?
Then consider what Jesus’ part is in that healing and what is yours.
Then ask Jesus for healing … and do something that day that is your version of “washing in the pool.”
Write on This:
Last Saturday, my father and I sat out on his back porch and he told me some family stories. And as he talked, I could see some pieces fall together. Personality characteristics that he had gotten from his parents, that he had passed on to me … and that I was already seeing in my children. Jesus rejects the idea that sin – either of the individual or of the parents — caused someone to be born blind. And yet, we all inherit things from our families or origin. Some of those things are wonderful and some are not. Some cause us to give praise and glory to God and some cause us to long for the healing touch of Jesus.
This week, do some journaling about what you inherited from your family. For what do you give thanks? For what do you need healing? At the end of the week, write a prayer that sums it up and bring it to worship on Sunday and offer it silently during the meditation time before the service begins.
The law of the Cosmos
A few years back, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s brilliant revisioning of Cosmos was appointment TV in our house.
Cosmos’ thesis is that there are discoverable laws that govern the universe and that science is the surest way to uncover those laws and unlock how the cosmos works.
I couldn’t agree more … and it’s why I love Cosmos. Cosmos is a spiritual experience. God in all God’s divine brilliance has created and is still creating universes of deep beauty. Creation that is still creating and growing and evolving.
When I watch Cosmos, I am not only dazzled by the knowledge, I am filled with awe.
The Gospel story for this week is usually called a “miracle story.” That’s too bad. Miracle has the connotation of Jesus arbitrarily breaking an immutable rule of the universe. That doesn’t make sense to me. With a cosmos this infinite and beautiful, why would God ever need to do anything un-natural?
The better term for this story is not a “miracle story” but a “revelation story.” In stories like this, Jesus reveals how the cosmos works … if we have eyes to see.
The revelation is not about Jesus’ physically healing the man’s eyes. We can heal certain blindness with surgery today. That Jesus was able to do this using tools that seem incomprehensible to us seems miraculous … but then again so would laser eye surgery to someone just a few decades ago.
The revelation is love.
Jesus challenges what is seen to be an immutable law — that individual’s sins or even the sins of their ancestors will cause bad things to happen.
Jesus uses this instance to reveal something about the cosmos. That yes, our actions matter. And yes there are consequences. But that there is a deeper law that governs the cosmos. And that law is love.
Love is not about God or anyone arbitrarily making exceptions to the laws of the universe. Love is the deepest law of the universe. Love debunks the theory that we have to be bound to “as you reap so shall you sow.”
Jesus’ healing of the man born blind reveals to us that the most powerful force in the universe is not gravity or time but love. Nothing can stand against it because it is the force on which all else is built.
The truly transformational healing that happens in the story is not the man being given his sight — that’s just a matter of medical technology — but a man who had been isolated and cast out being accepted into a community, into the community of Christ. That someone who was considered beyond hope and worthy only of rejection could be loved and embraced. And nothing could stop it once Jesus had made up his mind to love. As we head toward Good Friday and the cross, we learn that even death cannot touch love.
And we know this is true in very scientific ways. We have seen, can see and have felt the evidence. We know that love heals. We have seen lives transformed by love. We have all the evidence we need. In a real and beautiful way, as “miraculous” as this story seems, it isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. In fact, it’s reminding us and promising that what we have seen — and perhaps what we crave most of all — is true.
That love is out there. That love cannot be held back or bound by any other law.
That of all the wonder and beauty and power of the cosmos, the deepest, most wondrous truth is this: That no matter how much we have screwed up, we are never beyond love’s reach.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Gracious God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread,
that Christ may live in us, and we in Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.