s015g02 Lockleys 10/3/2002 Lent 4 Mothering Sunday
"He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him" John 9:3
Lent 4 marks a small transition in our gospel readings. We begin today - readings, all of which provoke enmity between Jesus and the religious authorities. Today we cover the case of the man born blind, next week the raising of Lazarus, which, though the reading does not include the words, precipitated proceedings being taken against Jesus, and Palm Sunday with the, so-called, cleansing of the Temple, which was "the last straw".
We are left in no doubt that Jesus was killed not by the atheists and agnostics, but by the religious authorities. It is my contention that Jesus was killed, not because he claimed some special status. We hear Jesus asking the blind man if he believed, not in the "Son of God" or the "Messiah" but in the "Son of Man". This is a very curious phrase, particularly cumbersome in Greek. And it is used, at least initially, as if Jesus was referring to someone else. So Jesus asks him, not: "Do you believe in me?" but "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
It is instructive to see how important sin was to the disciples and to the religious authorities, and how of little importance it was to Jesus. One does not have to have a degree at the local theological institution to have questions like that which the disciples asked: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" We need to follow, not the disciples for whom sin was important, but
Jesus for whom the question is largely irrelevant.
This should cause us to be careful talking about the doctrine of original sin when it is the religious authorities who say of the formerly blind person "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?"
No, Jesus was not interested in sin but in the ability or not to see.
I must admit I have ceased to use the phrase, "Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble ..." in the funeral service. Firstly there seems no comparison possible, since there is no one who hasn't been born of a woman, so why say something which suggests an alternative, when there is no other choice anyway? Secondly it seems to imply, albeit obliquely, that the woman has some blame for this general and sad state of affairs. Even obliquely, I suspect that it is this sort of thinking that lies behind much male chauvinism and misogyny, which, again sadly, the Church has often exacerbated rather than sought to remove.
I find Paul's words startling when he says, in our epistle for today: "Rise from the dead"! This seems to imply that we have very much more autonomy than perhaps we think. The man born blind just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Other than doing as he was instructed, he did nothing to instigate the miraculous cure - he did not even know who was putting the mud paste on his eyes and telling him where to wash it off. Indeed there was no specific promise of a cure either. I suppose if someone put paste on my eyes, the thing I would do would be to wash it off, so the directions Jesus gave him were hardly unusual. So he seems completely divorced from his healing. He didn't request it, he didn't expect it. He had no faith whatsoever. Yet he was healed, and this must tell us that all can find healing.
But as I thought about my text for today, here was this man, blind from birth, a person for whom life normally only passed him by, being told that "God's works might be revealed in him". So not only is God's healing available to all, but God's works are revealed in all sorts of people, and this is an astonishing thing.
The religious authorities had a doctrine that God's works were only likely to be revealed in people like them, people who did all the right "religious" things. God's works were done as they prayed, performed their sacrifices, pondered and pontificated on God's word. Here Jesus tells us that God's works are revealed in all sorts of people, as they live their lives with all their joys and sorrows, with all their abilities and inabilities.
And so too God's works are revealed in you and I - I think often more by you than I - as you live life with all its joys and sorrows, abilities and disabilities. I have only to preach the word and administer the sacraments.
It was precisely this blindness of the religious authorities to the good that Jesus did, and their blindness to the obvious change in this man's life, that we are bidden to avoid. When we look at others, we are bidden to look not at their deficiencies but for their potentialities - to look to see how God's works are revealed in them.
Of course, the formerly blind person was not trying to teach the religious people anything, he was merely explaining that once he was blind, but that now he could see. But no matter how hard he tried, they could not see something they refused to see. It was a plain waste of time. Their own doctrine taught them not to see good in people other than those who were "religious". They questioned the man twice and interviewed his parents, trying to find some way out of admitting that something like this could happen - to and by someone other than one of their own. Even when they could find no way out, they still refused to see.
So the permanent blind spot of the religious is that they see good only in things which are religious and they are blind, by their own choice, to good anywhere else. Jesus naturally upset this whole doctrine, yet faced with all the evidence to the contrary, the religious authorities continued to choose to be blind to it.
So we do have a choice. We can choose to live, and we live when we see good in others beside ourselves and those who share our own perceptions of the truth.
God's works are revealed in us as we recognise the actions of God in others besides ourselves, in the surprising others, the ones who seem so unable to show anyone the way. For this is what following Christ means.
I spoke earlier about the religious authorities not killing Jesus because he claimed some particular special status before God. It now becomes clear that the real reason for their enmity was that Jesus saw the possibility of God's works being revealed in people other than them and indeed, other than himself. The title "Son of Man" , if nothing else, must refer to representative humanity.
So the very phrase "Son of Man" bids us look around us at all of humanity, to see God's work revealed, not just in Jesus, but in the rest of humanity. And as part of that humanity, we too have a role to play, not as we are on our knees, or dressed up in long white robes, or with a distinctive "back to front" collar such as I wear, but as we, in our day to day lives, see in all others, God's work revealed.
We have recently been witnessing what some have described as a "witch-hunt" against the Governor General, a classic case of "lynching by the media" if ever there was one, and I have, as much as anyone else, been taken aback by the vehemence of one particular activist. Yet it must be conceded that this person is driven by her desire to expose paedophilia for what it is, and to try to protect young people from the predatory activities of such people. She seeks the betterment of society and she seeks the protection of the poor. I am afraid that for all the undoubted good the Church has done for generations, we may now be having our pay back for generations of feelings of superiority, that Church people are better than everyone else.
I was interested to read in the Adelaide "Advertiser" a couple of weeks ago, an article about Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the former President Bill Clinton. She is studying in England and she made the comment how frequently the British look down on Americans. And I thought, it's not just Americans that think that the British look down on them. Often Australians think the same - I was recently at a function where a son was saying how his father taught him to prefer all things British ...
As I've gone through the Church even the legitimacy of the sacraments of another tradition of Anglicanism has been questioned ... Seeing good in people who don't come to Church hasn't even been thought of, and certainly not that God's work might be revealed in them ... This is the sharp end of this incident in our gospel story - how it impinges on our lives.
And as I begin to think about it, I have suddenly realised that John uses these "conflict" passages to really focus us on the good things that Jesus did which ought to have inspired acceptance in the religious authorities, but instead they provoked anger, resentment and fear. In the synoptics, Jesus rails against the hypocrisy of the religious authorities, it could be thought in an unprovoked way. John therefore goes to some lengths to put the issues before us quite clearly. Jesus cured the man born blind, raised Lazarus and allowed ordinary people into the Temple - all good things. Yet the religious authorities were not pleased because they had rather different agendas for the blind and the dead and other, ordinary people, and it certainly wasn't about mixing with them as equals!
All the evidence of scripture points to the fact that God judges those who cannot see through no fault of their own more leniently than those who can see. But those who are stubbornly determined not to see, what is "as plain as the nose on your face" simply because the good is being done by someone else or to someone else, is to attempt to lock God in a box and crucify Christ anew.
Neither of which is ever going to succeed, I hasten to add.
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