Monday, March 28, 2011

Lectionary Notebook for John Chapter 9

Thoughts on the Gospel Reading
4th Sunday of Lent, Year A
(See TEXT below John Chapter 9)

April 3, 2011  
  

The Lectionary Gospel text for the 4th Sunday of Lent offers us a fairly dense reading for one homily. At best, the preacher will only be able to skim lightly over the reading, presenting a few understandings of the many this this scripture opens to us.
THE REALITY OF TOXIC RELIGION
First, I would suggest that this Gospel text aids us in understanding the reality of toxic religion. Here John writes: "So some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.'" (vs. 16)
This is the Pharisees' conclusion to Jesus' healing a man on the Sabbath. Clearly, when the tenets of our religion strangely prevents us from accepting the mercy of GOD, then there may be something deeply flawed about the understanding of our religion and its practices. The case in point from the text is ancient Judaism, but what I have in mind is Christianity. 
The danger appears when our beliefs become settled in concrete and when for us our religion is without possibility of growth or change. To these Pharisees their fundamentalist understanding of sabbath keeping was settled, and any deviation made the other...well...the other, the rightfully-forthrightly neglected, the outcast. 
In this toxic understanding of religion the leadership of the Holy Spirit is dismissed and we tell the GOD whom we say we worship that he is not allowed to grow us or change us. How silly, and how sad. In short, we miss GOD-in-the-moment. 

I suppose the most powerful example of this occurred during what we call the "triumphal entry," when Jesus laments: “...If you only knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it! The time will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades, blockade you, and close in on you from every side. They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls; not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you did not recognize the time when God came to save you!" Luke 19:41-44)

THE TRUE LIGHT IN A DARK WORLD
Second, I would suggest that this Gospel text aids us in understanding the reality of the Christ as light. 
At the outset of the text Jesus utters a stunning prediction just prior to his healing of the man born blind: "We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (vss. 4-5)
This declaration about day and night is probably an allusion to his coming suffering and death, for we know that a foreboding rested on the heart of Jesus, always. And we also know that Jesus was concerned for his followers well-being after he had been taken from them. So this text served that end as a warning for his closest followers: "I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. (John 16:1-4a)
But we are compelled to ask, since Jesus is no longer bodily with his people who is the light of the world now? Who is doing the the works of GOD now that Jesus has gone? 
Said another way, doesn’t it seem the world is growing so much more darker than before; doesn’t it seem that the time of GOD's works has somehow slipped by us; doesn’t it sometimes seem that we have been left on our own?
This sense of abandonment is not without biblical precedent. One need only make a cursory reading of the Psalms to see this fear repeated over and over, and of course the LORD himself is abandoned by GOD on the cross -- “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

To be sure, I do understand that there is a huge segment of Christendom who sees glorious god-events behind every bush and multiple miracles galore, but, sadly, I must confess that I am not one of those fortunates. 
Instead, I see a world of waste and violence and hate and greed, where the haves (that's me and if you're reading this then that's you) consume much more than we need; where a full one fourth of our children, here in the richest country in the world, are below the poverty level, and most of the rest of the world starves. Darkness? You bet! And I haven't even mentioned the world at war and the obscene cultural wars on women and children around the world.
Just where is the light? Here I am reminded of the question that Jesus asks, “When the son of man returns will he even find faith on the earth?”
But, we have to think more deeply; we have to see with the eye of faith. And when we do we understand that the light is still where it always was; the light is still found in the Christ

In truth the real darkness is in us, but we need not fear because Christ, the light-of-the-world, has overcome the world. This means we do not have to be overcome by the darkness, but instead we have been enabled (empowered) to live in the light, to walk in the light should we so choose.
This reminds me of something else St. John wrote: "...in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."(John 1:4-5) Which in turn also brings to mind another poignant text from him. After a particularly difficult day for Jesus, when many of his followers decided to vote with their feet by abandoning the cause, Jesus asks the twelve, "Will you also go away?" To which Peter responds, "LORD, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68)
I say all this because we must constantly confront ourselves with the reality that Jesus is the promise of light and life, and the offer of a new life and a new way to live, but that we have a part as well. The healing miracle of the man born blind that John’s Gospel here describes is meant to help us to make that confrontation real. It is meant to trouble us with a choice: Will we walk in the darkness we see all around us (who sinned him or his parents?) or will we walk in the light (albeit a dim light) we see within us, which is the ongoing testimony of the Christ?

THE STARTLING EXPRESSION OF TESTIMONY
This leads us, finally, to this text aiding us in our understanding of just how startling is the sound and expression of testimony.
When, for the second time, the Pharisees confront the man whom Jesus healed with the question of the origin of his miracle, his challenging words of testimony are startling and strangely refreshing:
"So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, 'Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.' He replied, "If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.'" (vss. 24-15)
I like this guy. "Hey! You big-shots! You decide for yourselves about this Jesus; you decide if your theological bromides are true or false. All I mean to tell you is this -- I once was blind, but now I see."
This, of course, is the essence of testimony -- we tell what we know; we tell what we personally have experienced. And this strategic sharing of story, our story, diverts attention away Bible arguments and disputes of religion. With testimony we mercifully move from questions of origins (how did the world begin), of theology proper (does GOD exist?) and of Christology (is Jesus more than a man), and we are forced to hear the testimony bearer’s personal eye-witness account. 
The testifier simply says, “This happened to me, believing it or not is up to you, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.” Which means the question stiffly confronts the hearer with this choice: “Will I believe this or not?” And the hearer is also challenged with a likely follow-up question: What will it mean to me? and what will it change if I do believe the story?
John Chapter 9
1 As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. 4 We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.
5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, 7 and said to him, "Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
8 His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, "Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some said, "It is," but others said, "No, he just looks like him." He said, "I am." 10 So they said to him, "(So) how were your eyes opened?" 11 He replied, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went there and washed and was able to see." 12 And they said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I don't know."
13 They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. 15 So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see." 16 So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath." (But) others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" And there was a division among them. 17 So they said to the blind man again, "What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." 18 Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
19 They asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?" 20 His parents answered and said, "We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for him self." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 For this reason his parents said, "He is of age; question him."
24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, "Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner." 25 He replied, "If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." 26 So they said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" 28 They ridiculed him and said, "You are that man's disciple; we are disciples of Moses!
29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from."
30 The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. 32 It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." 34 They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out.
35 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he."
38 He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him. 39 Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."
40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains.