REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 3, 2011 – Lent 4A
I do appreciate Year A in the lectionary cycle because we hear these consecutive, meaty and beautiful stories from the gospel of John. Last week it was the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met down at the well. This week’s it’s the man “who had been blind from birth.” And in both stories we get a lengthy and deep theological discourse that opens up not only the people involved, but the theological issues that were swirling all around them.
And part of why I appreciate these stories is because there is very genuine complexity to the theological wrestling that’s happening here and it’s all completely transparent: throughout this story the Pharisees are wrestling with their own beliefs, and Jesus’ practices; they aren’t sure what to do with the man who was born blind, with his parents, or with the rules as spelled out by the law. Things that had fit pretty well into their pre-established molds were suddenly seeping out over the edges, coming to life outside of the theological boxes that had contained them and the Pharisees and others who were watching that happen didn’t quite know what to think. Was this man being given sight a miracle or Levitical disaster?
There seemed to be such a fine line between those two options. Sure he could see, but it happened on the Sabbath and the healer had done something on the Sabbath to open the man’s eyes. And once one question was asked there were so many more. Jesus had presented them with a bit of theologically slippery slope: Had this man sinned or had his parents and if none of them had sinned, then why was he blind? There must be an explanation. What exactly were the relationships among sin and forgiveness, suffering and healing? And while they were at it who actually had the power to forgive? Or to heal. And should any of that be allowed to happen on the Sabbath?
And so the Pharisees were wrestling with big questions, and as we talk about healing this Lent, I know that we live with many of those questions too. Bad things happen to us and those we love and we almost always ask why and whose fault it must be. We watch good people suffer and bad people make it and there are days when some clear explanations about why that is so would be nice. We too occasionally witness religious law used as a roadblock rather than a means to wholeness and wish that it weren’t so. And so there is something very real, something that hits close to home about this story of the man born blind and I have to appreciate the slipperiness of the experience, I would almost say the mystery of the experience. The Pharisees and others can’t quite fully grasp, can’t quite wrap their heads around how all of this could possibly fit together; and maybe I like that because that seems to be how life is a lot of the time. So many pieces and not sure how they fit, if they fit, why they are even introduced as parts of the same picture. Notice though in this story, that it’s Jesus who blows the cover off the theological box. Apparently, if the box wasn’t big enough to handle the mystery and untimliness of healing, then it wasn’t big enough to handle their conversations, their beliefs about God. And wound up in that is some deep, underlying, current around the question of what it means to see, to really see in the kinds of ways that matter.
Theological questions circle through our stories all the time – I think there is something very real about that and part of what Jesus does is stir us to those kinds of wrestlings and wonderings.
But the other thing that happens here, is that woven through the questions that fill this story there is also this very simple thread running through it too, perhaps even holding it all together. And it’s provided by the man who had been born blind. While the issues swirled and the authorities twirled, the blind man was getting one question after another fired in his direction. And he responded very simply and directly each time: When asked about his experience, he said, “I was blind and now I see.” Period. And when he was asked for a little more detail he told it as a story, “The man called Jesus made mud, put it on my eyes, sent me to Siloam to wash, and now I see.” When he was challenged about Jesus being a sinful man, the man replied, “I don’t know about any of that. But I can see now and I couldn’t before!” And when they pushed him even a little more he just continued to come back to that very simple place. “He gave me something nobody else could … I was blind and now I see … And that’s enough for me,” said the man who had formerly been blind.
And the last words he said in the whole story were these, “Lord, I believe.”
So what I think is in this for us is something like a model. The theological cracking open that happened here was important and Jesus made it happen. He allowed faith to come alive again; it stirred up questions among the people that allowed for the possibility of new kinds of healing, that led to new understandings, that opened up new means of achieving forgiveness and hope. And that kind of living faith is critical for us too – allowing questions to stir is actually a sign of faith, a sign of trust that among us new wisdoms are always coming to be through the presence and grace of the Spirit of God.
But it’s also true too, that the simple threads running through us and among us matter. We not only have questions to guide us, we have simple truths to ground us. While we seek and search and wonder there is a thread or two that keeps us from completely floating away or crumbling down if we remember to acknowledge that it’s there. Striking a holy, communal balance between those two dimensions of faith is part of what we are called to do here. You can probably come up with a quick list of questions about God, healing, relationships, forgiveness, heaven, hell, universal salvation, suffering, sin and so much more. But part of what this story reminds us is that our simple responses matter too; they might eventually lead us into more mystery, but ultimately they begin to form a core that can’t be shaken by much. Here’s some simple threads to try on as you go this week. Maybe one of them fits an experience you’ve had.
It was dark, and then light shone. I was outside and they let me in. I was trapped, then I was free. He died. He rose.
I don’t get it, but I’m loved. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I was lost and then got found. I surrendered and then was strong. They fed me. I belonged.
“I was blind and now I see.” You have one or two those threads I’m sure so, spend some time this week and name them. They matter too. For the questions that guide us and the simple things that ground us, today we give our thanks.