Lent 4A John 9:1-41
On this 4th Sunday of Lent, it is good to have a long gospel reading! I think we could use all the good news we can get right now. It is obvious that this is a stressful time. That’s an understatement of course. It is a frightening and uncertain time. We are afraid for the health of those we love and ourselves. We might be concerned about our financial stability. And we might wonder if our lives will ever return to normal. It is good to hear of this miracle of Jesus’ healing and bringing sight to the blind man. Most of all, it is good to hear a story of Jesus bringing light into darkness; a darkness that seemed impenetrable, a darkness that seemed inevitable. Just like ours.
This is also a good scripture to read now when much of our uncertainty and unease are related to health. I have a few friends who have recently said that they are unafraid of this virus because they have faith and their faith is so strong they won’t get sick. They believe because they have strong faith in Jesus that God will not let them get sick. I’ve also seen some things on social media that insist that if we would all pray hard enough, the virus would dissolve like snow, and everyone would be instantly healed.
There is an awful lot in those ideas to think through. At its base, both of those ideas are seeking to find a faithful way to respond to a difficult situation. But here are some other things to consider as well. First, faith is very important and it is not only a consolation but also a guide to how we approach suffering and hardship. Our faith teaches us that we are called to love our neighbor and that calling, along with Loving God, are the twin guiding principles of our lives, most especially in difficult times. That guiding principle of our faith, the two-fold law Jesus said was the greatest of all commandments, is something we can use to help us asses our decisions and our choices when the world seems chaotic and scary.
I heard a wonderful expression recently: we must feed our faith to starve our fears. A wonderful perspective! In fairness to my friends and the people on social media, I think they are trying to be faithful and even show the great strength of their faith. They are invoking their faith as a shield against their fear. But that is not exactly feeding faith. So, here is a wonderful feast for our faith from the book of Romans….For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You can put anything you need to into that scripture, right in that spot where it says “nor anything else in all creation”, because nothing, not falling stock markets or new viruses or anything else can separate us from our loving God.
In contrast to the idea that God chooses to act with a magical wand, our Gospel story today shows Jesus using a medical technique of his day in his healing. Every time I pray for someone in the hospital before a medical procedure, I think of this scripture. When he went to help the man born blind, Jesus used a medical technique of applying mud to the eyes. Medical books as far back as the ancient Egyptians describe something very similar to what Jesus did. In the ancient world, there was a not so uncommon cause of blindness resulting from a bacterial infection, often contracted at birth, in the eyes.
There was some kind of bacteria-fighting component in the clay soil in that region of the world and it was mixed with some other components and put on the eyes to draw out this bacteria.
Jesus, the doctor and the healer, used the tools of medical science in the process of healing and bring sight to the blind man. It is not unfaithful to use the tools of medicine and science to care for ourselves and others. In fact, Jesus teaches us that these are tools God chooses to use for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the world. Trusting and relying upon science, not instead of but in conjunction with our faith and recognizing God’s action through the work of these fields is both wise and faithful.
Today’s story also has a symbolic component for us as well. There are several places in scripture that speak of the blind receiving their sight, the deaf having their hearing restored, and other restorations of health and wellness as indicators of the nearness of the Kingdom of God and the presence of the Messiah. In addition to Jesus’ restoring the health of this individual person, his act of healing is also symbolic of Jesus as the bringer of and embodiment of the Kingdom of God where all things are made whole and new.
The message of this Gospel text includes the truth that there is no darkness too dark for God, no pain too great, no fear too strong for God. For even someone whose entire existence had been in darkness is given light by Jesus. With the light of Jesus giving us sight, we see truly and clearly the world around us and still know there is nothing that can separate us from God.
After the man born blind receives his sight, his life still has a lot of complications. There remains a great deal of confusion about what has happened and how it occurred. Over and over he is questioned and over and over he continues to answer. But it seems confusing for the ones questioning him. We can feel the frustration of the man having to repeat himself over and over again.
But it isn’t really surprising. In the modern world, restoring a sense like sight or hearing produces a great deal of confusion. The brain has not received this kind of information about the world before and it takes time, patience and work to help the brain sort out the confusion. This is normal and it doesn’t mean the restored sense isn’t functioning properly, it just means it takes time to sort out new information.
The Light of the Word, Jesus, brings light to darkness and sight where there was none, but that does not mean the world is immediately made simple and uncomplicated. It does not mean that we have instant solutions. What it does mean is that we can now see. It is much easier to navigate a difficult path when you can see it.
These days that require us to be physically apart from one another and require us to be extra careful with handwashing and cleaning can feel very confusing and frustrating and, let’s say it, scary. It might even feel like we are fumbling around blindly as we try to figure out what the next day will bring. And yet, even in this time, we can feed our faith on this truth: Jesus is the light of the World. The whole world. While it does not mean we get instant answers and resolutions, it does mean we are never without hope. Do things feel confusing and chaotic? Yes, they do sometimes. But just as the restoring of sight causes the brain to be confused, it takes time, patience, and work to integrate this new way of being in the world.
The fact that Jesus is the light of the world means that we are called to love our neighbors and shine that light of hope by helping where we are needed and giving of ourselves. This could mean that we are a listening ear to someone feeling lost and afraid or parents struggling to homeschool their kids. If we are healthy, it could look like picking up medicine or food for someone. It definitely means staying physically away from others to guard and preserve everyone’s health. Writing letters, shipping needed supplies to food pantries, or making an extra phone call or two are also possibilities of what it could look like to love our neighbor. It also means praying for God’s peace and presence of hope for all of us.
May you, this week, find moments of peace to feed your faith in the knowledge that Jesus is the light of the world and that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. And may you also find ways to share this light and love with your neighbor.