Hang onto your hats, today’s gospel is a long one…
The Gospel According to Saint John 9.1-41
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”
Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”
He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.
Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”
Others said, “It’s him all right!”
But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”
He said, “It’s me, the very one.”
They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”
“A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”
“So where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”
Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.
They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”
His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)
They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”
He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”
They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
“I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”
With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”
The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
“Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.
Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”
Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure. (Jn 9.1-41, The Message)
My first parish out of seminary was a small rural mountain town in Idaho. The primary industries in the broader community were logging and ranching. One of my parishioners often jokingly said, “There are more cows here than people.” It is true some rachers had more head of cattle than the town had residents. The parish was so small the the parsonage and the church sat on the same plot of land and shared the same phone number. I was none too pleased with that situation, but the reality was that there was no way to keep myself or my family, “socially distanced” from the church or the community. Calls would come in at all times of day or night. Sometimes calls were from friends. Sometimes calls were from parishioners, sometimes calls were from folk needing a bit of comfort and aid as they traveled from northern Idaho to southern Idaho. It is odd living in a small community. Those who knew us, always went to the back door which entered into the mudroom/laundry room and then into the dining room. Those who didn’t know us always rang the bell at the front of the house.
Sometimes the transient calls for aid wore on me, especially if we were in the middle of watching TV or a movie, or it was 1:00 a.m. and twenty below zero outside. At these times, people did not get the gracious Christ. They got the grumpy Christ instead. This freshly minted know it all, full of theological wisdom and exegetic prowess was not always joyful about the task at hand–to help the least among us.
We are in the middle of a crisis. It is a multi-faceted crisis that revolves around a health pandemic and an imminent recession which may even go as far as a depression. People are in isolation, surrounded only by fear, panic, and loneliness. I have seen and heard many disturbing callous comments about the working poor, the elderly, the single mothers who have to work three jobs to keep the rent paid, heat on, and groceries in the pantry, who now have none of those three jobs because the businesses are closed, or on very limited operating schedules. Lucky are the ones who can work from home, do their work, attend the meetings, and collect a paycheck while (let’s be honest, work in your pajamas and watch a Netflix show at the same time). But we are not all that privileged.
Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath. That made the community religious leaders angry. They were so angry that they ended up kicking the formerly blind man out, not recognizing his healing, him being an asset to the community. At the end of the chapter, Jesus asks who really are the blind in this story? Is it the one who was blind from birth and now can see, or the ones who claim to see everything, yet are blind to the truth standing in their midsts?
In my first parish, I thought I knew everything, enlightened, wise, and had big plans for ministry. But in the end, it was me who was blind. I like to think that over the years, I have grown and have more unfettered compassion. At this time of uncertainty, let us rely upon the goodness and mercy of God, and then let us extend that goodness and mercy to everyone we meet, whether it is six feet apart in the grocery store, or in online social media connections. I pray that our eyes might be open to the needs around us, and let us let the light in.