“And they drove him out.”
Undoubtedly these are the saddest words in the story of the healing of the blind man.
The Pharisees having dragged the healed man in for questioning reject his witness and ostracise him. This man who had lived his life blind, begging as a marginalised member of the Jewish community is healed and then through no fault of his own re-dealt the same cards. His lot in life remains on the edges of the community determined by those who hold power and influence. Their words effectively damn him:
‘”You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.’
The contrast between this story and the story of the woman at the well is remarkable. The Samaritan woman, estranged in her own community, is able to share the good news of Jesus and people respond whereas the Jewish blind man is more or less dragged in, vilified and thrown out. In the blind man’s own words the Pharisees would not listen.
How ironic are these words of accusation given that when the disciples had asked the question about the man’s sin and his blindness Jesus had declared: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The correlation between a person’s lot in life and their sinfulness is brought into stark relief in this story and a challenge is issued to the traditional views of the time – sickness and misfortune were not necessarily to be viewed as a consequence of sin.
Whilst the story revolves around a particular healing event it is clear that John is also seeking to explore deeper issues concerning Jesus. How to live life in relationship with God and to see God’s ways? The final few verses of the passage underline this paradoxical situation in which those who claim to see – cannot.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
The claim by the Pharisees to be able to ‘see’ indicates their misunderstanding concerning Jesus identity and a denial of God’s miraculous works occurring through him. This issue aside their inability to recognise the blind man and his identity is also something of a concern.
One Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer remarks on her blog.
It may be that the most damning point this Sunday's gospel has against Jesus' accusers is one that we easily miss: they did not know the blind man who was healed.
He sat and begged there daily, and every day they walked by him, but when the time came, they couldn't be sure of who he was -- others had to fetch his parents before they could be sure of the identification
Maybe it is that when we associate sin and suffering too closely, or when we assume that our prosperity is due entirely to our own efforts whilst others suffering is due to their sin, laziness or ineptitude, that we can turn a blind eye to what is occurring in the life of others who are right under our nose. The man would have begged in the temple courtyard but the Pharisees did not see him.
We as people who claim to have seen Jesus and been transformed should hear the words of Paul to the Ephesians as an invitation or maybe even an injunction to live as people who were blind and can now see:
Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
As the days and weeks of Lent go by I am personally being challenged more and more in my own faith as to the lifestyle that I live as I ask myself ‘where are the blind spots in my life?’, ‘where am I turning a blind eye to those in need?’ These are uncomfortable questions and unless the discrepancies between how I live and how I am being called to live are exposed by the light of Jesus love it is too easy to go on living in the humidicrib of this wealthy and so called enlightened Australian culture.
Last week I watched a confronting documentary available free on the web called “Home”. It is made by the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Home depicts the history and plight of this earth we call our home.
The cinematography is beautiful, the message confronting. It raises questions which have been themes in my preaching concerning the care of our environment, pollution, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, global warming, over consumption and the like.
Whilst I do not believe doomsday saying is necessarily that helpful recognising inequity and the seriousness of global issues is certainly a responsibility of us as Christians, more so as people, who were given dominion over the creation.
With this in mind I was lead to considering the 7 deadly sins which have been a part of the churches history since the fourth century. Whilst they may have not been a part of the protestant tradition I was struck by 3 which seem to confront me in terms of my responsibility to live as a child of the light and where my blindness might lie and need more healing.
Acedia, usually called sloth
It is not difficult to make the connections. Our overconsumption of goods in the west and desire to own more are grounded in an economic system built on the phrase made famous by Gordon Gecko “Greed is good.” Advertising is designed to have us buy things we do not need, when we buy the next item are we not simple buying more stuff, are we giving in to greed?
In my mind gluttony is one expression of our greed, an expression that many of us fail to recognise. The great Indian philosopher Ghandi once said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”. The distribution and availability of food on our planet is a massive issue as millions go hungry every day.
Acedia or sloth is not simply laziness or lethargy but not doing good. It is the sins of omission – the things we don’t do that we should. Seeing the suffering of the nameless millions and like the Pharisees failing to recognise that here is a person who is just as loved, just as valued in God’s eyes, who may need our help means that as enlightened as we might think we are we are still blind.
When we live in the light of God’s love, when we like the blind man can say I once was blind but know I see, we see not just physically but we see through the eyes of people who hope in a coming kingdom of justice and peace and love and equity.
It is interesting to note that in his great hymn “Amazing Grace” John Newton captured the words of the blind man. Of course we who know the history of the hymn know that the blindness of John Newton from which he was set free was his blindness to the evils of the slave trade. Newton’s encounter with Jesus, his healing from blindness, leads him to become an activist and advocate in the context of the tyranny of his age and ours as well: slavery.
This of course raises the issue for me what are the key social, economic, religious and political issues of our day and age that God is calling us to respond to. How are we to live faithfully, seeing, hearing and obeying?
Seeing again brings a response in how we live. It begins for the blind man in his belief in Jesus and in his worship of Jesus. But the witness of the New Testament and of Christian history is that an encounter with Jesus also leads to a transformed way of living, a way which may brings us into conflict with the powers of this world and the way things are done.
Of course we may hesitate to change our lives because we ask ourselves ‘Can one person really change the world?’ My answer to this would generally be ‘no’ but the issues for me is whether I believe I am living as a faithful witness to God’s love in Jesus and the promise of renewed creation.
It is possible that the consequence of living our lives in God’s time, we will find not a welcoming embrace in our community, but that like the blind man, we are ostracised. In fact, I sometimes find it surprising that more Christians do not find themselves being driven out by a community which is largely not Christian. But, if we see as Jesus calls us to see, and, if we live as our faith drives us to live, then it only makes sense that we will live differently to others.
For, if we revel in singing the words “I once was blind but now I see”, we should also live as children of the light, because we have been healed and set free by the immense and unending grace of God that has touched our lives.