This post is being composed during the “social distancing” required during the Covid-19 outbreak. Churches and just about everything else seem to be shut down, and I think we’re all figuring out that being “socially distanced” really sucks. After all, we humans are social animals and we’re meant to be together. But hang in there, folks. God willing we’ll all be together again soon.
`A propos to our situation is the tale of a man who is really socially distanced. In our gospel lesson for Lent 4, Year A, which takes up the entire ninth chapter of John’s gospel, we read about a man born blind who sits and begs for his daily bread. This is one of John’s best stories, and it fits right in with our Lenten journey to the cross as it shows Jesus once again giving the wet raspberry to the Pharisees—the guys who are going to have him crucified.
I’m an old actor, so when I read these stories I like to look at the cast of characters and see who I might be in the drama and who you—my intended audience member—might be. I’ll give you a hint: None of us will be Jesus.
We might, perhaps, identify with the disciples. These poor guys never seem to be the smartest ties on the rack until after Jesus is raised from the dead. When they encounter the blind man they fall back to their default position of assuming somebody must’ve done something to get God mad or this guy wouldn’t be cursed with blindness. They ask Jesus if this affliction is a punishment on the man or on his poor parents who’d have to raise a blind son. Jesus sets them—and us—straight by telling them that affliction is not a curse but an opportunity for God to be glorified. Besides, has finding blame ever been useful in dealing with a hardship? Sure, finding fault may make us feel better for a time, but it never confronts the necessity of what has to be done in order to turn the rough situation into something meaningful. Life is never about what happens. It has to be about how we embrace it. Stuff happens sometimes just because it does. It’s okay to be blind to its cause.
The Pharisees, perpetually cast as the villains in our gospels, are also pretty myopic. Still, it would do us well to take a look at their script. You have to give these guys credit: Whatever their faults, they’re certainly dedicated to their belief system. It’s easier to negotiate with a terrorist than to try and change the minds of these rigid old geezers. Don’t try to impress upon them that a work of miraculous compassion and Godly love has been accomplished. They don’t care. They want everything to be the way it used to be and the way they’re comfortable with. No work on the Sabbath. If you work on the Sabbath, you’re a sinner. Period. Anybody born blind is cursed by God and should be kept as far away as possible. Those are the rules, and if you don’t like them you can take your butt out of our synagogue. Our way is right and your way is wrong.
Dang. It must be swell to have such great insight. But maybe it would be better if we could all admit to being a little blind at times, to not knowing everything with such certainty, and to making a little room for the Holy Spirit to do her work. How often have I heard a parishioner say to me, “Pastor, I know I shouldn’t feel this way, BUT…” Granted, we can’t always help the way we feel; nevertheless, if you know you shouldn’t feel a certain way—if you can see that it’s wrong—why would you go on nursing that feeling? Jesus warns us that if we see our error and persist in it, our sin remains.
There are some cameo roles in this drama played by the formerly blind man’s parents. If you ask me, Mom and Dad aren’t exactly Parents of the Year. They just don’t want to get involved in any religious or societal controversy. To them, saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing and getting folks upset. They’re so afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue (a pretty real threat in John’s world, by the way), that they’re willing to throw their adult son under the bus. Forget that they have just seen a miraculous sign that God desires mercy over mere religious observance. No. They’re too afraid of the bullies.
Finally, we have the young blind man himself. His is an interesting part because his character development illustrates the journey you might’ve taken to faith. First, there’s an encounter with Jesus that opens his eyes. He sees Jesus as a good man and a healer (v. 11). Later, he’ll tell the Pharisees that Jesus is a prophet—one who speaks for God (v.17). When he’s challenged about this (and we should all be challenged to examine our beliefs from time-to-time), he reasons it out that Jesus must be from God (v.33). Ultimately, he comes to the only conclusion he can make: If Jesus speaks prophetically and his prophecy is truly from God, if he is indeed the truth, then there is no choice but to listen to him and be his follower (v.38). Our hero is not only cured of his physical blindness, but he moves from spiritual blindness into insight. Pretty cool, huh?
Perhaps our current time of physical isolation will give you some time and inspire you to open your Bible and let a little of Christ’s light shine on you.
Stay safe, everyone, and thanks for reading.
Prince of Peace, You calmed waves and storms and people wherever You went. May we be carriers of Your peace even when we cannot comprehend the scope of this destructive virus that threatens the lives and livelihoods of many. Help us to spread peace and not fear wherever we find ourselves. Guard our hearts and minds so that our emotions and thoughts are tuned into You instead of the uncertainty that swirls around us. Help us to be overcomers who help others through this crisis rather than those who live in fear and do nothing but help ourselves. We want You to be made famous because of how we represent You, Lord Jesus.