St. John the Apostle
I speak to you as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God, through the mercy of God. Amen.
The ninth chapter of John tells the story of a person who receives physical sight at the hands of Jesus. Those who live with the loss of vision can perhaps imagine joy and gratitude at a restoration of your eyes. But few of us have suffered, as this man did, with darkness since birth, and few of us have the ability to understand his wonder and indebtedness to the One who touches his eyes and re-creates their function. We try, as x did in his hymn “Amazing Grace”:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.
X wasn’t addressing physical blindness. He was expressing his own sinfulness as a human being, the spiritual blindness that led him into profiting from the British slave trade in the x. The spiritual blindness that kept him from seeing those of a different colour as his brothers and sisters under God. Blindness comes in many forms. Especially in John’s gospel.
You see, this passage is not really about the healing of a blind man. It is about the healing of humanity, a humanity that is blind to God’s way. This is the main reason why the narrative is at the centre of the gospel. The one who came to do God’s works heals lots of individual illnesses and infirmities. But this particular story opens up the depth of view. Going back to the original Greek reveals the shift. “As he (Jesus) walked along, he saw ‘anthropon’ blind from birth.” As Wes Howard Brook notes, in his book Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship, it is an unusual construction. He and other scholars interpret it to mean that the writer is not referring to ‘a’ man, but everyman, humanity. In other words, “As Jesus was going along, he saw humanity, blind from birth.” It is not just the sight of a blind man that is at stake: all humankind is born blind. The onlookers, the disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees, the Romans- all the world lack the ability to see the truth because they are part of a world tinged by sin.
What are we all blind to? God, each other, and ourselves most of the time. The good news is that God reaches out across the vastness of our isolation. Our Redeemer touches us, re-creates us with water and the Spirit, and gives us a chance to find intimacy in holy community. Instead of being cut off from each other in fear and distrust, God connects us again in relationship. Even the disciples, those closest to Jesus, needed help to see this. They were ready to stand there by the side of the role and argue the morality of why the man was blind. They didn’t see his need, his hunger for acceptance and dignity and worth. Jesus didn’t engage in debate with them. He acted. God’s works were revealed.
There were those who chose not to see what was going on. The Pharisees had their own ideas of how God worked, and it certainly wasn’t on a Sabbath. And those leaders weren’t ready to admit their own shortcomings, so they had no intention of becoming disciples of Jesus either. Healing invites us to open our eyes to the other, to find life-giving ways to nurture relationships, to allow the other to transform us.
This is the heart of life in community. Each interaction brings an opportunity for intimacy. In our conversation, our silence, and in the sharing of food, our eyes are opened to a deeper truth. Let us look briefly at these three sources of transformation.
Firstly, conversation involves engaging in dialogue with others, not just talking. It is important on many levels- from casual comments as we get to know one another to more structured interactions that aim at giving all a voice around a particular issue or opportunity. Through holy conversations we learn more about God, each other, and ourselves. The man formerly born blind converses with the Pharisees and Jesus to try and explain what has happened to him. His deeper understanding leads to his declaration, “Lord, I believe”.
Cultivating silence is learning to listen while another is speaking. In quiet, we learn to be connected to ourselves and others and engage in more meaningful and reflective speech. It is an active process, not just a pause while we calculate how to refute the other’s position. Through silence, we listen to God. When Jesus and the man born blind meet on the side of the road, there is no initial conversation. Jesus simply makes mud from dirt and spit and spreads it on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash. The man does not question or speak, simply follows Jesus’ command. And he is healed.
Sharing a meal with another is an act of trust and hospitality. At its most basic level, the sharing of food has the power to create community. When we gather at the table, we proclaim that we are a Eucharistic people who see others as part of the body of Christ. No one can be excluded: not the blind, not the ones we disagree with, not even the ones who have the power to hurt us. This is a reconciliation that we are invited to practice here so that we have the courage to go out into the world and proclaim and act what we profess to believe.
Transformation cannot happen in isolation. It cannot happen without risking and being vulnerable to another. Maybe you will be misunderstood if you speak up. But people who only talk to themselves end up a little loopy. And perhaps you will have to face some of the dark places inside you if you stop keeping your mouth busy. Still, those who never pause to listen miss hearing God. You may have ingrained boundaries around who you can invite to a party, or you may be too scared to attend. Sadly, individuals who do not share food starve themselves of good company. It is through the interaction with others that we learn to form bonds of affection and respect and forgiveness.
Our world offers many temptations to live superficial lives that do not really engage at a meaningful level. Would you want all of your communication to be in tweets? Would you want sex to be only physical release without consequence or emotion? Avoiding contact might protect you, but it also makes a person blind. Thanks be to God, there is another way. Our faith community gives us opportunities to find intimacy within the boundaries of what is good and holy. There is amazing grace practiced within these walls, with the power to transform you into a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus healed one person on the side of the road, but as God incarnate on the cross, he transforms us all. Amen.