The Blinding Light of the World (4 Lent, A)
Image Credit: Codex Egberti (German, 10th century)
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. 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. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 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.”
Imagine yourself in the place of this man who was born blind. A miraculous thing happens to you. You have lived in Jerusalem your whole life, but today, you finally encounter a religious leader who finally does not judge or condemn you for your physical condition. You meet a “holy person” who actually treats you with reverence, dignity, and respect, rather than contempt. This Jesus approaches you with grace.
He makes mud and tells you to go to the Pool of Siloam. You go, perhaps confused and disoriented, and wash in the pool. Then, remarkably, your sight begins to return. Light begins to flood into your eyes in a new, clearer way. Things you heard, smelled, touched, and tasted are now available to a whole new sense.
So you run to your home to tell your family and friends. How do you expect them to react to this news? With joy, excitement, thanksgiving, and congratulations? With curiosity and intrigue, sure, but certainly positive, don’t you think? In Jerusalem, you’d expect the family to go to the Temple to worship and offer a thanks offering to God. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what happened to this man in the Gospel of John.
Immediately after receiving sight, this man who was born blind becomes the center of a social and theological controversy. People begin to question him about what happened and who did it and how he did it and where he is now. Others doubt that it could even be the same man, whom they probably saw every day begging on the side of the road but to whom they paid no attention.
The Pharisees, prominent Jewish teachers, place him on trial twice. They will not and cannot believe that Jesus, who performed this miracle, could be a true prophet and teacher. They refuse to accept Jesus due to a technicality.
Working on the Sabbath is a pretty significant violation of the Law (it is one of the top ten commandments), but they are also using with a pretty harsh, narrow definition of “work.” If doing good to one another is considered work and therefore banned on the Sabbath, how can we honor God with our lives in that time of rest? Aren’t we missing the forest for the trees?
This is precisely the point Jesus was trying to make. He is the light of the world who points us back to the Father. He exposes the works of darkness that we claim are really good. He exposes our hypocrisy and legalism. He shows us the true meaning of the Law by calling us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.
He says with his actions that the human dignity of the man born blind and the alleviation of his physical, social, and religious suffering is worth the work, even on the Sabbath. Works of mercy and compassion are the reason we have the Sabbath. The rest is supposed to point us to greater love for God’s creatures, not greater withdrawal or insularity.
Jesus is the bright, shining light of the world. He brings sight to the blind, and he blinds those who claim to be able to see: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind” (John 9:39). The humble who acknowledge their inability to do good on their own are enlightened by Christ. The proud who believe themselves to be self-sufficient are blinded by the brightness of Christ’s light and truth.
Jesus is the light of the world by confronting the powers of the world with the Truth. The Pharisees refuse to listen to the formerly blind man’s story. They will not believe that Jesus’ healing power proves that he is from God. They cannot believe the truth, so they reject God’s revelation to them. They will not accept that Jesus is doing “the works of him who sent me” [i.e. God the Father] (John 9:4).
The light of Christ exposes that part of ourselves that is proud, hard-working, and stubborn to a fault. The light shines on that belief many of us have that the best way to live is to become independent and self-sufficient and self-made. The light melts away the lie that any of us has ever been self-made. The light shows us that we don’t have enough “power in ourselves to help ourselves” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 218). We cannot simply pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps by trying harder.
The human condition is such that we need help from God to carry on. That is the truth. We can deny it or fight it or try to cover it up with all kinds of fronts, but the Light of the World will prevail. Jesus says over and over again that he is the light of the world, but he also says in Matthew 5:14, “You [church] are the light of the world.”
We often get that central mission confused. The Church isn’t simply here to encourage us or to make us feel good (though it sometimes does). Neither is church here to put us down or make us feel bad (though it sometimes does). The Church is here to tell the Truth of God and live as close as we can to that truth, knowing that we need God’s help all the way. We share in Christ’s identity as the Light of the World as we become Truth Tellers.
This is why St. Paul says, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. … Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph 5:8, 11-14a).
The Light is bright and at times painful. When we are used to staying in the dark, our eyes become accustomed to that darkness. But in God’s love for us, God does not want to leave us in the dark. Rather we are called to leave behind the works of darkness and expose them in Christ’s Light. This means “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) even to those with worldly power and authority.
People don’t always like to hear the truth, but it’s good for us to stand up to what is right. This is increasingly difficult in a society that is more concerned about wealth and greed than about preserving human life. Unfortunately, our civil leaders seem to be getting bolder and less secretive about this truth. There is a certain disregard for neighbor built into policy proposals that ban refugees or defund Medicaid or cut school lunches for low-income children.
But the Truth remains that Christ is the moral center of the Universe. It is good, right, and true for us to care for the poor and hurting in our society, whether the government will help us or not. The Church’s calling to tell the Truth and shine the Light of Christ onto the world is as relevant today as it ever was. “Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesians 5:14). Amen.
Davis, D. Mark. "The Blind Accusing the Blind." Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-blind-accusing-blind.html