Gospel Reading: John 9
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents' sin?”
3 Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents' sins. He is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”
6 After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man's eyes 7 and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.
8 His neighbors, then, and the people who had seen him begging before this, asked, “Isn't this the man who used to sit and beg?”
9 Some said, “He is the one,” but others said, “No he isn't; he just looks like him.” So the man himself said, “I am the man.”
10 “How is it that you can now see?” they asked him.
11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.”
12 “Where is he?” they asked.
“I don't know,” he answered.
13 Then they took to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 The day that Jesus made the mud and cured him of his blindness was a Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees, then, asked the man again how he had received his sight. He told them, “He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the Sabbath law.”
Others, however, said, “How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?” And there was a division among them.
17 So the Pharisees asked the man once more, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?”
“He is a prophet,” the man answered.
18 The Jewish authorities, however, were not willing to believe that he had been blind and could now see, until they called his parents 19 and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind; how is it, then, that he can now see?”
20 His parents answered, “We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That is why his parents said, “He is old enough; ask him!”
24 A second time they called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.”
25 “I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”
26 “What did he do to you?” they asked. “How did he cure you of your blindness?”
27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They insulted him and said, “You are that fellow's disciple; but we are Moses' disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32 Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33 Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”
34 They answered, “You were born and brought up in sin—and you are trying to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue.
35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!”
37 Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.”
38 “I believe, Lord!” the man said, and knelt down before Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were there with him heard him say this and asked him, “Surely you don't mean that we are blind, too?”
41 Jesus answered, “If you were blind, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty.”
This is quite the story, isn't it? The Gospel of John is not exactly known for being brief. I won't be going through the whole story, but I do want to explore some of the details and themes that seem particularly pertinent to our world today.
It starts with Jesus and the disciples seeing the man blind from birth, and the disciples ask, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
It seems like odd question to us today, when we know there are many physical causes of blindness, but at the time of Jesus, people assumed that any physical disability had been caused by sin.
We may not have that same perspective today, but it still echoes in our collective consciousness doesn't it. After all, when faced with illness or loss or unexpected, devastating change, how often do we ask, what did I/we do to deserve this? What was our sin?
There's some of that going on with the covid crisis, people asking, did we bring this on ourselves? Or asking, whose fault is it that it has grown so big? People blame other countries, calling it that “foreign” virus, some people blame various levels of government, others blame those who aren't following precautions, on it goes.
We see other kinds of blame going on too, those people are overreacting, those people are not reacting enough, why is THAT person out – he/she should be home! That person is too negative, that person too positive.
In times of fear, it's so easy to judge and blame but as people of faith we are called to do the opposite, to listen with compassion and understand that everyone's experience of this crisis is different and therefore everyone's reactions will be different.
Jesus' response to the question of blame, of whose sin, is interesting – he says it's not anyone's fault, the man was born blind so that God's work might be revealed in him. I have to say, I'm not convinced that God would cause someone to be blind just so Jesus could heal him. That's not exactly a compassionate action.
But we can turn that sentence around: God's work was revealed in that man because he was blind. God took something that was very difficult, that marginalized this man and his whole family, and used it to challenge the way people saw all sorts of things: blindness, sin, law, healing, the messiah – the list goes on.
The idea that everything unfolds according to God's plan is a very traditional form of doctrine called Providence. You may well have heard of it, certainly you've heard common versions of it: it's God's will, everything happens for a reason and so on.
There are others ways to interpret what Jesus is saying here though. Theologian George Stroup says a contemporary doctrine of providence could focus on what particular events reveal about God, rather than saying God causes everything.
Stroup says, “Providence is a confession by those who are given the eyes of faith, that in particular events God works in, around, through those things that oppose God, to accomplish God's purpose.”
In other words, God doesn't cause bad or challenging things to happen, but rather if we look with eyes of faith, we see that God works through those difficult and challenging things to be even more present in the world.
It's a helpful perspective when looking at what are going through today. God didn't “cause” this virus, but if we open our eyes and our hearts to God, then it becomes possible for God to work through this situation and through us to bring light to the world.
We see that starting to happen already. I talked to someone the other day who said that being stuck at home had nudged her to pick up her Bible and just read, something she hadn't done much before. She was enjoying reading the gospel stories in particular, learning new things from them.
Several people talked about how they had phoned more people in the past two days than they had probably called in the past two weeks. They realized not only how important it is to hear one another's voices, but also how the phone can be a much more effective tool for communication than e-mail or text! So we see small, positive changes happening in people's daily lives already, which is pretty amazing.
Spiritual writer Richard Rohr reflected on the wider aspect of this in a devotional message he wrote and posted earlier this week. He said:
“Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation. We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment.”
Jesus used the man's blindness to teach about spiritual blindness and what it means to truly see. Our situation also offers us an opportunity to see in new ways. It is a time for us to embrace the spiritual side of life. How can we grow in our faith during this time?
I realize that many of you are going through incredible challenges right now. Many are having to stay home, only getting out for walks, you may feel very isolated. Others are worried about finances, with work and investments all of a sudden very uncertain and unstable. Some are worried about friends and family who haven't made it back to Canada or who are especially vulnerable at this time. I feel that I have to acknowledge all that you may be facing and dealing with before talking about what we might be able to learn and gain during this time.
Because the bottom line is, in times of crisis we need our faith more than ever. So let's talk about how this can be a teachable moment for us as people of faith.
In an odd way, what we are all going through now is bit like my time on medical leave: unwanted, unplanned, enforced stillness and quiet time. I know this is obviously far greater, but there is a common thread I want to explore. At first I hated being on leave and physically limited, and I resisted it. I could only moan and groan about how my painful shoulder was holding me back from living life.
But eventually I came to see it as what I called low tide time. High tide had always been my preference, that's when it's easier to kayak, one of my favorite activities. But when I couldn't do that I began to discover the hidden treasures of low tide: shells and rocks, patterns in the sand, herons searching for food, starfish and sand dollars.
In the same way I slowly discovered the hidden treasures of that enforced “low tide time” of rest and stillness. It was a new experience for me, not one I had ever looked for, but one that it turned out I needed. It gave me time to pray, be with God, read, to connect with others in new ways. I learned to allow myself to be quiet and still.
This Covid crisis is creating low tide time for all of us, isn't it. It's our choice whether we fight it or embrace it. And we all need to be gentle with our selves, as it may take time before we feel able to embrace it in any way.
In the gospel story, the blind man's life is changed when he is healed; it will never be the same. He will always define life as before and after his healing. I have the feeling it will be same for us. That we will define our lives, our world, as before and after Covid 19.
But for now we're in that in between time. We have no idea what the future holds, so we can't make any plans. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had a wonderful term for that in between time, he called it Liminal space. Liminal stems from the Latin word "limen," meaning boundary or threshold.
It can be scary being that in between space because there is so much uncertainty. Human nature is to make a plan and get on with things. But as spiritual writers Wilkie and Noreen Au say, “Christian spirituality encourages us to stay with liminal space by reassuring us that God is present and active during those fearful times of disorientation.”
Which is geed news for us because in this case, we don't have much choice but to stay in that liminal space of uncertainty, it's our reality. So we might as well be open to God's presence and try to use this time to grow to the best of our ability.
May we work together to be open to God's presence in our lives in new and unusual ways, during this liminal space, this in between time.
For it is in doing so that I think we can achieve those oh so wise words from Dr Bonnie Henry, may we be calm, may we be kind, may we be safe