What challenging times we live in as we come to terms with the impact that the Corona Virus is having on us all – right across the world. However, it is in challenging times that our faith becomes even more important, sustaining us with the grace and hope of God.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is one of those powerful narratives in John’s Gospel which for centuries has been used to help prepare candidates for Baptism during the dry season of Lent.
John has let us eavesdrop on Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus, the woman at the well from Samaria, and now this blind man. All of them in different ways are being drawn into the sphere of God’s redeeming love. Nicodemus and this blind man are drawn toward the light like moths to a candle, while the well woman finds her life refreshed by Jesus’ living water, which is of course a symbol of the Spirit of God; the Spirit of liberation, the Spirit of forgiveness and mercy.
Sometimes its helpful to take a long slow look at these stories to find the depth of insight they offer us, and also to see how our lives intersect with them.
For example, can you imagine what life was like for this man? His parents don’t seem to have much to do with him. He has to fend for himself and live with his disability, and all the broken dreams and hopes his disability has caused. He has to live with the denigration of people who look down on him believing he must have done something terrible to be ‘punished’ in this way by God. Yes, that’s awful theology and certainly not a view of God that Jesus condones, but it is how many people think, and regarded this man. How we treat those with less power than ourselves is very telling. Do we demean the waitress, the garbage man? Do we look down on those who are frail, those with disabilities?
When we read this story what we notice is that Jesus treats this man with respect as an equal. Many years ago when I was working in the Abbey on the Scottish Island of Iona, there was another volunteer, John, a builder’s labourer from Glasgow, who was a recovering alcoholic. His job was to do repairs on the stone work of the Abbey, do the tuck pointing needed, and he was out in all weathers in jeans and a T-Shirt. He was the kind of man who would talk to anyone whatever age or station in life – and treat people with straight-forward, respect. Often I would see him working in the cloister, with little Jamie, the Warden’s four-year old son watching and talking to him. If you listened to the conversation John and Jamie had you would have thought they were two old men who had known each other for years. It was an adult to adult conversation. John never talked down to anyone.
Jesus was like that, and you can see it in this reading, and you can see how this man responds. Much of the narrative focuses on how the man deals with his critics, those religious leaders who couldn’t believe his story. And what we find is that slowly he comes to a clearer and more confident understanding of what has happened to him. He can’t deny that he was blind – he’s lived with it for many years – and was so glad that darkness was gone in his life!
But that’s just what the Pharisees wanted him to do – to deny that he had been ill. That would have made him a fraud, that would have damaged his sense of self – it would have taken away his dignity! By contrast Jesus leads him on toward a greater dignity, one where he could hold his head high and look people in the eye and tell the truth! How do you treat those with less power than yourself? Who do you identify in this story?