Seeing What’s There

Year A, Fourth Sunday in Lent: John 9:1-41
April 3, 2011
The Rev. Adam S. Linton

In all of Holy Scripture, there’s nothing else quite like the Gospel of John. Yes, of course, in some broad senses it has similarities with the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s a narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus culminating in the story of his cross and his resurrection. Nevertheless, there’s really nothing quite like the Gospel of John in all the rest of the Bible.

The whole Bible (even the parts that we might count as insignificant or experience as off-putting) bears to us the council of God. None of it is dispensable. However, in the impossible circumstance of being asked to take only one of the books of the Bible with me to a desert island, I would with all the appropriate reluctance say, “The Gospel of John.”

John’s Gospel is filled with paradox and seeming contradiction. We’re thrown off balance, and we’re lead to different ways of looking at things.

I invite us, sometime during this Lent, to read all of John’s Gospel straight through. It would take a morning or an afternoon or evening, but well worth doing. As we look at the whole sweep of John’s gospel, much of its first half is taken up with a series of seven signs, revealing to us incrementally more and more of who and what Jesus is and what God is doing in him. The seven signs are followed by Palm Sunday and John’s extended narrative of the Passion. The portion for today gives us the story of the second to last of the signs: the healing of the man born blind.

Elsewhere in this same Gospel, Jesus says, “I came not to judge the world.” But just a few moments ago, in today’s passage, we heard Jesus say, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” Well, which is it? “I came not to judge the world” or “I came into this world for judgment”?

This sort of paradox is very characteristic of John’s Gospel. In its paradoxical space, the idea of judgment is being redefined. We hear the word “judgment”—and we usually think about courts of criminal justice. Judicial sentence and punishment. But in John’s Gospel, judgment is the revelation of things as they are. Not so much juridical sentence passed down, but the shining of the Light. When the Light comes on, we see what’s there.

So judgment in John’s gospel is the revelation of things as they really are. At the personal, corporate, and planetary levels, this is a difficult thing to see. We try to avoid doing so.

Today we hear the whole ninth chapter of John. In many ways it’s the pivot of the whole Gospel: The revelatory showdown between the man born blind and the temple authorities.

This episode invites us to ponder what spiritual sight is and what spiritual blindness is. In this intersection of judgment—in which we are involved—we are also being given profound, deepest down renewal. Quite a scene. On one side, we have the temple authorities, the men—and they are men—of influence, of power, of advantage. They’re the ones in control; the ones who are used to telling everybody how it is and how it has to be. Quintessential big shots. Over against them, by himself until Jesus returns to the scene, we have someone from beyond the edge: a blind beggar of no standing, somebody who doesn’t count. This nobody says, “Well, in answer to all your questions: I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not. Here’s the one thing I do know. I was blind. Now I see.” In that “one thing,” the man born blind is knowing more than the rest of his antagonists all put together.

This is what I know. I was blind. Now I see.

This pivotal episode challenges our egoistic replacement for real sight—the replacement “vision” that we keep replaying before our minds’ eyes: the old image loops arising out of our protective fears and super-assurances. Flashing over and over, in captivity. This is the terrible crisis. This is itself, in the sense of John’s Gospel, judgment. Already self-pronounced, without our knowing it.

There was a movie of a few years ago, not a great movie, but still pretty good, I thought: The Sixth Sense. I’m sure some of us here saw it. It’s a psychological thriller. A young boy named Malcolm is bearing with a terrifying ability—and at long last as the story unfolds, he reveals what this ability is:

“I see dead people. They don’t know they’re dead. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see.”

Now that’s a pretty powerful description of spiritual blindness, isn’t it?

But the place of crises is where the renewal begins.

Seeing with a new vision, seeing beyond the capacities of our fear and our “super-assurance.” It seems so far beyond us. It’s like being born again, isn’t it? Once again, we come to one of the great themes of John’s gospel. Being born again. Not something that we wring out of our tired capacities. It’s a gift from above, from God.

On our part, we often first sense it in knowing we have need. (That knowledge is a major gift, in itself.) And we can be good seekers—persistent seekers—of all that will follow: Knowing that Christ has much to show us; knowing that the very capacity of sight comes from the Giver of Vision.

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.”

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we come before you. We ask that you set us free from the captivities of our fears. Break apart the prison of our super-assurances. Release us from the illusions of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Help us, so that we may seek what you would reveal, so often in ways we don’t expect. You speak light at the beginning of creation. You speak light into our hearts. It is you who are the Light. Give us your Light, dear Lord, so that we may see. Amen.

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