March 22, 2020
Today we hear of a miracle, the man healed reflects to the Pharisees: “never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.”
This is a fascinating text and offers some things for us to us to chew on in this time of pandemic. We observe people who are not aware, people who are looking to solve by pointing the finger, and people who are afraid. Not unfamiliar to us in this time.
This person, who experiences this profound healing, and is sought out by Jesus afterward, is never given a name in our narrative.
I think this says something. Somehow it silently exhorts us.
The opening is interesting. This man is blind from birth and the disciples want to know why. They frame their question by wondering to Jesus whose fault it is: “Rabbi,” they say, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Who sinned…well everybody. I can hear in some circles today similar thoughts about this pandemic. Whose fault is it? Did we sin and now God’s judgement?
Jesus’ answer is interesting, He says: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
This pushes on our assumptions. We may read this to say: this person was born blind so that they could be healed, and God would be known. But that is not what this is saying. We can tend to put these together: healing means revelation of God or in contrast, no healing means no revelation of God. But that is not what is laid out. Our God is a God or revelation both within and through our limitations. Here, God would be revealed whether the man born blind received his sight or not. That’s just who God is.
Why is this pandemic happening? We cannot pin that down. We are so limited as creatures. But in it, we can look for God’s works to be revealed.
God’s works here are healing. This blind person, who has not seen Jesus is strangely healed through spit and mud and washing - and afterward their community, church leaders, and parents let them down.
In the presence of God’s works being revealed, this person, who is never even given a name is let down.
First his neighbors show that they do not even know who they are: is this the beggar? They say. No, it’s not the beggar. They do not recognize this person. Not because they look different because they can see, but because they have never noticed the one who needed help in their midst. Ouch. As this person responds to their questions, we begin to see this person’s journey to belief in Jesus. On this first round, they say “The man called Jesus” opened my eyes.
The neighbors then bring the Pharisees to the person “formerly born blind,” and they respond with contempt toward this work of God. It has happened on the Sabbath. The Law has been broken. To them the person says the one who opened my eyes “is a prophet.”
For this person Jesus has moved from being merely a man to be a prophet – a messenger of God.
Then their parents are brought in and they cave under fear of personal consequence: there had already been agreement “that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. So, they say of their son, “ask him.”
This person has encountered Jesus, is journeying in their faith, and is repetitively let down by those around them: people who do not pay attention, people who respond with contempt, people who cave under fear.
It’s here the narrative circles back. We see that God has not only met with this person and helped them but is pursuing them. “Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him…” - Let’s not miss this. We see here how God relates to us: Jesus heard about this person…Jesus was paying attention. Listening. Aware. And further – Jesus found this person. Jesus looked for this person and found them. This brings out concepts we hear from our Psalm appointed for the day: The Lord is my Shepherd.
The word picture of shepherd is prevalent in scripture. This was a familiar vocation then and there. People knew what it meant that God be shepherd to them. It means that God is with us, carries us, searches for us, sacrifices for us.
And here we also see that God calls us to follow, to act. Jesus, upon finding this person says: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and remember – this is the first time this person has seen Jesus. Upon seeing and interacting they say: “Lord, I believe.” And they worship. This word for worship here implies that they fall to their knees or prostrate themselves. There is a full body reaction to this profession of faith. This person has moved from seeing Jesus as a Man, to a prophet, to the Savior.
There are a couple of trains of thought for us to take away from this narrative of a person without a name that are pertinent in this time of pandemic.
The first is reflection on who we are to people right now. The unspoken exhortation we see here is let’s care for each other even in this time of social distancing. Let’s call, text, FaceTime, skype each other. Let’s not buy out the stores but just buy what we need so there is enough for everybody.
This person is not named. Let’s pay attention and notice and know who others are. Let us not be like this person’s neighbors who did not ever notice them before. They were someone in their midst but somehow unfamiliar.
Further, let’s not respond with contempt for the happenings in the lives of others. Let us not label and demean.
And let us not act out of fear but out of love. Let us advocate for each other and stand together with others during this time of crisis.
Lastly, let us reflect on the truth of God’s nature and character: The Lord is our Shepherd. To each of us. God meets us and carries us when we need support. God is inconvenienced to care for us – God is listening and looking for us and finds us. God sacrifices to take care of us.
Thank God for God’s presence and power and love.