“What has come into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world.”
So writes John in his prologue to this gospel. The story that we just heard is a working out of these words, a way of showing us what they mean in a concrete, real-life situation. The light shines in the darkness, and though the darkness is persistent, the light will not be overcome.
Last week’s gospel reading, the life-giving encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, began with isolation. The woman came to the well at noon, all alone.
This week’s gospel, another life-giving encounter between Jesus and the man blind from birth also begins with isolation. Not physical isolation, not social distancing, but an even more devastating isolation, insidious and involuntary. Imagine for a moment that you are blind. If it helps, close your eyes. And then, imagine hearing people walking along, coming near you, talking about you, but not to you, asking “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Forget the theological implications of this question. Think about the human implications. It’s devastating. How isolating it must have been to be on the receiving end of that question. To be blamed for one’s own disability. To be talked about as an object of theological curiousity. To be disdained and marginalized.
This is darkness. And it’s all around us. Humans are quick to find fault. When something doesn’t go the way we want, we want to know who to blame. We pass judgement without even thinking about it, without even being aware of how it marginalizes and isolates people. We do it in society, we do it in the church, we do it in our day-to-day lives, with terrible consequences.
You’ve heard the voices. Voices that say you’re not good enough. Voices that ask ‘what’s wrong with you?’ Voices that ask “who sinned, this man or his parents?” These are the voices that put us down.
And Jesus says, “No. Enough. Stop.”
He puts an end to this blame game. He silences the voices that bring us down: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”
Then he makes a sharp pivot, a pivot from finding fault, from bringing people down, to focusing on God and raising people up:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned. . . But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of the One who sent me while it is day.”
Jesus puts the focus on what God might do in this situation, and the need to work the works of God. Instead of asking “who’s to blame?” Jesus asks “what is God going to do?” And then he does it. He works God’s works. What are these? Compassion; reaching out; healing; raising up; building relationship.
In the imagery of the gospel of John, this is a movement from darkness to light. The text begins in darkness. A man who can’t see. The disciples asking who is to blame. Judgement and isolation. There is darkness in the world.
Then light comes into the darkness. Jesus, the light of the world, moves from finding fault to finding God. To finding the image of God in the man before him. We must work God’s works. Jesus reaches out to the man. Jesus heals his blindness. Jesus brings him into relationship. Sight is restored. There is light.
But darkness is persistent. Our human habit of blaming and finding fault is persistent. As soon as Jesus leaves the scene of today’s gospel, the recriminations and fault finding begin again. People want to know what happened. How it happened. Who’s to blame. They start to find fault. “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”
A great healing that should have been cause for great celebration turns into an inquisition. Was this man really blind? Call his parents! The man who now sees is interrogated, reviled, and rejected. “You were born entirely in sins, and you are trying to teach us?” They drive him out. The darkness returns, to his world and to theirs, and to ours. How many people have we driven out over the years with our judgement and fault-finding?
The darkness is persistent. But so also is the light. It will not be overcome. Once more Jesus enters the scene to work God’s works. Once more Jesus reaches out to the one who has been discarded. Once more, Jesus brings healing. Once more, Jesus ends isolation by building relationship. Once more, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
What would happen if we were to make the pivot from finding fault to working God’s works in our lives? To whom can we reach out? Where can we bring healing? How can we build relationships that are freeing and life-giving? How do we raise people up and honour the image of God in every human being?
Sometimes in difficult times we ask the question, where is God in all this? We’ve heard the promise that God will be with us, we heard it again this morning as we said Psalm 23:
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”
When things get dark, it’s easy to lose sight of God’s presence with us. It can be hard to see what God is doing. It’s all too easy to point fingers and find fault. The man who was born blind in today’s gospel knows all of this only too well.
But then he encounters Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus makes the pivot from finding fault to working God’s works. Jesus reaches out, brings healing and builds relationship, because that’s what it means to work God’s works. And in doing this Jesus, the light of the world, makes God present and active in our world and in our lives and in this man’s life in particular. The light shines in the darkness.
Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
There’s a poignancy in these words, a poignancy which raises the obvious question. What happens when Jesus is no longer in the world in the same way? Then will the darkness win?
Do you remember a few weeks ago we were working our way through Jesus’ sermon on the mount? Do you remember what he said?
“You are the light of the world.”
At the time, we puzzled over what that meant. Now is it becoming a bit more clear?
When there is darkness, we have to be who we are. Light.
When there are voices that find fault, that play the blame game, that marginalize and ostracize, we are the ones who say “Enough!”
When there are people who are hurting, we are the ones who reach out with compassion and healing.
When someone is brought down, we are the ones who raise them up.
We are to make the pivot from finding fault to working God’s works.
Why? Because we are the light of the world. We are the bearers of the promise that God is with us.
Or as Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians,
“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.”
Friends, it is time to work God’s works, to do the things that are good and right and true. Because you are the light of the world. You are the bearers of the promise that God is with us. The darkness in the world persists, and the world needs your light.
Bring healing. Show compassion. Care for your neighbours. Ask how you can help. Lend an ear to those who need someone to talk to. Support shelters and food banks.
Build relationships. Connect and deepen. Spend time in prayer, deepening your relationship with God, drawing on God for the strength and wisdom to do God’s work. Pray for others. Make a long list of people to pray for. And then call them. Talk about stuff that matters, be willing to go to places of pain, yours and theirs. Be kind and gentle with each other. Don’t forget to laugh. Raise people up, after all we are an Easter people and we believe in resurrection.
I don’t have to tell you this. You know this stuff, I know that you do. We are the church, so be the church. You are the light of the world, so let your light shine, and work the works of the One who called us to follow him.
Homily Yr A Lent 4, March 19 2023, Trinity
Readings: 1 Sam 16.1-13; Ps 23; John 9.1-41
Image by NASA