my miscellany

Lent IV, 2023 — 19 Mar 23

Lent IV, 2023

Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?. Healing of the Man Born Blind, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56662 [retrieved March 18, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_037.jpg.

RCL Year A, Lent 4
I Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, Saint John 9:1-41

Forty-five years ago, I heard The Reverend Fleming Rutledge speak about John, Chapter 9, today’s Gospel, at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina. It was one of the finest explications of the Scriptures I have ever heard. Its influence upon me has been such that I cannot approach the chapter without remembering that presentation. To cite my indebtedness, I have looked for it over the years. Several days ago, in preparation for this homily, I found that the talk exists in the Duke University archives as a manuscript and as an audio file, the remainders of a sermon she preached at the University Chapel on February 17, 1980. I commend it to you and can provide you with the internet address of both documents.[1]

Nicodemus doubts whether one can “be born after having grown old.”[2] Yet the Samaritan woman at the well draws from Jesus living water and becomes an evangelist. She is born from above. And the man born blind gains both physical sight and spiritual sight. He, too, is born from above.

At the end of the Gospel, the Pharisees ask, “‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ And Jesus says to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.’”[3]

The Gospel contrasts the Pharisees and the man born blind. We usually think of the Pharisees as villains and hypocrites, but that is not true. They were truly respected, because of their learning, their commitment, and their religious seriousness. But for all that, they are sinners. Something about their learning, their commitment, and their seriousness blinds them to their sin. They do not see the first thing about themselves. And yet they consider Jesus a sinner because he is not like them.

The blind man catches hold of just this when the Pharisees interrogate him. He declares, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”[4] But he is just getting started. He catches the fire of the Spirit, and he sees their blindness, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. … Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”[5] And with that, the Pharisees throw him out, out of the temple, out of salvation, and out of forgiveness.

To be confident of one’s own virtue is to be blind as the Pharisees were blind. To know one’s powerlessness and need, and one’s dependence on God, that is vision and wisdom. True knowledge comes to the man born blind when he sees the Lord face to face and falls to his knees to worship him. This Gospel declares that Jesus is the Son of God and the light of the world.

Every decision to pursue self-interest, every sign of apathy, every refusal to help, every stiffening against the approach of love sends us deeper into the Pharisees’ blindness. But if you have the uneasy feeling that you are not the kind of person you were meant to be, that something might be wrong, that you and I and the world are sick at heart and infected by evil, violence, and oppression, then this moment is for you and for us. Jesus Christ once more steps on the scene ready to take our blindness and sin away. Use the sight you have and look at him. It is he who gives you the eyes to see what you can be, what the world can be, and what it is like to be forgiven. Look at him in all his redeeming love. Take the opportunity to see and to know your need for a Savior.

[1] Fleming Rutledge, “Was Blind But Now I See,” unpublished sermon available as a manuscript at https://repository.duke.edu/dc/dukechapel/dcrst003005 and as an audio file at https://repository.duke.edu/dc/dukechapel/dcrau001953.

[2] Saint John 3:4.

[3] Saint John 9:40-41.

[4] Saint John 9:25.

[5] Saint John 9:30-32.

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