Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26 2017
Ephesians 5 6-14; John 9 13-41
Rev John Howard, Methodist Church of Great Britain
“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes things visible”
There are times when, what is obvious to one person is seen in quite a different way by others. Take for example the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Rwanda is a country I know well, having visited it eight times in the last ten years.
It is clear that the hatred that developed amongst Hutus blinded them to the evilness of what they were doing. I have spoken to men who killed Tutsis who still cannot come to terms with what they did and how they came to do it. They confess that they were blinded by envy, false propaganda and peer pressure.
How can it be that decent ordinary people can follow men like Adolf Hitler or Radovan Karadžić, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs in 1993, now convicted of war crimes? How is it that ordinary people, not unlike you and me, can follow the evil things that they say and do and in many cases not have the moral courage or insight to reject crude evil for what it is. How can people be so blind?
In the passage from Ephesians that we read a moment ago there was this short sentence, the text for this sermon, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes everything visible.” The writer is of course speaking of the light of Christ.
As far as I know every one of the major world religions uses the idea of light and dark as images of good and evil. Many religions have festivals of light, Diwali, Hanukkah; and in many ways, for us as Christians, Christmas is a festival of light. Light and dark, blindness and sight are powerful images of life, though we do have to be careful as the language of being blind can be unhelpful to those who are physically blind. We must always remember that we are using an analogy to reflect upon spiritual blindness.
In the Gospel reading we read of the consequences of healing, a healing of sight. The miracle stories in John are told in very different ways to the other Gospels; he himself calls them “signs”, not “miracles”. This one is told in 7 verses at the beginning of the chapter, has a further 27 verses to describe the consequences of the sign, and then has a further 6 verses for Jesus to make the comment that reinforces the message. The story of the healing of a blind man brings with it a lot of teaching on the subject of sight and blindness, light and dark. In the almost sarcastic way that the cured man speaks to the Pharisees, the man states the obvious: What has happened to him isn’t the work of some rogue trickster; clearly it is only God who could heal in this way. The man at that stage hasn’t identified Jesus as fully as he soon will, but he is on the right path. His eyes have been opened and his insight is true. This is the work of God. The Pharisees on the other hand are coming to the events with closed minds. They start from the position that they are in the right and Jesus wrong. Anyone who believes that from the very beginning of any conversation makes it very hard, if not impossible, to hear the other’s point of view. The accusation that Jesus did this healing on the Sabbath is really very weak, there is Old Testament precedent for good deeds on the Sabbath being blessed by God. However, because they come with their minds already made up they cannot see the truth, they are blind to it, they, not the man who has begged for most his life, the Pharisees, are the ones truly blind! This sign John describes is written as an illustration of blindness on the part of the Pharisees, as much as it describes the recovered sight of the blind man.
This then is where we get back to the text from Ephesians, “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes things visible”. John has already explained that Jesus is the light: he did so in the opening verses of his gospel, “The light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
So we then have an answer to the questions I posed at the beginning of this sermon. How is it that the ordinary people in Germany could have been so blind to the evils of Hitler? It is because their minds were already made up, like the Pharisees of old. The light has come, the light shows the truth, but those with minds already closed are like blind men, they cannot see, in their case because they won’t see. These are the ones who really are blind: as an old British saying goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” It seems to me that one of the worst aspects of the politics of the last year is the idea of truth being what certain politicians want it to be. That is very, very dangerous, it echoes politics under Hitler. It is a blindness to the truth.
But the blindness is not only among the Pharisees of old, politicians, or those in far off places today. Blindness can be in ourselves as well. Strangely, we can see some things very clearly, while others things we each seem incapable of seeing. Many of the very faithful people of the time of the Reformation, who otherwise led very dedicated Christian lives, couldn’t see how evil slavery was. Many people who go to church today fail to understand that money and material possessions can be a means of blindness to the needs of the poor. How do we become blind? By knowingly or unknowingly taking on untruth. That is a fundamental accepting of sin into our lives. Every time we accept an untruth we hide ourselves a little from the truth, every time we accept a compromise from what is right we give an opportunity to wrong.
Jesus by his life and his death lived in obedience to the truth. By his unerring commitment to the will of God, he stands clearly in opposition to all untruth. He casts light on our actions, revealing them to be acts of either light or darkness. Thinking carefully on the life of Jesus, accepting in our hearts the love Jesus showed, illuminates the darkness and shows up the truth. That is the hallmark of faith, openness to the truth. Yet many who are religious, even today, are all the more bigoted and blind for it, just like the Pharisees of old. That must not be the way for us. It is not the Christian way. Any truly Christian way opens up the mind, it challenges bigotry and calls for integrity. Honest prayer, open reflection on the story of Jesus, and accepting the love that is the very spirit of Jesus brings openness to the truth, eyes open to the light to Jesus, the light of life.
This means three things. First, to quench the darkness in our souls by the light of Jesus’ presence. This is the continual quest for Christian holiness that is the lifelong challenge for every Christian. The second is to embrace the openness that is courageous and humble enough to allow the light to make clear our deeds, our actions, that means to have integrity. The third is to live rigorously with the truth. Can you accept again the light of Christ?
“For everything that is exposed to the light becomes visible for it is light that makes everything visible.”