A Sermon preached at the Family Eucharist on 26th March 2017, Lent IV at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
It seems a little ironic that in Lent, when I am offering a course on the Gospel of Matthew, almost all the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of John. We have heard about Nicodemus’ night visit, then last week all about the Samaritan woman at the well, and this week about the man born blind. As a sneak preview: next week’s Gospel is also from John, it is the story of Lazarus.
But don't worry, just like the terminator Matthew will be back. And this way we can enjoy and profit from John’s wonderful stories full of drama, sometimes even some comedy or irony and always full of symbolism and meaning.
We certainly had plenty of drama in today’s passage: a miraculous healing, multiple interrogations, heated debates, and then finally a confession of faith: “He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped him.” (John 9:38) There was some comedy in the dialogue when he man born blind is asked how he received his sight:” He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” (John 9:15) And it is certainly ironic that the man born blind turns out to be the one who sees most clearly, while those who think they had the deeper insight are blind to God’s presence and God’s saving acts in Jesus. As for the meaning, as so often, John has taken an event from Jesus’s ministry, one of the occasions, also described in for example Mark’s gospel, when Jesus gave a blind person their sight, and uses it to teach us all about Jesus - to shed light on Jesus’ true nature.
One connection John wants to make is between Jesus and the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah for example says of the Messiah, “I (God) have given you as a …. light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind.” (Isaiah 42:6-7) What happens in the passage we heard this morning? Jesus says: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and Jesus quite literally opens the eyes of a blind man.
What does it mean to be the light of the world? For one thing, it is about Jesus’ identity and identification with God. God gives light, let there be light, God says at the very beginning of creation. And John’s Gospel already begins with the claim that Jesus, the Word, was with God in the beginning, that all things came to be through him, that “what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:4) The man born blind recognizes this and reacts appropriately: he confesses his faith in Jesus, he worships him, and he is a very erudite witness to Jesus and to Jesus’ power: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33)
But being the light of the world is about doing, not just being. Jesus heals not as a demonstration of his power, though it always is that too, but as an act of compassion and love. He works the works of him who sent him. To be the light of the world means showing compassion at all times, showing love in action, and quite literally bringing liberty to the oppressed, and sight to the blind: what we call justice and righteousness.
When Jesus says, as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world, does this mean that the light is now gone and that we are in darkness? No, it means that Jesus’ light is supposed to shine through us and that we must turn darkness into light. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8-9) and tells them that must try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. One way in which we can find that out is by looking at our Lord’s own actions and teachings –as in the story of the healing of the man born blind.
When we chose to have the forum from our outreach partners “Right to See” today, we really did not know that the readings would be so appropriate and so topical. Right to See’s mission is to prevent all sorts of avoidable loss of sight. We support them with our used spectacles and today, after the service, we will learn more about a new project that we are considering supporting. This is an example of love in action, turning darkness into light.
Another example of love in action will follow now when our children bring a little light into the world and I’m sure a smile to your faces. They will now hand out daffodils as their thank you on Mothering Sunday. The flowers are for all mothers, grandmothers, but also for those who would have like to have been mothers, and for those of you who have acted as mothers to others by showing love in action.