4 Lent – March 26, 2017
Our gospel this morning begins with a question about a man born blind. Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Think about how the question is asked. The disciples are making an assumption in their questioning. They assume that someone had to have sinned in order for the man to be born blind. That was their experience. That was what they knew. That was what they believed was right.
There are questions that seek to keep us in our place, and there are questions that help us find the place where we belong. Our Gospel story this week helps us to hear both kinds of questions and to notice the vast difference between them.
John draws us into the story of a man, blind from birth, who has an encounter with Jesus that results in his being able to see. For those who had known the man as a blind beggar, the change in his condition is deeply unsettling. They begin to ask questions, first of one another, then of the man. They take him to the Pharisees, who ask questions of their own. Then they bring in the man’s parents and ask questions of them; they, in turn, direct the questioning back to the man. Lifted from their context, here are the questions they pose:
Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?
Then how were your eyes opened?
Where is he (meaning Jesus)?
How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?
What do you say about him?
Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?
What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
There is a sense of mounting tension in John’s story, a steady escalation of frustration and fury on the part of the questioners each time the man responds. He is telling them nothing they want to hear, nothing that fits into the beliefs and experiences that they carry. The newly-sighted man possesses a remarkable sense of calm, answering in the only way he knows how: from his own experience. “One thing I do know,” he says, “that though I was blind, now I see.”
When the man’s inquisitors press further, he finally asks a question of his own. “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” His questions are too much for the questioners. John tells us that they begin to revile the man, finally sending him away with an abrupt, rhetorical question: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”
These questions are not doorways into conversation. These questions are fences, these questions are walls. They are designed to reinforce the boundaries of what these people already know, and to keep their landscape of belief, experience, and knowledge safely contained.
You see, this man had always been blind. That was how he was known, that was who he was. He was a blind man. In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his sight to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. Their knowledge and experience have been shaken to the core. Their questions were designed to reinforce their current understandings and beliefs.
But I’m ready to say they are not the bad guys. Because we can all relate. Aren’t there times when, faced with something beyond our own experience, we’ve scrambled for an illusion of security. You know the times, at least some of them, when we have retrenched the boundaries of our beliefs, when we have been overly defensive of what we think we know, when we have asked a question—of someone else or of ourselves—that built a wall rather than opening a door. A personal example is a line of questioning I will receive from someone who doesn’t believe a female should be a priest or pastor. The questions are fired off one after another. The intent is not for a conversation or a discussion, but a kind of litmus test to see just how far I had strayed from God’s will for me as a woman. The intent is not to hear something different from what he or she already believes.
One of the best practices we can engage in, during Lent or any season, really, is to ask the questions, of others and ourselves, that expand our vision rather than confining it. Good questions carry something of a ritual within them, a sense of the sacramental: they do for us what the act of washing in the pool of Siloam did for the muddy-eyed man. Good questions rinse our eyes. They help us practice seeing. They widen and deepen our vision. They clarify our perception of what is present in our lives and of what is possible. They remind us, that we may not always get answers, but asking a good question makes way for a response.
John wants to make sure that we know that Siloam, the name of the pool in which the man washed his eyes, means Sent. As children of God, as disciples of Jesus, we are all being sent. Sometimes we are sent beyond the boundaries of what others find acceptable or comfortable or convenient. Sometimes we are sent beyond the limits of our own vision. Whether or not we know where we are going—and sometimes especially when we think we know where God means for us to go—we are ever needful of learning how to see. Like Jesus with the blind man, God calls us to participate in claiming the vision that God gives us, so that, as Jesus says, God’s works might be revealed in us. In order to know where and how and by whom we are being sent, we need to keep visiting Siloam to do the washing that will keep our eyes clear.
John closes this story with questions that are good eye-clearing questions. Jesus, John tells us, finds the seeing man and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answers Jesus’ question with a question: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” His question leads, not to a wall, or to a law.
It’s the Pharisees who offer the final line in the long litany of questions that this story contains. Overhearing the exchange between the sighted man and Jesus, they ask, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
And so I ask of us today, all of us….Are we? Are we blind?
How well is your spirit seeing these days? What questions are coming your way in this season? What questions are you offering? Are they doorways or walls? How do they take you deeper into the mystery of Christ? Are there deeper questions beneath your questions? What questions will help keep your eyes clear so that you can see, and be sent? Amen.
(Based on a blog by Jan Richardson)