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Lenten sermon series


Lent IV -  2008


The Healing of the Blind Man: Millennium Goals 5& 6


Entertainers sometimes talk about coming to their audiences by way of the miracle of radio or the miracle of television. The term miracle is often used in the purely metaphorical sense. We use it to describe something that amazes us, but something that we can manage or manipulate notwithstanding. What is most interesting about the miracles recorded in scripture is that they have a strong relationship component. They go beyond manipulating things and circumstances in order to manifest Divine love to the people whom God loves. The miracles of Jesus have this strong undeniable relational character about them. Jesus performs miracles that connect people to God, reconnect people to their communities. The miracles of Jesus require both recipient and bystander to make choices about how they will relate to God, to Jesus the Christ, and to one another.


The miracles of Jesus function on two levels. First they are a benefit the person who is the recipient of the miracle. Individuals are healed of a variety of illnesses and conditions and restored to a fuller life. At this level, the miracles demonstrate Jesus' love and compassion for the broken and marginalized of this world. Second, the miracles point beyond themselves to something greater. At this level, they are a foretaste of the kingdom. The miracles reveal something of the nature and identity of Jesus Christ. They are grounded in the offer of new life in Christ. The ultimate destiny of God's children is foreshadowed in the miracles of Christ. A miracle is not merely about a temporary change in the circumstances of one person. Rather, it manifests something of how every human being will come to bask in the transforming love of God.


The first of the two main sections of John's Gospel is constructed on the framework of Jesus' miracles. According to John, Jesus performs seven spectacular signs. This morning, we hear about the sixth of these -the gift of sight to the man born blind. The "fall out" from this sign is immense. The miracle itself is described sparingly. But the rich conversation around the miracle is charged with light, as well as no small measure of heat. Let's listen in.


"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?"
It's a pointed question based on misguided piety. Like so many of the recipients of Jesus' miracles, the blind man suffers a double suffering. He is blind: He is stigmatized. His lack of sight defines him in the eyes of others. His condition is blamed on sin --his, his parents, what does it matter. Either he or they have offended God, and so others feel entitled to be offended by him. However, Jesus signals that a transformation is about to occur. The man will receive his sight, and with it there will be a revelation for those who are willing to see.
" Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him".
The full impact of what Jesus says next, will become clear only later.
"I am the light of the world."
It is characteristic of the miracle tradition of Jesus that faith plays a crucial role--before the miracle but afterwards as well. Interesting how faith is required even after the man has received his sight. The blind man is able to see but there is disagreement. Is this the same guy or not? No it can't be. It must be someone who looks like him. The man persists in claiming his identity. Well, if it is really you, how is it that you are now able to see? Where's the faith healer? He doesn't know. The opinion of religious experts is sought out. The conversation takes a very decided turn. We get a sense of why the miracle becomes the object of hostility and suspicion. The religious elite is not able to see in the sighted man, what Jesus saw in him when the man was blind. They cannot see that this person is worthy of the care and blessing of God. Jesus may have removed the covering from the man's eyes, but the opponents of Jesus still insist on stigmatizing him. The man, no longer blind, sticks his fingers directly in the bear cage of hypocrisy.
" Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man [Jesus] were not from God, he could do nothing."
Recall the opening question of the disciples and listen to what the opponents of Jesus say to the blind man.
"You are born in entirely in sins, and you are trying to teach us?"
They have him thrown out. Jesus eventually rejoins the conversation. When he does the full impact of what he said earlier becomes apparent. He compares the belief and worship of the man once blind to the tunnel vision of his adversaries.
" I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."
Here a word of caution is in order to we who are listening in on this conversation. As Herbert O'Driscoll notes, " The question asked of Jesus by some Pharisees is an eternal question: Surely we are not blind, are we?" (1)


This miracle is a kind of two way street in which the newly sighted man and the opponents of Jesus pass one another heading in different directions. The blind man receives his sight, he becomes enlightened, and he's an example for others to follow. The opponents of Jesus become increasingly hard hearted and entrenched. The newly sighted man begins to cast off his stigma. The opponents of Jesus are shown to suffer from a kind of spiritual astigmatism, a blurry vision in which they over focus on their preconceptions about others, failing to see them as they are in the eyes of God.


Many people on the planet suffer from disease and its consequences. The problems involved in combating disease vary depending on where one looks. Some diseases know no boundaries. Other diseases, while effectively managed in wealthy countries, run rampant in the developing world. Many societies lack the basic resources that in some places the few may take for granted. The scale of disease, both in terms of its prevalence and its social impact, also varies greatly across the Earth. Millennium Goal Five is improve maternal Health. Millennium Goal Six is Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.


Canadian Anglicans ought not to be in the dark with regard to the pandemic of HIV/AIDs. Canadian Stephen Lewis has been a clear and informed voice on this issue. His assessment of the pandemic of AIDS in Africa has been widely broadcast in our country. The Primate's Fund made the fight against HIV/AIDS a priority. The distinctive ribbon for the campaign against HIV/AIDS has been displayed on our paschal candle here at St. James for the past several years. It is displayed on the candle near the place traditionally set aside for the marks or "stigmata" of the passion of Christ. Today is Lent IV, Mothering Sunday. It is an appropriate day to think about the challenges to maternal health throughout the world. We can be mindful of the work of The Mothers' Union and the MU International fund and the goal of improving life and health for women and families. HIV/AIDS, of course, has taken an awful toll on women and families in Africa.


A number of things will be required to successfully meet the challenges presented in Millennium Goals Five and Six. The problems are gargantuan and require medical, financial, and social resources on a large scale.


Each year
three million people die of AIDS
two million people die of TB
one million people die of Malaria
550, 000 women die world wide from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.


(Statistics from Lenten Devotional Guide published by Episcopal Relief and Development)


Perhaps a miracle is what is required-a social miracle but a miracle none the less. Here we may want to reflect on the relationship dimension that is part of the Christian miracle tradition. Combating disease and its consequence serves with compassion those who suffer. It also serves to strengthen the common good and enrich our sense of global community. It is so important that we continue to see the common ground we share with others, rather than focusing in on the variables that stunt our ability to identify with them. The reality is that millions of people continue to suffer from terrible diseases, HIV/AIDS. malaria, and other diseases. The United Nations is now sounding the alarm about the increase of a drug resistant form of tuberculosis. A parallel reality is that those who suffer from these diseases also suffer the double suffering of bearing a stigma. It is often difficult to marshal resources for these people because of the stigma attached to them because of their geography, race, poverty, political system, gender, and of course the stigma of disease itself. Like the man born blind, they suffer the double suffering of being stigmatized.


Biblical Scholar Raymond Brown provides a wonderfully comprehensive analysis of today's Gospel. Brown notes the important baptismal application associated with this story. Images of Jesus healing the blind man are found in the catacombs under the ancient city of Rome. The account of Jesus healing the blind man was one of the scripture readings used in the preparation of candidates for baptism in the early Church. The blind man, healed by Jesus, is a symbol of the enlightenment that characterized those who were baptized into Christ Jesus. (2).


According to John, Jesus is the light of the world. He is the true light that enlightens every one. Those baptized into Christ's community of love are enlightened, called to see both God and neighbor with fresh eyes.


Recall that eternal question Herbert O'Driscoll speaks about (above). Surely we are not blind, are we? Members of the baptized community are called to be enlightened. The enlightenment of faith lights up our relationship with both God and our neighbor. Our baptismal covenant requires us to promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We can work out that promise in a practical way by reflecting on the Millennium Goals as disciples of Christ. Surely we can see what must be done. Surely we can see clearly the dignity of those with whom it must be done.




(1) Herbert O'Driscoll The Word Among Us: Year A Vol. 2.
Anglican Book Centre, Toronto 1999. P. 37


Raymond Brown The Gospel According To John. (i-xii). Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY. pp. 369-382