This is the fourth week of a series we are calling “Jesus the gift of life.” It is a Lenten series that will lead us to the Easter celebration. The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus forty days in the wilderness where he fasted, prayed and met the devil before being ministered to by angels. Jesus is God’s gift to us for life. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This is God’s greatest act of love for us his children.
We will look at Jesus through this series, using the readings from each week to take a particular aspect of Jesus and expand how we are gifted. Jesus provides so much for those who want to know him. Beyond salvation there is much we can learn to live better lives and make life better for ourselves and others. Through Jesus we learn we are brothers and sisters, and we are challenged to share and love each other. Jesus is a gift to us; we can be gifts to one another if we desire to give what we have received.
Three weeks ago the readings began by telling of God breathing into Adam and animating life. The Hebrew word for breath can also be translated as spirit. It allows us to see we have the spirit of God in us. Jesus becomes the being in whom all life is held, he is in the beginning giving life, his obedience acquits all humanity and provides eternal life and Jesus taught we can obey and defeat transgression on our own. We receive a breath and through it have the animating spirit of God who gave Jesus as the gift of life.
Two weeks ago the readings guided us to listen. God speaks about Jesus declaring his love and informing those present they should listen to him. Abraham sets the example earlier in the salvation history when he trusts and listens to God, doing all that is asked of him faithfully. Paul teaches that his whole life became about doing God’s will, trusting God and constantly having God as a presence in his life. If we want to receive the gift of life we must listen to him, Jesus God.
Last week the readings challenged us to hunger and thirst. We see the Jews in the desert lose trust and test God for food and water. Paul writes about faith, hope and love, God’s attempt to help us satisfy our hunger and thirst. In the gospel we read Jesus offering living water to satisfy us. We can seek pleasures and consume in this life but without drinking from the water Jesus provides we will never be satisfied.
This week the readings challenge us to see. In the first reading we are instructed to not see as human’s see but to see as God sees. God sees the breadth and depth of a person, not what is superficial. In the reading from Paul to the Ephesians we are challenged to live in the light and to pull those who are in the darkness out and into the light. Finally we have Jesus telling us those who don’t see are not only blind but sinners. He heals a blind man who likely already saw the light and he points at the religious leader saying they are blind, they don’t know the light. This seeing allows us to see Jesus and receive the gift of life that we are offered.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Lent; 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13A; Psalms 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-41. This week we are challenged to see the light that makes all things visible, including Jesus the gift of life.
The reading from First Samuel is the calling of the next King, David. God sends the Prophet Samuel to the home of Jesse where he is to anoint the next king from the sons of Jesse. Jesse and his sons are present and as Samuel looks over each of the sons he is given inspiration from God about who should be the anointed. One son after another, although looking very “lofty in stature” and might appear to make a good King, is turned away by God. We have this great line from the prophecy of God, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) As Samuel looks at each of the seven sons present we able to watch the selection process of a king by God through his prophet. Asking if there is another son Jesse sends for David who is tending the flock in the hills. Generally, a family would send the youngest or least able to work on the farm, to tend the sheep, as it was a job that didn’t require much strength or stamina. Of course we know when David arrives, he is the one God seeks to anoint and Samuel at God’s behest anoints the boy with the oil and we read from that day the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.David arrives, he is the one God seeks to anoint and Samuel at God’s behest anoints the boy with the oil and we read from that day the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. Click To Tweet
David is an important character in the history of salvation as we discover the Messiah is intended to come from the family tree of David. But in this reading we want to grab hold of the lesson God provides us about seeing others. We might have a tendency to judge people by appearance, if we approve outwardly then we might come to like, trust and give a role to the person. If we see outwardly someone who is not attractive, maybe over weight, or short or disabled even, we might decline from trusting, respecting and depending upon that person based on our initial judgment. God tells us not to see people this way, not to judge by appearance, rather we should take the time to discover a person’s heart and when we do, then we will truly know the person we might have judged improperly. We can recall the passage from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27; “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,”
In the second reading from Ephesians Paul focuses on light, a big part of seeing is the light which allows us to see. Paul indicates light produces goodness, righteousness and truth. While the works of darkness are fruitless, the things done in secret are shameful to even mention. However, Paul says everything exposed to the light becomes visible, all visible is light. We as followers of Jesus receive the light, we may not be perfect light but we have Jesus light shining in us through word and deed, and our example will be visible, therefore we should be proudly known as Christian. Paul is challenging us to expose all the things in the darkness to light. We should confront immortality, either by gently reproving a brother or sister or by public censuring the wrong doing and we can make the situation change. Everything exposed by the light becomes visible and then can become light as well.
Of course some receive light and some reject the light. We can expect the same mixed response as Jesus has received. If we want to overturn the darkness we must turn on a light, because in the dark evil flourishes, and darkness remains when people do nothing. Paul then seems to quote a baptismal prayer or hymn, challenging the person asleep, in the dark, to wake, in fact to become alive by receiving the light from Christ. We see again the message of seeing, we need light to see, and we see Christ in the light. If we are in the light we are with Christ and challenged to bring others to the light. We cannot see in the dark, to see we need the light. Christ is our light, he helps us see all things and wants to bring others out from the dark.We see Christ in the light. If we are in the light we are with Christ and challenged to bring others to the light. We cannot see in the dark, to see we need the light. Click To Tweet
In the gospel reading from John we have a story of healing, and flipping the idea of who can see and who cannot see. If we see the light, we can see but if we are in the darkness we cannot see, regardless of whether our eyes are blind or not. It begins with a man born blind, who is setup to be used for the explanation about why people are born with an affliction. Is he a sinner or his parent’s sinners? Jesus tells us his affliction is so that we may all see the works of God. Not that he is saying God afflicts people for his own purposes, just that God can use any situation to create an example of glory. This man was well known as a beggar and so after he is healed by Jesus and is walking around with his sight it raises questions. The religious leaders want to know how he regained his sight, they ask him, his parents and even suspect it is not the same man who was blind.
The story leads to a crescendo when the man is questioned by the religious leaders and he asks if they are so curious about the healer because they want to become his disciples. These religious leaders belittle him by saying, you were born with sin and you are trying to teach us?
Following this encounter the man meets Jesus again and they have a conversation about the Son of Man. The blind man questions, who is the Son of Man? Jesus responds you have seen him. The man says I believe. Imagine, this miracle is pointing out that a man blind since birth is healed and the first one he sees is the Messiah, the Son of God the Most High. He has seen the Son of Man, in fact it is the first person he has seen.
Jesus tells him (and us) he came into the world so that those who cannot see will see and those who might see will know they have become blind. Jesus affirms the man, undoing what the religious leaders have said to him. He is not a sinner, he can see the one who has brought him the light and he believes in God. There is no sin when we are in union with God. The man born blind can see the light and is connected to God with his belief, there is no sin in him.
The religious leaders overhearing the conversation question Jesus asking, we are not blind also, are we? Jesus tells them if you were blind you had no sin. It is interesting the entire passage begins with the question who has sinned? Now Jesus says the one who is blind has no sin. But the religious leaders are saying they see and Jesus tells them their sin remains.
Jesus is pointing out that they are spiritually blind because they do not see the light. Jesus is the light come down from heaven and these religious leaders can only see their own glory and not what Jesus has come to offer. They are blind. Those refusing the redemption Jesus has to offer are blind though they have eyes that may see.
They cannot accept Jesus indication they are sinful. Jesus tells them if they could see they would see he is the light, he offers redemption and life. But this they cannot see. They don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t approach him asking to receive the gift he offers There sin would be gone if they could see Jesus for who he is truly.
Jesus is saying these religious leaders are in a spiritual condition where they are separated from God, they make themselves important and don’t recognize the light in their presence, and this separation is sin. Since they claim they see, they are choosing their own unrighteous path and so they are sinners who are rejecting God and the gift of light God offers. They are unable to see the light and so they remain in darkness. They have rejected the light that could make them spiritually illuminated in faith and have the light of life. We can have eyes that see but if we do not see the light we are in the darkness and thus we cannot see. We must enter into the light to see, and in the light receive Jesus gift of life.We can have eyes that see but if we do not see the light we are in the darkness and thus we cannot see. We must enter into the light to see, and in the light receive Jesus gift of life. Click To Tweet
Of all our senses seeing may be the most important. Without our sight there is so much we cannot do, and so much more we may not appreciate. It is true these days people who cannot see have tremendous means to get around and live by themselves if they wish, but it is still a very debilitating affliction.
We read in the passage from today several thoughts on seeing and sight. In fact the gospel reading centers on a blind man who is healed. But when we step back and reflect on these readings we find much more than a story focused on physical sight. In the first reading from Samuel we are challenged to see not as humans see but as God sees. We think we are not blind but we may be blind in how we judge or trust people. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians challenges us to live in the light, without light we cannot see. Paul is not talking about physical light but spiritual light. We are challenged to remain close to Jesus who is the light and by being in the light we can help overcome the darkness, spiritual darkness. The gospel begins discussing physical sight but ends declaring those who think they see may be spiritually unhealthy and those who are blind spiritually well. Our challenge is to be close to Jesus, knowing him, which defines our sight (or lack of sight) in the spiritual life.
The difficulty we may have seeing Jesus and the work he is doing in the world may come from our own prejudices. We can’t help but interpret everything we see and hear, putting everything through our own filter. The religious leaders in the story of the blind man were doing this by discounting that Jesus could have been sent by God. They saw him only as a sinner who is using tricks and magic to win people away from the temple. Of course their prejudice is to protect the system they know, the system they lead, the temple system.We can’t help but interpret everything we see and hear, putting everything through our own filter. The religious leaders in the story of the blind man were doing this by discounting that Jesus could have been sent by God. Click To Tweet
Do we do the same thing? Do we have turf that we want to protect and so everything is interpreted though this filter of protection? We are touching on a challenging question; are we open to see the new or are we held up in our traditional ways, protecting what we have, trying to continue just as we always have done? For example, during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic many churches are moving to an online platform. It is not impossible to host church as usual where we could have many people exposed to the virus. Therefore, churches are hosting their services online, inviting and encouraging people to participate in the exact same service they use to be able to enjoy together, but now through an online media. Have they asked themselves is the best approach?
Have we as churches turned the word of God and revelation into a program? We worship, we hear the word and we see the breaking of bread. Scripture is the story of God’s encounter with the world, with people. Revelation flows from these scriptural events, giving meaning to what we read or hear. In community, sitting near one another, sharing experiences with one another, serving one another, we are able to hear scripture and work toward a revelation. The community in a church building has an effect on those present, meeting each other is part of the experience. Seeing those who serve, being served, and serving is all part of what becomes our experience.
In the story of the blind man and the religious leaders we can recognize the religious system is more important than the experience of the man who was healed. The vision of those who are physically needier, like the blind man, are more apt to see Jesus than those wrapped up in protecting a system that they lead and gives them their purpose. They are clinging to their ideas of church, their laws, their doctrines, and their religion. But is it possible that the manifestation of God is being missed in reality by those inside the group, (or even those outside the group who don’t accept this idea of church.)
It is necessary to be part of a group, a community. We seem born to exist in a community. All the great accomplishments required groups of people, even if just small groups. But should we also take our understanding of God and deepen it through experience, through revelation? We need to see how God is being revealed outside the group. Do we see God in creation? Do we see God in others? Do we see God in the wants and needs of the poor, in the loneliness of those without a group? We should be able to see God revealed in all that exists, in all that is human.We should be able to see God revealed in all that exists, in all that is human. Click To Tweet
Church people risk becoming too comfortable and secure in their way of life. They’ll take a Sunday morning to be at church, serve, worship and return to their regular life. Perhaps other times of the week are used for church “like” activities, but for the most part church is something we “go to” and “return from.” We seem to be frightened, or at least overly protective of anything that might change our point of view.
Jesus came to call us forth on a journey of union with God. We are called to be loved and to love God. This means deepening our interior life, this is our only means of true security, knowing God more deeply, loving God more dearly.
Is this current pandemic a chance for us to rethink our life in God? Can we make the connection to God something more than a once in a while event. Can we find God in more places than the church? Can we meet God daily, hourly or more? Paul tells us to pray unceasingly (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17.) He is not telling us to constantly recite the “Lord’s Prayer” but that we should meet God in our silence, our work, our rest, our play, everywhere.
We have to grow toward this image of prayer and God. Church people sometimes give the impression they are done. They might think they have come to know Jesus and so they are living life right. But true revelation grows. In the story of the blind man we see a natural progression. He opens up more and more to Jesus, more and more to truth. As is eyes are opened, so too is his heart and understanding. He begins by knowing “this man called Jesus.” Then he sees him as “a prophet” and someone who “comes from God.” Finally he believes he is “the Son of Man” and the story ends with him saying, “I do believe, Lord” as he worships Jesus. Aren’t we all called to the same growth? To see Jesus become bigger and bigger in our life, for us to become more and more like him?
I have been closed up in my own church. Learning everything it has done. Proud to be just one member pushing the message of Jesus. But, stepping back, looking at the church from an “isolated” point of view, I ask if I am seeing things as God sees? Is my church prophetic or programmatic? There are others in the world who live holy lives, maybe a different kind of prophetic structure. I have met many from India and Asia who are very beautiful, very prophetic people.
The message of Jesus has been given to me by the church and I am very grateful. I am grateful for the scriptures and the ability to go deeper in the word. I stand on the shoulders of many leaders and holy people that have come before me, prophets in their own way. But there is much I see in the life of Jesus that I myself don’t live. While I have been nourished by the church am I truly moving toward a much deeper encounter with God, the God Jesus came to reveal? Church can’t be a “go to” experience it must be a daily lived experience.While I have been nourished by the church am I truly moving toward a much deeper encounter with God, the God Jesus came to reveal? Church can’t be a “go to” experience it must be a daily lived experience. Click To Tweet
This is a time to have a new vision. A time to do church differently. Perhaps all the churches pushing out small sermons, personal stories, ideas for encountering Jesus every day, all through their social media platforms, many times a day, all days of the week is a better approach. Not one big worship on Sunday but many encounters all day and week-long. They come with challenges to live in service to others in need. Ideas how to be helpful to our neighbor who Jesus calls us to love.
If the idea is seeing, not the physical world, but the spiritual world that Jesus came to reveal, we have to live special encounters with others, with the world, with creation. We have to meet those in need and reveal our own neediness. We can build our church community but it can’t be the only place we meet God. We must meet God everywhere.We can build our church community but it can’t be the only place we meet God. We must meet God everywhere. Click To Tweet
The story of the blind man is a story of a man pushed aside. Yet he meets Jesus and discovers Jesus is real, sent by God to change the world. Perhaps we have been too busy to see Jesus, and now is a time we are forced to slow down. Jesus says he came into the world so those who do not see, may see; and for those who do see, to become blind. Which are we? Do we go to church once a week only to become blind all the other days of the week?
Jesus is the gift of life
As we work through how to see Jesus, perhaps we might recall the lyrics of a song, “O, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” Jesus is the gift of life because he comes to be the light, to bring us out of the darkness and to help us who are blind, see. We must admit we are in need of a healer, that we want life, that we need the light of Jesus. When we are able to be open to receiving Jesus the gift of life, he is ready to help us see him.