Sunday 22 March 2020
I was saddened last year to hear of the death of a parishioner of a parish that I had previously served. He had been, during his working life, one of the most eminent Pediatricians in Queensland. He was a profoundly faithful Christian man who devoted his considerable skills and abilities to the promotion of the health and wellbeing of countless children in this state. Not only did he practise as a frontline clinician, but he was a lecturer and mentor of many more doctors who wanted to follow in that important specialisation of paediatrics.
Unfortunately, his medical career was cut short when he became legally blind as a result of hereditary retinitis pigmentosa. The condition had carved a path through his family – his mother and brother both suffered from the condition as well. He had been aware of his mother’s condition from early in life and of the possibility of it affecting him eventually. He and his wife had made the decision not to have any children so that they would not pass the condition on.
There were two texts of scripture that had great significance for him. One was Leviticus 19.14, which he always recited whimsically: You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.
The other was taken a little more seriously – John chapter 9 that we read today. In particular, 9.2: His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Understandably, it was very important for him to be able to understand his blindness in terms other than punishment for sin.
While the account of the return of the physical sight of the blind man in chapter 9 is a wonderful and life-changing event in the life of the individual concerned, its significance in the gospel of John is much greater than that.
The great Johannine scholar, Raymond Brown says of this event in the gospel:
“The internal construction of the story shows consummate artistry; no other story in the Gospel is so closely knit. We have here Johannine dramatic skill at its best… Before narrating the miracle, the evangelist is careful to have Jesus point out the meaning of the sign as an instance of light coming into darkness. This is a story of how a man who sat in darkness was brought to see the light, not only physically but spiritually. On the other hand, it is also a tale of how those who thought they saw (the Pharisees) were blinding themselves to the light and plunging into darkness. The story starts in vs. 1 with a blind man who will gain his sight; it ends in vs.41 with the Pharisees who have become spiritually blind.” (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Geoffrey Chapman, 1975, pp.376-377)
At one level, the episode is the account of the restoring to sight of a blind man. At a deeper level, it is “the acting out of the triumph of light over darkness” (Brown, P. 379).
When we read and reflect upon this miracle of Jesus, it is not for us to sit back and clap and say bravo. If we do that, we have restricted ourselves to the surface level meaning of the text. For sure it was a great thing for the man involved to have received such graciousness from Jesus. But what was more significant for him was his coming to understand who Jesus was and his statement of faith when Jesus revealed just exactly who he was to the man. He said, “Lord I believe.” And he worshipped him. (Jn 9.38)
That is the point that we are constantly being invited to – the point of recognising that Jesus is the light that has come into the world. And worshipping him. And when we arrive at that point, we live our lives in a completely different manner.
We begin to live for others. We begin to demonstrate the same love for others that Jesus had. We begin to love God and love our neighbour.
It is undeniable that in the present difficult time, it can be very tempting to try to focus on looking after ourselves at the expense of others. The panic buying that has been taking place is surely an example of that temptation being acted upon by many in the community.
I encourage you to hold Jesus as the light in your world. There is a wonderful saying: It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. We live differently, even in the midst of a pandemic, when Jesus is the light in our world.
I would just like to share with you as I finish something which I think was a real sign of hope for this world. I was watching a news show on TV this week where an Infectious Diseases specialist was being interviewed. He was asked what we should be doing and he went on to reiterate the same personal safety messages that have been encouraged so much lately. But he put an interesting tail on it when he said words to the effect: “Don’t think you are being selfish in taking these precautions. Do it out of love. Do it out of love for your family. Do it out of love for your relatives, particularly older relatives. Do it out of love for your nation, for the world.” This man was a doctor, a scientist, not a priest or a pastor. It struck me that a new kind of vocabulary is becoming acceptable in our secular society. We are now able to speak in the language of Jesus in the public place.
If Christian language is acceptable now, then so is Christian behaviour: “Love others as your love yourself”. We are going through one of the hardest times in the lifespan of most of us. Let us face the challenge in the light of Jesus – knowing fully in our hearts that he is the light of the world.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen