March 22, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
John 9 (selected verses)
As we spend time exploring today’s scripture readings, let us center prayerfully using the beloved words of Psalm 23, this time in the Common English Bible Translation, which translate some of the words more closely to the Hebrew.
The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing!
God lets me rest in grassy meadows;
God leads me to restful waters
God leads me to restful waters
God keeps me alive.
God guides me in proper paths
for the sake of God’s good name.
Even though I was through the darkest valley, I will not fear,
You are with me!
Your rod and your staff—they protect me.
You set a table for me right in front of my enemies;
You bathe my head in oil—my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes! Goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the Lord’s house as long as I live.
What do you know? What don’t you know? What are you unsure of? In the church we ask these questions using different words, churchy words:
What do you believe? What do you trust? What do you have faith in?
Where do you doubt?
But in John’s gospel, he uses a different word to ask such questions—‘know’—K-N-O-W. What do you know? For in John’s telling of Jesus’ life, gaining knowledge-of God, of Jesus, of the Spirit-is the essence of our faith journey, of our wilderness journey. For to be without knowledge of God and of what God is doing in and through Christ Jesus is to be in the wilderness. In John’s gospel, the call to discipleship also sounds very different that Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In these three gospels, Jesus calls individuals to discipleship with the familiar, ‘follow me.’ However, in the fourth gospel, this call uses different words and a different metaphor: Come and see…Come and see. Our reading today from chapter nine of John expands and explains in more detail this unique call to relationship, and the call to Come and See becomes the invitation to Come and Know.
There is much wilderness in today’s reading, much lack of knowledge, much lack of sight. We must be very careful as we discuss this story that we do not fall into able-ist language. John uses literal blindness to speak of spiritual blindness. We must NOT speak of the man born blind as somehow ‘less than’ before his healing—that he was somehow not whole, not a beloved child, before his sight was restored. The gospel is quite intentional in addressing this—the neighbors question the man’s identity and he insists, “I am still the same person.” This is a story about spiritual blindness, about the journey of knowing. Nobody in this story is ‘less than;’ not the man born blind, not the neighbors, not the timid parents, not the stubborn leaders. All are seeking. All are questioning. All are children of God.
So as I said, there is a great deal of wilderness in this story. Everything ‘normal’ has been disrupted. Everyone is disoriented. All is unsettled and ‘life as usual’ is gone. Everyone in the story, with the exception of Jesus, is seeking to understand what has happened. What does it all mean? How do they live going forward in this new reality? We today can easily identify with these emotions and questions. We understand the fear and confusion this disruption in the community has caused. Though the disruption in John 9 is VERY different than our disruption today, we can still empathize with the turmoil.
In the midst of the chaos caused by this man’s new circumstances, we witness the very human reaction of seeking understanding, but embodied in different ways. The healing of the man born blind is the call to Come and See embodied…it is a parable in action. The man in today’s gospel story enters into a journey of discovery, discovering the identity of his healer, of Jesus. He enters into a journey to Come and Know Jesus. We witness this throughout the long chapter. The man begins with confessions of Jesus as the One who healed him. But as he is pressed again and again to identify this Jesus, his confession changes to ‘prophet’ and then he worships Jesus as Lord. The man’s story is a parable of discipleship and we witness this man weather the wilderness of intense wilderness by clinging to Jesus. Though this man is pushed along this journey by circumstances completely beyond his control, he holds tightly to what he knows: “I was blind, but now I see.” I had no clue who Jesus was, but now I am beginning to understand.
The leaders offer a very different struggle to understand in the wilderness. And please note that ALL the people in the story are Jewish—the man, the neighbors, the parents, Jesus, and the leaders. Too often this story has been used to portray the Jewish people as the ‘bad guys.’ Early in our story, the man is willing to confess that, even though he knows Jesus is the One who healed him, he has no clue where Jesus is (who Jesus is). He is ignorant of Jesus’ identity—where he comes from—and by confessing this ignorance, is open to learning. The leaders do not make such a confession anywhere in the gospel narrative. In fact, as the final encounter between Jesus and the leaders makes clear, the leaders refuse to ultimately acknowledge that they indeed do not know. “We are not blind, are we?” We are those who are ‘in the know,’ we are followers of Moses.
John asks us today through this story, ‘what do we know?’ “What are we ignorant of?” “Where are we uncertain?” In naming these things, we open ourselves to embrace the invitation in the wilderness to Come and See, to Come and Know. We are ALL in this wilderness together—the wilderness of our ongoing spiritual journeys, and importantly, in the wilderness of this pandemic. Our ‘normal’ world is disrupted. We are all disoriented, unsettled. ‘Live as usual’ is gone. Everything is uncertain…except Jesus…except the love and connection of our family in faith. As Jesus empowered the man born blind to be active in his own faith journey—‘Go and wash’—we too are invited to be active and engaged in our journey to know Jesus more, to know one another more, in this wilderness time.
We are also feeling like this wilderness journey is out of our control, just like the man continually confronted and harassed by the questioning of the leaders. We feel at a loss for control when we see the updated numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, as we worry about supplies for our medical providers and ourselves, as we worry about income and job loss, forced isolation, and the threat of illness for ourselves and our loved ones. What is happening? What will it mean? How long will it last? How do we live going forward in this new reality? Like the man in the gospel account, we are invited to accept (again) the invitation from Jesus to Come and See, to Come and know more. In this chaos, we hold tightly to what we know…and what do we know? The Lord is our shepherd, we ultimately lack for nothing. Even in the darkest of valleys, we are guided by the Light that shines in the darkness.
In this unsettled and uncertain time, let us cling to the Source of goodness and faithful love. Let us seek the Lord’s House through new avenues of grace; such as our Connections page on our website, and weekly check-ins with ZOOM and phone and email, through sharing ideas with the staff about creative ways to connect with one another. Let us boldly walk as children of the light. Let us follow Jesus.
Come and See!
Come and Know!
The Lord IS our shepherd.
You, God, are with us!
Thanks be to God! Amen!