Sunday of the Blind Man
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday May 24, 2009
In the Gospels through the life and teaching of Jesus the true God is revealed and the picture we get is often radical and scandalous.
When the disciples ask the question, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind", they were reflecting a common belief in a God who visits evil upon those who offend Him. Of course, it could not have been the poor blind man who sinned because one cannot sin in utero. Christ also indicates that it was not his parents who sinned saying, "It was not that this man sinned or his parents..." The blindness had nothing to do with sin at all. His answer was that the blindness was an opportunity for "the works of God" to be made manifest."
Jesus challenged the common view that God is angry, vengeful and ready to punish those who offend Him. The Old Testament is filled with such imagery, but it was written in an environment foreign to what we experience now. It was a primitive world where each tribe had its own gods. The competition was fierce. Our god is better than yours and our god has ordered us to invade and conquer you to prove it. Their understanding of God was limited and simplistic, colored by fear, the pressures of the struggle to survive in a hostile world and the cultural understanding of primitive societies, trapped in archaic mind-sets that are no longer useful. We learn from Jesus that God is not on a power trip. God does not have control issues.
Jesus reveals a different and higher understanding of God. This same understanding lies at the heart of the Old Testament although it is somewhat concealed and often difficult to find, but it is revealed openly in the New. God as loving, compassionate and vulnerable. "His mercy," the Psalmist writes, "endures forever." In Jesus and particularly on the Cross God appears scandalously powerless!
The Lord's revelation did not please everyone then and does not now. Many could not accept it in the first century and many who call themselves Christian reject it now. I recall as the year 2000 approached some Christians went to Jerusalem to kill people in the streets in the belief that their violent actions would trigger the Second Coming of Christ! I think they missed something somewhere! Remember the verse from John's Gospel, "After that day many of his disciples no longer followed him?" The same is true today, except that now Jesus is co-opted to support positions his teachings literally oppose.
When Jesus met the blind man he healed him. God's works become manifest when He ministers to His creation. God does not cause suffering so that He can get some good PR. Jesus often rejected public acclaim. Many forms of suffering exist in our fallen world it is true and because of it God the Son became Incarnate to bring healing and salvation in the midst of it, but God is not the author of suffering and He does not take advantage of our weakness to make Himself look good. God is love and in Him is no self-interest whatsoever. God is not the all-powerful Ego-in-the-sky. That god is Zeus! That god is Moloch! The Father of Jesus Christ is not like the pagan gods who are often pictured in the myths as no better than human beings are at their worst. God has no ego and no self-interest.
The teachings of Jesus are viral, radical and scandalous. That we no longer see them as such means either that we have embraced them and are living lives of utter selflessness, love and absolute vulnerability or that we have co-opted Jesus and have turned Him into a spokesman for our own self-interests.
Throughout history Jesus has been used as an excuse to ravage and destroy by men and women who have twisted His words out of recognition. Polls show that many who support the use of torture these days are Christians who preach Christ as the Prince of Peace, the One who said "love your enemies and do good to those who hate you," and yet applaud when their suspected enemies are degraded and debased in the most inhuman ways. In this they see no conflict of interest. Such hypocrisy makes the words of our Savior more meaningful when He says, "When the Son of Man comes again will He find faith on earth?" The authors of the Crusades, pogroms, holocausts and inquisitions throughout Christian history used the same arguments as our contemporaries. Of course, if we believe in an angry vengeful God, then it justifies our own violent behavior. But this is not the God Jesus reveals.
The Father of Jesus is the author of life, the origin of love, the Father of compassion, the Lord of Light. He is the One who alleviates suffering, who cares for the poor, who does not take revenge, who does not crave power, who died on the Cross so that all may live, who asks that we turn the other cheek, that we do not judge, that we pray quietly in our closets, that we return good for evil, that we lend and love without expecting anything in return. He is the one whose kingdom is not of this world and who calls us to make His righteous kingdom our home.
We are called to do one thing: "to cultivate an inner garden in which the Divine Word may grow and flourish." (St. John Climacus) The Divine Word can only grow in the soil of love and compassion. We have the choice to choose a higher way, the narrow path of self-transcendence, be healed of our own blindness and become like God.