There are many stories about what it is like to see the world for the first time, by those who have been born blind. If we use our imaginations in such a situation, the individuals report having no understanding initially of what their eyes were seeing. Unable to make meaning of what appeared to be blobs of colour, they say it is a painful process to let go of the world they know by touch and darkness and be courageous enough to step into and inhabit a world of light.
There is a story of a young woman who did not open her eyes again for two weeks because of the dazzling brightness of the world when she first saw it. When she did finally open them again, she didn’t recognise any of the objects, but her parents reported as she looked around carefully for the second time, her face was transformed with astonishment and pleasure and gratitude. She found her voice and said repeatedly: ‘O God, how beautiful!’
Today is Mothering Sunday. And, today is also known ‘Rejoicing Sunday’ falling as it does in the middle of Lent, in a period of austerity, reflection, acknowledgement of failure and repentance and of seeing and experiencing again freshly, the love of God for each of us and for the whole world. Mothering Sunday allows us to recognise how much God mothers us all, young and old, as we celebrate and rejoice in God’s healing love for us all. We are invited to remember our mothers, with love and rejoice in their lives.
Today, we need this reassurance of God’s love more than ever as our world is rapidly changing around us; as we can find ourselves standing, like the blind man, bewildered by the darkness and experiencing the unkind rejection from our own community and from our place in the world. Like the healed man, we can rejoice in the fact Jesus has come after us in love, to find us.
So often in the world we have people in authority calling down upon us retribution and punishment from a powerful, dominating God for all our apparent sins. Those who claim to know the mind of God, determine who is in or outside our community, rejecting those who don’t fit their rules as they set them, blaming, scapegoating and persecuting.
From their perspective (John 9:1-41), the blind man and his parents were clearly sinners because blindness was believed to be God’s judgement for sin. Jesus was clearly a sinner for healing on the Sabbath and using mud and water to make a paste to put on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus was also not interested in the man’s behaviour and whether he was worthy of healing. The man himself had not asked for anything.
Jesus and his disciples had seen the blind man as they walked past. Jesus’ response to his blindness and to the disciples’ questions about blame and sin, show us this is an opportunity for us to participate in God’s work as a community together.
This is very important for us to hear and understand. We need to take this opportunity to make the kingdom of God real for those around us who are frightened.
The authorities judged what Jesus had ‘done’ to the man as being against the rules. They had not seen the blind man as a human being. They had not seen the healing act for what it truly was.
Yet it was another opportunity for the world to see God’s light breaking into the darkness, healing spiritually and physically.
There will be many times during the coming days when we want to ask the questions the authorities asked. ‘Who has done this, why and how did this happen – to my friends, family, workplaces, community, church and the world? What have we done that this should be visited upon us? Who can we blame so we might punish and restore our world to how it was before? How many conspiracy theories can I count?’
So it does seem counter intuitive to be talking instead of rejoicing and loving.
We should not be focussed on talking about what is wrong with the world and those around us, but rather to engage with the world until it is transformed and open for God’s work to be done.
No-one who sees the blind man in his condition and identifies with the faith of this Christ and hears this story can be excused from the personal and community responsibilities to address the misfortunes and unhappiness of our times.
We are too often tempted to privatise and withdraw when the world and its conditions become too hard to bear. However, now is the time where Jesus’ own actions demand we connect with each other and share in the commitment to God’s creation and its transformation for each of our neighbours.
The other extraordinary part of the story is what happens after the man has been questioned twice by the authorities, been rejected by his neighbours and the community, is lost to his frightened parents and is cast out.
Taking the initiative, Jesus searches out the man and when he identifies himself to the man, reminding the man he has truly seen him, the healed man completes his faith journey, recognising, believing and worshipping Jesus. We can be assured Jesus is searching for us too in the darkness.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out and when he found him, he said: ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, “And who is he Sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said: “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. (John 35-38)
Jesus goes on to remind people he came into the world for judgement. The one who did not come to condemn the world nevertheless comes in judgement. However, the judgement does not take the form of punishment.
Simply choosing darkness or choosing not to see, serves as its own judgement (John 3:19-20). The punishment for remaining in darkness or not opening one’s spiritual eyes is to miss out on the light, to fail to see. John carefully states that physical blindness does not result from sin (John 9:3) but from choosing spiritual blindness.
And often we choose not to see what we fear. We reject what challenges us and is outside the rules we have set down for ourselves. We create a God in our image and use God as a weapon to punish and reject others who don’t fit. We look for simple quick answers and want God to save us immediately from our troubles and to put everything to right as we were before.
And it isn’t like that.
What it is like, is what the blind man who now sees, then experiences. The sighted man finds himself pushed out of his community, his world has been turned upside down and he is left alone.
However, Jesus does what we have each experienced in our own lives on many occasions. Jesus finds the healed man who has been driven out by everyone because of his gift of sight, and in doing so Jesus completes the healing and gift of new life to this man. The man is welcomed into the new community of faith, as one who was blind but now has sight. The one cast out is now welcomed home.
We can be assured Jesus is searching for us too in the darkness. We are not abandoned.
Jesus uses love to seek out and mend. Jesus is in our lives, is present here today searching and looking for us to mend and heal and will continue to mother and love us into our new future. All of us are being blessed by God’s love.
We now need to take this incredible opportunity to share God’s love with others who are vulnerable, who will struggle over the next few days, weeks and months.
Let us not choose fear, blindness and death, and instead let us live as Jesus asked us, as salt and light in our community and be with each other and with God.
The Lord be with you.