Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thoughts Delivered on Laetare Sunday, 2011

I can’t remember if I have told you this particular story so I will risk telling it now.

It happened nearly twenty-five years ago when I was a newly-ordained priest. On a Tuesday morning. My day off. And a phone call from the Bishop’s secretary. Could I come and see the Bishop that very afternoon? You see, a complaint had been made.

I nervously drove the twenty-five miles to the Bishop’s Palace, and was shown in to his study. Bishop John was one of the last great country bishops. An old school bishop. A bishop who hadn’t embraced the modern trends of corporate management. And on this occasion a bishop who was at his desk oiling and cleaning two sixteen gauge shotguns. My nervousness increased.

I needn’t have worried. He told me with a laugh that he had received a letter from a woman (who lived in my parish but never attended church) who took offence at seeing me leaving a hardware store with purchased goods – on a Sunday afternoon. What, she exclaimed, was the church leadership coming to?

The Bishop explained: I had to call you in as a matter of procedure. He then tore up the letter with the words, “The old bat can wait a few weeks for a reply!”

Yes, it was a long gospel reading! But a memorable story. The giving of sight to a man who had been blind from birth. As this happened a group of Pharisees are lurking darkly in the background with their own blindness – their closed and narrow legalistic minds.

The principle charge against Jesus this time? Making mud on the Sabbath Day.

Theology? Oh, there’s a large amount of theology in this story. Any Gospel tale that contains lines such as, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” is far removed from the historical sayings of Jesus, and closely rooted in the creeds of the Early Church. And this is one of those stories - a teaching story.

There is more Early Church in this tale that first appears. There is the strong imagery of baptism. Jesus anoints the blind man’s eyes with clay – just as the catechumens, those preparing, were exorcised before baptism. The blind man is then sent to wash in the pool of Siloam, just as the catechumens were led to the waters of baptism.

After washing, as after baptism, the man is a new person. A child of God, and a member of Christ.

A human being has moved from darkness to light.

Strip away all the theology and the commentary and the editorial, and most wonderful line exists within the story. One doesn’t have to be a scholar or theologian to understand it. Simply a human being.

Confronted with the religious authorities the man could not answer their questions in the way they wanted. All he could say was:

“One thing I know, is that I was blind, and now I see.”

Probably the most beautiful and simple line on the lips of any person in all the books of the Bible.

“One thing I know, is that I was blind, and now I see.”

This is a statement that has been uttered by countless individuals for whom Christ has made a difference in their lives. In ways great and small.

We may recall the words of the hymn-writer John Newton:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

Whatever one makes of healing miracles – and there are many ways to approach and understand them – one has to accept that the purpose of this story is not only to describe the giving of sight to a man in Jerusalem, but also to express the power of an encounter with the living God.

This is a God who cannot be confined by social or religious traditions, the blindness of some and the expectations of others.

Rather this is a God who, on occasion, deliberately chooses to work and reveal himself outside of these confines and boundaries. Always a God of surprises and challenges.

As we move towards Holy Week and Easter we pray that our eyes may be opened that we, too, may be surprised and challenged

1 comment:

Saintly Ramblings said...

Excellent. Had I not been doing Mothering Sunday with its readings I would have nicked this and passed it off as my own!