|Wild Horses Monument, North of Bridge at Vantage, WA|
Columbia River, March 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Faith for Life - Use the Light Right
Preached on Sunday, March 19, 2017
Scripture readings: Isaiah 6:1-10; John 9:1-12, 35-41
One night, a police officer spotted a man on his hands and knees, crawling around under a street light. He stopped, and he asked the man what was going on. The man was drunk, and he looked up at the officer, and told him that he was looking for his car keys. The officer was curious about what would come of this, and so he decided to help him look but, after a few minutes, without success, he asked the man if he was sure he had dropped his keys there.
The man said, “No, officer, I dropped them across the street. “Then why are we looking here?” And the drunk answered, “Because the light is better here.”
I think that the Pharisees condemned the man born blind for giving credit to Jesus, and condemned Jesus for healing him on the Sabbath, because they thought the light was better there.
The sin and the suffering-as-punishment issue were simpler, and there seemed to be so much of it going on in the Hebrew Scriptures. Our Old Testament is actually pretty clear that there are other causes for suffering.
The Book of Job is a huge example of the mystery of why bad things happen to good people. But the Book of Job is difficult, and it leaves this suffering as a mystery only to be understood by God.
I don’t think the Pharisees and the rabbis of Jesus’ day were very fond of mysteries. Somewhat later in time, the rabbis came up with a statement of their understanding of the cause of suffering. Here’s what they said: “There is no death without sin and there is no suffering without iniquity.” (b. Sabbat 55a)
This had been common thinking for a long time. When the disciples saw the blind man, and got the news that he had been blind from birth, they wondered what sort of light Rabbi Jesus might shed on the question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
The great rabbis debated among themselves over the question of whether a fetus could sin. Some thought that they couldn’t sin and some thought that they could sin. (Genesis Rabbah 34:10 and 63:6)
When the healed blind man stood up for Jesus who had healed him, the rabbis accused him of the incompetence of having been born in sin, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” (John 9:34)
So, the healed blind man (who may have been only a teenager, because the Pharisees thought they needed to talk to his parents, and his parents had to assure the judges that their son was “of age” meaning that he had passed his thirteenth birthday): anyway, in their sight, he stood condemned for being blind, and he stood condemned for being healed.
A fine world he lived in! A judging world! The great mercy of living in such a world was the brand-new fact that Jesus joined him in such a world. Jesus became one of the judged ones, just for him (and for all of us).
To be fair, we have to notice that the Pharisees were split on the question of whether Jesus was right to heal the blind man on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the ones who started out defending Jesus were outnumbered and out-voted.
One thing we need to remember is that the Pharisees were good people. They were famous for being good. Most of God’s people admired them.
Pharisee comes from a word that means “separated”, meaning that they had helped the people of Israel to separate themselves from the Greeks and the Romans at a time when joining in, and getting assimilated, had been a popular temptation. The Pharisees stood for God’s laws, and their many interpretations were part of a plan to make keeping the law more comprehensible and orderly.
The mystery is how their very goodness got in the way of their seeing who Jesus is. Their goodness got in the way of their truly knowing him.
It’s simple to see that what we might call righteousness can easily turn into self-righteousness. This is so true that most people don’t even use the word righteous any more. The issue of righteousness has been so abused.
This story of healing is about more than self-righteousness. It really is about judging. Jesus summed it up like this: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39)
The Pharisees (good people that they were) were looking for who to judge, and how to judge them. In doing this, they set the tone and they set the example for what goodness was supposed to look like.
The disciples wondered if they ought to know who to judge and how to judge them, but Jesus said that wasn’t his business. His business was to see who to help, and how to help, and to save. That was really what Jesus reserved his judgement for. That’s what his kingdom was, and is, about.
Those who served as the popular example of goodness looked upon the man born blind as a lesson in sin and punishment which fit their kind of righteousness. Jesus looked at the man born blind and saw an opportunity for the work of God to be done for the blind man. Jesus saw the blind man as an invitation to bring healing and salvation. If Jesus read a lesson in the blind man, it was a lesson for serving, and helping, and making things better.
Here we see two kinds of blindness at work. We see two kinds of sight: two kinds of light.
I have the gift of sight, but my sight is really short-sighted. I’ve been wearing powerful eye-glasses since I was ten years old. I’m very near-sighted, not far-sighted.
The Pharisees were near-sighted. They read their lesson in the man, and in the healing which broke the Sabbath law. There was nothing more needed than to say “case closed”.
Jesus read hope into the lesson, and hope had a long, far-sighted goal in mind. The calling to heal the blind man, and to show him that his life contained the works of God, had a long and great goal. We see his understanding grow of who Jesus is. We see the blind man move from knowing his healer as the man named Jesus to worshipping Jesus as the Son of Man, which means the king of the kingdom of God.
We see his hope grow. We even see him hope that the people who are going to excommunicate him from their fellowship might actually want to be disciples of Jesus, too. He turned out to be wrong about this, but he chose the right way to be wrong. I would choose to always be wrong like him.
The light that comes from Jesus wants to grow. It wants to spread. It hopes for the best from others. It faces risk with confidence. The light that comes from Jesus gives ability and life to people. The light that comes from Jesus helps people, and sets them free.
That’s Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question. He told them (and he tells us) not to judge or blame but to do the work of God for whoever it is that God has put before us. That is the kingdom of Jesus. That is the kingdom of the true light.
There are two kinds of light. There is the light to judge by. There is the light to work by. Those two lights don’t work together.
Those whose light was for judging saw the light of Jesus and judged it more and more. Jesus, whose light was for working and saving, worked and saved, more and more. Sooner or later, one of those lights has to come out on top.
We see a similar process in the prophets, and in God’s call to Isaiah. Isaiah saw the glory and light of God’s holiness. This light showed him his own sin, and the sin of his people (God’s people). This light broke his heart so that he grieved over his sin, and he grieved over his peoples’ sin, and God’s healing and forgiveness was given to him.
If what Isaiah saw, and what God gave him, formed the foundation of his message, then you can easily see how those who listened to Isaiah would get tired of hearing him.
Who wants to know that they are sinners? Who wants to know that they need to be forgiven?
They would close their eyes, and close their ears, and there would be a kind of divine justice in this. Their judgement of Isaiah and his message defined them for what they were, and that carried its own punishment.
In the case of Jesus, the judging light seemed to finally win the day. The judging light judged Jesus and nailed him to the cross.
Then everything changed. The saving light, the working light, the serving light, beat the judging light three days later, and forever, when Jesus rose from the dead.
That’s God’s justice. That’s God’s judgment. That’s our salvation. That’s the kingdom of Jesus: the kingdom of God.
There is the judgement. How will we judge this judgment?
What is the purpose of our light? What do we use it for? Is it for judging and closing doors? Or is it for working, and serving, and saving? Of course, we are not the light; and yet we are, because Jesus is the light of the world, and our light. Let us use that light for the purpose it has been given to us.