Monday, March 31, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent: The Strength of Handicap

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Running some errands last week with my wife, we swung by her employer (Hope Landing), a pediatric therapy and rehab service based in El Dorado.  There are lots of children with all sorts of special needs who are served through this ministry, and the work they do is inspiring.  From the outside looking in, as I can only do, it is hard to really appreciate what they do and how deeply they impact these children AND their families.

I waited outside on a bench while my wife was inside doing paperwork.  While I was enjoying the quiet on a beautiful day, a mother and her young daughter came out (the child is a client).  This in itself was not such a big deal because patients and clients are always going and coming.  What was a big deal is that this child was positively delighted!  Maybe it was a successful session.  Maybe she had reached another milestone in her therapy and development.  Or maybe she just had a good time (the therapy is often play-time-like).  The Lord alone knows exactly what was going on in her mind, but she was giggling and laughing all the way to her mother's car!  And in that moment I was so deeply moved in being reminded our Lord reveals His beauty and His perfection in the laughter of a child, especially such a child as she!

We sometimes think we don't see such witness often enough, but the truth is we are blinded to these moments.  It is always an awesome moment when such simple witness can open us to clarity, a moment in eternity when the chaos of the world is abruptly pushed aside, when Light completely overwhelms the darkness so that, as St. Paul writes, the "fruit of the Light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Eph 5:9).  There are no greater moments than these brief glimpses of Heaven's glory!  I would suggest Moses' own "burning bush" moment could not have been any more revealing about the glory and majesty and mercy of our Holy Father than in the innocence of a child's laughter!

We do not always see such things, and this Gospel story about the man who was born blind reflects this human reality.  It is easy to get so bound up in the physical that we often overlook the spiritual because even though the subject is the man's physical blindness and his sight restoration, Jesus turns the story toward a blindness which is much more compelling - and spiritually useful.

Imagine a world in which we could "hear" before we "see".  There can be no doubt we are a judgmental people because we judge what we see.  We notice and predetermine value initially based on what we take in with our eyes, so this initial assessment will determine whether we will give someone a chance to draw closer, let alone allow a second chance ... and we do not often give second chances. 

Sometimes our sight assessments serve us well because we can also determine whether some persons represent a potential threat to our safety and well-being; so if they appear dangerous or even suspicious, they are going to have to jump through some hoops to prove themselves to be worthy of our trust.  Our narrow and limited "sight" requires that the burden of proof falls on them because our minds are already made up!  A news article last week about some suspicious men going door-to-door in SE Arkansas posing as vacuum cleaner salesmen reminds us we can never be too careful.  We have good reason to be suspicious.

Our Lord, however, challenges the value of what we think we see by suggesting a good dose of "blindness" may be just the ticket for our deliverance from our own self-inflicted bondage and our own narrow judgments based on our limited capacity to see all there is to really see: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind" (John 9:39). 

The Pharisees did not quite grasp Jesus' meaning because they were still speaking of physical blindness - and because they obviously could see very clearly, they proposed they had no real problem.  The latter part of this story, however, must not be removed from its setting.  Back to the first few verses, even Jesus' disciples believe they are "seeing" quite well through what is written in the Scriptures when they ask about the state of sin which must have caused this man's blindness.  The only matter not settled for them was whether it was this man's own sin which caused his blindness - or the sins of his parents.

This religious understanding comes from a narrow interpretation of Exodus 20:5b (as well as Ex 34:6-7 & Num 14:18) in which it seems clear according to the Word of the Lord that the man's blindness "from birth" must have been caused by sins committed before the man even had a chance, as it is written: "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me".  This is to say, the 3rd and 4th generations of those who have been taught to hate the Lord.

Yet the Lord speaks through the prophet Ezekiel (18:20): "The soul who sins shall die.  The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

The seeming contradiction is nothing to get in a twist over because in the earlier verses, the judgment seems to come upon generations living in the messes made and attitudes created by previous generations - such as those born in slavery in Egypt or born during the Exile or, a little closer to home, children raised in a home in which religion and faith are barely incidental and not at all purposeful and deliberate.  We should also remember that in spite of the judgment of the Lord upon the Israelites in the Exodus who would die in the wilderness because of their faithlessness, Caleb and Joshua would see the Promised Land with their own eyes because of their faithfulness. 

This reality serves to remind us that biblical interpretations must not be made strictly verse by verse.  There are stories upon stories all connected one to the other that give us a much better view of what is really being seen - because the Lord our God "does not change" nor can He contradict Himself or violate His own nature.

So Jesus told His disciples the man was "born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him" (vs 3).  Was he born strictly for this specific moment in Jesus' ministry?  The context seems to suggest so, but surely future generations such as we who are invited into this moment by the written text can also see something much more profound and enduring than this single moment - much broader and far-reaching than just this one person.

Remember the precious child who virtually danced out the door at Hope Landing.  Done in a quiet setting far removed from the hustle and bustle and busy-ness of a chaotic world, coming from a place in which Christ's name is deliberately lifted up, surely that single child in a moment in eternity was also "born ... so that God's works might be revealed in her".  In a world we are called to be "in" but not "of", we are still shown the Holy Father in all His glory and in all His mercy in the smallest of moments - so that we remember we are not forgotten, that we have not been forsaken.  But we must be blinded to something in order to see these moments.

In that precious moment, my sight was at least partially restored - because I realized our blindness would see only a child with a handicap ... but in that child and in that moment our Lord showed His enduring strength.  For me - AND - for you ... and for everyone who would truly be blinded to what we think we see so that we may truly see.  Amen. 

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