theunfamiliarname

Homily for Lent 4A

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm

There was a snake and a rabbit, both blind from birth.
Meeting one day, they thought they might help each other
with a sense of identity, by feeling and describing the other.
The snake began, winding himself around the rabbit.
After a few moments, he announced,
“You’ve got very soft, fuzzy fur, long ears,
big rear feet, and a little fuzzy tail.
I think you must be a bunny rabbit!”

The rabbit was much relieved to find his identity,
and proceeded to return the favour to the snake.
After feeling about the snake’s body, he said,
“Well, you’re scaly, you’re slimy, with beady little eyes,
you squirm and slither all the time,
and you’ve got a forked tongue.
I think you must either be a politician or a lawyer…”

Blindness and sight.    Light and darkness.
These are the images of today’s readings,
and of John’s Gospel in particular.

It can be very telling, very tempting,
to see the world in those terms, darkness and light,
and many Christians, many of us, probably do that.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

A question close to parents’ hearts,
when we are faced with disability, disappointment
or the kind of dark distress
a family endures when children choose badly.
Who is to blame?

And while we’re asking, just where is God in all that?

Jesus’ answer is that blame is not the answer,
and to the question, one way or another,
the answer is “God is there”.

Inviting us to choose light and sight, but there,
ultimately, as this lenten season will show us,
in every anguish, in every blame and pain, that we are in.
The Cross proclaims that only-ever-answer,
the easiest, and the hardest to hang on to:
“God is there”.
Inviting us to choose light and sight,
but there, even in deepest darkness,
God is at work.

It’s an intriguing gospel narrative that John gives us
after this opening theological gambit.

A man born blind.
Jesus using mud in his healing,
a pointer back to Genesis,
a symbolic completing or recreation of this son of Adam.

And then there are the Pharisees.

The Pharisees:
shorthand, like the expression “the Jews” in John’s Gospel,
for those who just don’t get it, who hold they think the truth,
and end up opposing God’s will and work and Word
in Jesus Christ.

They want to know what this man thinks he’s doing,
allowing himself to be healed on the Sabbath.
What he thinks of the one who has healed him, where he is.
“I don’t know” he says.
They bring in his parents, and ask
“what do you know about all this?”
“We know that this is our son, and that he was blind,”
they say, “no more”.

Again with the questions to the blind man
and a kind of slapstick Jewish humour is developing
with nobody knowing or wanting to say
what is not allowed to be said –
the kind of humour that deals with authority
by answering its questions accurately
but in the most unhelpful way.
And so he’s driven out:
For telling his truth, his experience, speaking of his healing.

And if you hadn’t already had this feeling
with John’s Gospel
it’s here you may just get the message,
this is not simply a character in the gospel narrative,
an historical encounter retold,
this is the story of John’s community.

They have been driven out of the synagogues,
they, some of them,
have not been supported by their parents and families,
they are a community struggling to forge a new identity.
This story, this character, is about them.

Perhaps it’s also about us.
How do we react to hearing that it was only
outside the sphere of the recognised religious people
that this man could say, “Lord, I believe.”?

Knowing we are on both sides of the story,
people healed and those suspicious of healing,
both Pharisees and blind men as the story would have it,
whom do we exclude,
and how do we feel as those excluded?

Where do we allow people to say “Lord, I believe”.
Where and when would we dare make such a profession?
It’s as true an analogy for our time as it was for those
struggling with being cast out of the synagogues
and the communities that they knew.

If you read John’s Gospel
with that kind of alienation in your mind,
you can see a lot of pointers to a community
that was reforming itself out of and against the
other communities people had clearly been forced to leave.

John’s Gospel has a lot to say about believing
and rather not belonging.
And maybe that’s where we meet that Church.
Because believing and not belonging to a church
is the story of many in our community.

Those who know a little of what has happened to them,
but wait for that personal encounter with Christ.

Those among us, who see things in black and white.
Who, like the Pharisees,
see some things so clearly that we might as well be blind.

Some who ask those things we’ve heard
in our gospel reading: “What do you say about him?”
“What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”

And what is our response?
Many of us, I suspect, are still at the “I don’t know” stage.

Lent gives us an opportunity to, together and alone,
deepen, grow, develop our faith.
To think on our own encounter with the Christ.
To find ourselves in these familiar stories.
To find our eyes opened.

Let us in the silence listen for the voice of God.

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