30 March 2014
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4A (RCL)
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The story of the healing of the man born blind is wonderfully rich and complex. It forms something of a centerpiece of John’s Gospel, and encodes a moment in the life of the Johannine community. The passage is the most dramatic in John’s Gospel (outside of the trial before Pilate), and the drama is advanced by the convention of having two interlocutors in each scene. The passage opens with (1) a dialog between Jesus and disciples, (1-5), advances to (2) the interaction between Jesus and the man (6-7), moves on to (3) the exchange between the man and his neighbors (8-12), (4) the man and pharisees (13-17), (5) the pharisees and the man’s parents (18-23), (6) the man and the pharisees again (24-34), (7) the man and Jesus (35-39), and finally (8) Jesus and the pharisees (40-41, although that scene really extends to 10:21).
In the first scene, the disciples ask Jesus about the location of sin, whether in the man or in his parents. In the last scene, Jesus locates sin in the Pharisees who claim to see but are in fact blind to the theological truths. In the middle of the ongoing drama, the parents (they only appear in one scene), refuse to answer the Pharisees about how their son was healed for fear of the Jews, because the Jews had already taken council that anyone who confessed the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. Scholars generally agree that this statement reflects the experience of the Johannine community’s expulsion from the synagogue. What is remarkable, however, about this story is that Jesus does not interact with the Pharisees, until the last scene, when they overhear something addressed to the man. Also, the man, in answer to the neighbors about whether he is in fact the man born blind, uses the expression “ego eimi:” I AM. He does not say, as in the English translation, “I am he” or “I am the man.” but simply, I AM (the use of the pronoun ego intensifies the statement). The phrase “I AM” introduces many of the great I AM statements by Jesus in John’s Gospel: I AM the bread from heaven, I AM the good shepherd, I AM the true vine. Yet in this story, it does not occur on Jesus’ lips. Even when we might expect it, Jesus uses the third person. After Jesus asks whether the man believes in the Son of Man, the man asks Jesus, “Who is he, that I might believe?” We expect Jesus to say, “I AM.” Instead, Jesus says, “You have seen him, and he speaks to you.”
The Johannine community came by stages to its understanding of who Jesus was, much like the man in the story comes to his understanding of Jesus by stages. Like the Johannine community, the man is expelled from the synagogue, and yet Jesus meets him and gathers him into his flock (see 10:1-21). The Johannine community meets Jesus in community, even once expelled from the synagogue. God gathers up God’s flock even of the outcast. But, the one who speaks for Jesus in the midst of community is the one born blind, who has come to a vision of the Christ. Jesus speaks in the community through the voices of those who have received their sight in the community. The revelation of Jesus is ongoing in our common life.
The Ephesians passage sounds the same note. Notice it doesn’t say, “You were once in darkness and now are in the light.” It says, “you were once darkness but now are the Light.” We become the light of revelation through our baptism.