26 March 2017
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4A (RCL)
1 Samuel 16:1-13
This is the central chapter of John’s Gospel and pulls together many of the themes of the Gospel. And central to the chapter is the encounter between the Jews and the parents of the man born blind. The parents refuse to answer “for fear of the Jews,” because the Jews have already agreed that anyone who confesses the Christ will be thrown out of the synagogue. The chapter takes up the question of the nature of sin. The chapter opens with the disciples asking, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” and closes with Jesus telling the Pharisees that since they claim to see, their sin remains. The action in this chapter points to the disciples after the resurrection, locked in the room, “for fear of the Jews,” when Jesus appears, breathes on them, and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The sins of whoever you forgive are forgiven them. The sins of whoever you retain are retained.”
Also remarkable in this passage is that the man born blind claims the divine name. When the neighbors question whether he is the same man, he answers, “I AM” (in Greek ego eimi). In all of Jesus’ discourses in John’s Gospel, Jesus uses that phrase: I AM the good shepherd; I AM the vine; I AM the bread of life. And in this passage, we would expect Jesus to use it after he has found the blind man and asked him if he believes in the Son of Man. The man asks, “And who is he, sir, so that I might believe in him?” We would expect Jesus to respond, “I AM.” Instead, Jesus says, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” This is John’s way of telling us that the man born blind, who has recovered his sight takes the role of Christ in this episode.
And because the man recovered his sight by washing in a pool called “Sent”, he is all of us who have been baptized. We have recovered our sight, and now speak the divine name. The conflict between John’s community and the “Jews” has reached a head. The Johannine community has been expelled from the synagogue, and the question is the nature of sign and sight. The Jews were locating the revelation of God in the scriptures, while the Johannine community was locating it in its own discourse. Each one could speak in the name of Christ, and the words of Jesus lived on in community. For the Jews (at least as John caricatures them) sin lay in closing the boundary and the canon — a failure to see “the works of him who sent me.” Since the Temple no longer stood, and the ceremonies of the Great Day of Atonement were impossible, sin and righteousness became a matter of keeping the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, as found in the scriptures. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, they are told that they replace the high priesthood with the power to forgive sin. The Johannine community is given and awesome responsibility, and can now determine the boundaries of community on their own authority.