Reading Ramblings – March 30, 2014

Date:  The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 30, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 42:14-21; Psalm 142; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Context: Lent continues.  While the readings and songs for worship follow the Lenten theme of focusing on repentance and our Lord’s obedience and mission, Sundays themselves are not counted as part of the Lenten journey.  Sundays always are a celebration of Easter, always an emphasis on the victory of our Lord over sin, death, and the power of Satan.  As with Advent and festival Sundays throughout the year, we are reading from the Gospel of John rather than Matthew, who is the assigned Gospel for this first year of the three-year lectionary cycle.

Isaiah 42:14-21 — Themes of obedience to God fill the readings for this week.  Isaiah 42 tells of the Lord’s servant, his chosen one, the one who will be obedient to him.  The Lord has been silent, He has restrained himself and chosen his time, the time for his servant to come into the world and to change everything.  The power of the Lord will be demonstrated through this servant.  The Lord’s chosen people Israel have grown deaf and blind to the voice of their God, and so into their midst will come the Lord’s servant.  He will be blind to the sinfulness that entices and beckons others.  He will be deaf to the Siren call of temptation to sin that lures and slays others.  Where God’s people are blind and deaf to God, the Lord’s servant will be blind and deaf to sin.  He will see and hear nothing other than the will of his heavenly Father, and so remain pure, sinless, and capable of bearing your sins and mine to the cross and the tomb. 

Psalm 142 — In the midst of suffering where can we go but to the Lord?  What options lie before us?  We might be tempted to take matters into our own hands, to seek solutions that turn out to be traps to us.  It may seem pointless to hold out in faith to the Lord, yet this is what we are called to do.  We cry out knowing that He hears.  Knowing that not only will He answer, He has already answered in his servant who came to bear our sins.  So we know that regardless of how bleak our situation, we will be surrounded with the righteous (the cloud of faithful witnesses who have gone before us), and we will receive the Lord’s bounty and goodness! 

Ephesians 5:8-14 — We have been transformed.  Not just as dramatic as going from darkness to light, we actually have been brought from darkness to light; once we were lost in our sin and did not know our way.  In Christ, we are made light, and we see the way the Lord lays out for us, what is proper and appropriate and what is not.  Because we are now light, we must flee from the acts of darkness.  We must see them as antithetical to who we are in Christ, even if we were once very, very comfortable with them.  Light changes everything, and nothing can remain the same as it was in darkness, once the light is turned on.  We know things for what they are in the light, and we ourselves are known for what we are and whose we are in the light. 

John 9:1-41— Jesus frequently uses the metaphor of sight to convey truth to his disciples.  In Jesus’ day, it was assumed that if someone suffered some misfortune, this was divine retribution for their sins, or perhaps for the sins of their parents.  Jesus transforms their understanding of misfortune, however.  Even in the midst of suffering the power of God can be made manifest to the glory of God.  However, this may require us to discard some of our cherished assumptions about reality and God. 

Jesus heals a blind man, which might seem a very straightforward (if inexplicable!) thing.  Compared with the disciple’s blindness, this man can now see clearly.  But the disciples are hardly the only ones who have trouble with their vision.  The townfolk are amazed that the man can see.  They can’t believe it—maybe this is somebody else?  The man insists that he is the one who used to be blind.  The people are amazed—how is it that now he can see?  What ought to be immediately praised as a miracle, a gracious work of God the Father is instead interrogated.  They can’t see the work of God in this man’s life for what it is. 

Confused, the people bring the man before people versed in Scripture.  Maybe they can make sense of what has happened.  Again, these people who should immediately know to give God glory and honor for restoring sight are instead more concerned about who it was that restored this man’s sight.  They are already familiar with Jesus and his unconventional ways.  Some want to acknowledge that He is a man of God, but others can’t see this because He doesn’t observe the Law they way they have been taught to observe it. 

Blind to the truth that Jesus teaches, the Pharisees assume some trickery must be at play.  They interrogate the man’s parents, who clearly understand the danger they are in.  Lives can be ruined in court cases and public opinion.  They direct the Pharisees back to the sign, the man himself with his restored sight.  Resigned that he is indeed the former blind man, they assure him that the glory must go only to God, not to Jesus, since Jesus must be a sinner for not observing the Sabbath properly.  Their dialogue with him once again reveals their insistence on remaining blind.  They will not see what is in front of their faces—the power of God manifest in Jesus.  Instead, they belittle the man.  They prefer their blindness to the blinding brightness of seeing Jesus for who and what He is.  The healed man accepts his newly granted vision.  The Pharisees insist on their blind speculations.

Jesus’ words in verse 39 may sound strange, compared to Jesus’ words in 3:17 two weeks ago.  But we have to be careful not to assume that a single word used in two different contexts has the same meaning.  Jesus assured Nicodemus that the Son of Man did not come into the world to judge but to save.  But in coming into the world, the Son of Man reveals the blindness of those who cannot or will not accept him.  The judgment against them is revealed when they refuse to accept and follow him.  The coming of the Son of God into the world is hope for those who can see that they are lost without him, but for those who insist on the blindness of assuming they are good enough for God, or that there is no God that they must justify themselves before, their alleged wisdom and insight is demonstrated to be blindness. 

Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisees at the end of this chapter should serve as a warning to the Church today.  Those who claim to know God’s stand under the higher expectation of seeking to live obediently to it.  Claiming to know the will of God condemns our sinfulness and should force us to fall again daily on the mercy of God the Father through our baptism into Jesus Christ.  When claiming to know the will of God creates only hardness in our hearts, we can be sure that we are just as blind as the Pharisees, and perhaps in just as great danger. 


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