Reading Ramblings – March 22, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020

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

Context: Yes, we’re in Lent. We are also in the time of COVID-19, and so the text from John seems almost unavoidable for us to focus on. But as we’re in the season of Lent rather than Ordinary Time, the readings are intended to work together, and they do so beautifully. They are readings of hope. Readings that do not minimize our present struggles but acknowledge them both physically and spiritually and point us to the hope we have in the restorative work of God the Father, a work evidenced by God the Son in starting the process of healing and restoration with the blind man. This is what we are to focus on rather than obsessing in fear and anxiety. Those are easy things to say when all is going well, but now that we are faced with grave upendings of daily routines, they are no less true and we are to take them no less seriously. The hope we have in Christ is not simply a hope for easy times but a hope for all times.

Isaiah 42:14-21 – Isaiah writes in another period of fear and uncertainty. The people of God in Jerusalem and Judea have been ravaged by Assyrian armies, with Jerusalem being miraculously spared from siege. But the threat of Assyria remains real. God allowed his people to be hard afflicted before sparing them from total destruction. At times it seems as though God’s rescue and mercy are far off, not according to our preferences and timeframes. But God is never absent! God works through and in all things, even those things that most terrify us. God has promised us salvation and restoration and He will make good on that promise ultimately, and in the meantime He abides with us to guide us as restored and saved people here and now. We are called to remain faithful to him and not put our faith and trust ultimately in things that have not and cannot save us. In times of fear it is easy to place our faith and trust in medicine and technology, in best practices as we come to know them. And these things are all well and good but they are not our hope! Our hope is not merely to be spared from contagion. Our hope is to be in Christ for eternity! We look forward not simply to long and peaceful lives here and now, but prepare our hearts and minds for that real and true and final rescue, where our darkness is turned into light and the rough places are made level forever.

Psalm 142 – This is a beautiful psalm of hope and confidence in our God even when things are very bad, and evil appears to have taken the day. It calls us first of all to be in prayer and supplication to God (vs.1-2). This is not because God needs to be informed of our plight, but we need to remember who our refuge and strength is. Social distancing and other precautions are all well and good but it is God alone who knows our paths and directs and controls all things. Verses 3-4 outline the fearful condition we may find ourselves in. Surely there is no rescue, no escape! But this is our perspective, not God’s. We cry out to him knowing that He alone is our source of hope (vs.5-7). And our cries are not in vain. We are confident of our God’s blessing and care not simply within the confines of this life but for all eternity. We are not forgotten. We are not abandoned. And not even death can separate us from the glorious joy of eternal fellowship with God and his redeemed. Our fellowship with one another now is a foreshadowing of this, so that we look forward eagerly to the chance to worship and be together as a sneak preview of the joy we will have forever in Christ.

Ephesians 5:8-14 – The imitation we are to make of God pertains to our treatment of one another in kindness and forgiveness as Paul just finished explaining in chapter 4. Loving one another has very tangible expressions, and we are not free to decide what we will or won’t do in terms of loving one another, but rather are called in obedience and emulation of God to be kind and forgive others. And of course, as we pursue these emulations of God we naturally should be pushing away those things inappropriate for the redeemed. We are to take seriously the commands of God as they apply to our lives, and to reject anyone who tells us these things don’t matter. Not because they can’t be forgiven but because they are inappropriate for the redeemed and can lead ultimately only to our rejection of God’s grace. We are not like the rest of the world that rejects or does not know God and therefore creates other sytems of belief and practice and claims they are fine and good. We know what is good and right and this is the path we are to pursue, seeking to please God rather than ourselves. We have been woken from the slumber of sin and ignorance of the grace and goodness of God and the right way to live. We can’t simply go back to sleep.

In this time of contagion, this means specifically that we refuse to pursue fearfulness and anxiety, that we refuse to think solely of ourselves, but rather are constantly open to how God may use us to help others, and constantly focus ourselves on his promises to us rather than fear-mongering in print or other media. We seek to focus on hope and joy, not in ignorance of what goes on around us but despite what goes on around us, confident in our Lord’s promises to us through his resurrected Son who has conquered death itself and every affliction which contributes towards or leads to it. This does not necessarily exempt us from contagion, but it does dictate how we deal with the possibility or reality of it, and how we deal with others around us.

John 9:1-41 – The issue of blindness runs throughout this story but we miss the central point if we think the blindness is just what Jesus heals in the man. That man can see now, but the others in this account remain blind. The disciples are blind, not seeing the man himself, suffering, but rather seeing only a possibility for theological discourse and intellectual stretching. They want to discern theological truths but ignore the real suffering of the real blind man right in front of them. Likewise the religious authorities are hardly at all interested in the man himself and praising God he now can see. Rather, they only see grounds for potentially convicting Jesus of sinning against the Sabbath. They are indifferent to the suffering the man has been delivered from. They too want to discuss theology abstracted from reality, and are willing even to curse the very real, healed man when he does not suit their theological goals.

The man begins blind, physically. Just as God molded man from the clay of the ground in Genesis 2, Jesus literally molds sight for the blind man from the mud of the ground. But the man still is as blind as the disciples and the Pharisees. But unlike them, his spiritual sight progresses. At first he doesn’t even know Jesus other than by name (v.10). Then he believes Jesus to be a prophet (v.17), hardly a light profession as an authentic prophet has not been recognized among the Jewish people for 400 years! Then he sees Jesus as someone worthy of following (v.27) and asserts that Jesus is sent by God (vs.30-34). Finally he professes faith in Jesus as the Son of Man, as the Messiah (v.38), worshiping him as a demonstration of what he believes to be true.

The one who started out blind is no longer blind, while those who sought deeper spiritual sight at the expense of their physical sight still cannot see, as Jesus asserts at the end of this reading. Theology happens in a real world with real people and real suffering. If we begin to be blind to those people in order to pursue our pure theology, we are dangerously mistaken and only demonstrate our blindness. While we may not be granted the power to restore a blind person’s sight, we do have the power to see God’s creation and creatures around us and seek to love them first, rather than ignoring them or seeing them as object lessons for our theology.

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