Light changes things

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings :-

What struck me about today’s readings was the number of shifts in belonging that they illustrate all of which are suggestive of the move the Christian believer has to make as she/he allows the faith to develop in them.

We begin with our gospel (John 9:1-41) in which the man born blind and a beggar – not very promising material we might think, becomes the object lesson in Jesus’ declaration of his true identity: As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world. The one with nothing is tended to by the one who is the power behind the universe. Yet the extraordinary thing is that both this great healing – the restoration of sight to one born blind and the revelation of God, far from being an occasion of general rejoicing attracts the hostility of the Pharisees. Quite simply this happens because Jesus works this miracle on the Sabbath, a day of rest to strict Jews and thus incurs their wrath. There is something almost tragic-comic about this incident and John exploits it to the full to illustrate the ‘blindness’ of those in Judaism whose rigidity would not allow them to engage with the creative wonders of their creator God. First of all they discount the miracles because they believe Jesus to be a ‘sinner’ for not observing the Sabbath despite the fact that the healed man declares him a ‘prophet’ after the style of Elijah and Elisha. Then, as though pressure could be applied to destroy the evidence so palpably before them they demand that the man’s parents testify on his behalf having already threatened to throw any who acknowledged Jesus out of the synagogue. The parents accordingly pass the buck back on the man himself. Already then we see that the fact of his restored sight and his acknowledgement of Jesus has cut him off from his family and the place he had as a beggar. As the dialogue continues we see that the Pharisees dig ever deeper holes for the man, and of course for themselves in the course of which the man declares himself as a disciple of Jesus, the only rational response surely to such a great gift. But our man is not to be browbeaten or put off and argues that Jesus must come from God on the evidence of this great miracle. The upshot of all this is that he is driven away, in fact into the arms of and adoration for Jesus. John then turns this into a discussion on the question of light and dark, sight and blindness as a way of castigating the intransigence of those Jews who would not see through to the heart of the miracle and the identity of its performer.

When we come to our reading from Ephesians (5:8-14) this question of being in the dark, spiritual darkness arises once again in which Paul looks at the difference separating converts to Christianity from their former pagan state. Formerly they worshipped many gods – but from fear not love and as paganism carried no moral imperative they could treat one another as they wished. In Christianity, as Paul expounds so brilliantly in this letter, they have become ‘filled with all the fullness of God’, they are ‘destined in love to be sons of God’, given a status quite unheard of and must therefore cast off their old ‘darkness’ to live godlike lives. Quoting from what was probably a baptismal liturgy he reminds them that they, like the dead are now awakened to a new and glorious life. They have been lifted from one lifestyle to another to become the people of God himself, the former ‘darkness’ is driven away by the light and they are completely reoriented.

I suppose our Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 16:6-7, 10-13) is about much the same thing as we witness David, taken as the least of his family in an insignificant tribe not of royal blood and anointed by Samuel to be the new king and the founder of a dynasty in place of Saul and in him the entire history of his nation would rest and be reshaped. Perhaps Lent is our time for reshaping and probing the mystery of whose and what we are and, as was the case with the blind man and a king that could be quite a taxing thing.

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