Read the text here: John 9
Defined by our Weakness
Throughout Lent we have focused on relationship – our relationships with God and with each other. These relationships are central to our lives. No matter how much we want to believe that we don’t need anyone else and that we can do it on our own, this is simply not true. We need God and we need others. We were created to be in relationship with God and others and in Baptism we are given the gift of community. The brokenness of our relationships is created by our self-centeredness, our false self of individualism. But God strives to restore these relationships for us. Ultimately through Jesus, God is constantly at work healing and restoring the brokenness in our lives.
Throughout Lent we have focused on the central stories in the Gospel of John. So far we have met Nicodemus and the Woman and the Well, both of whom do not believe they are lost or broken, but through Jesus begin not only to see the possibility of being restored to relationship, but (at least in the case of the woman) embrace this immediately. In both of these stories we see how our own self-perception and our preconceptions can get in the way of Jesus reaching out to us. Today we meet the man born blind and in this healing story we see how Jesus restores this man to relationship with God, but also how hard it is to overcome how we are defined by others and how we define ourselves.
One of the things that has always struck me about this story is how after he is healed instead of celebrating, many of his “friends” and acquaintances do not even recognize him. Indeed, after all of these centuries even we continue to refer to this man as “the man born blind.” This man is identified by his weakness, by his disability. And those who knew him cannot even recognize him without it. They think it might be him, it kind of looks like him. But they can’t be sure because now that the disability, the blindness is healed. They simply don’t know who this guy is anymore. Even his parents aren’t sure what to say.
I’m not sure that this is all that peculiar. “How often, I wonder, do we define those around us in terms of their shortcomings, challenges, or perceived deficits. That woman is unemployed, we may say, or this man is divorced. She’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout. He’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic. She has cancer. He’s depressed. Nor is this practice limited to others. We often do the same to ourselves, allowing past setbacks, disappointments, or failures to shape how we see ourselves. We seem to have such a penchant for defining others -- and ourselves -- in terms of problems rather than possibilities that we aren’t sure what to do when the situation changes. And so the friends of the man born blind have defined him -- and even their relationships with him -- so fully in terms of his disability that they can’t recognize him when he regains his sight.”
By the end of the story this man who has had sight restored and who has been healed is expelled from the synagogue. He is cut off from his family and community completely. Why, because those around him refuse to see beyond his blindness and for them, without the blindness this man no longer has an identity. And what about us? How often do we struggle with this exact same issue? How often are we more like the family and friends or the authorities in this story – defining a human being by something external, or something in that person’s past, or a failing or a disability and refusing to see the gift of the whole and restored person within?
In Baptism, God, through Christ claims us as God’s own child, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the name of Christ. In baptism we are given the gift of wholeness and the promise that no matter what God will always work to restore us to that wholeness. No matter where we wander, what our troubles and mistakes, no matter our preconceptions and prejudices and those of others around us, no matter how hostile we get towards God – God loves and accepts us for who we are anyway - unconditionally. And at the same time God calls upon us to open our hearts to others around us. And to begin to work to see others not as “them,” or “those people,” “or that failure,” but as fellow Children of God who are also called and beloved by God and with whom called has called us to be in community.