Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Man Born Blind/Good Shepherd – John 9:1-10:21

Exiled – Thrown out – driven out – shunned – defined as outsiders, as exiles – unwanted – tolerated barely.
All of those words and phrases describe part of the issues raised by this story of the 6th sign in John 9 – Jesus brings sight to the man born blind.
Exiled – Thrown out – driven out – shunned – defined as outsiders, as exiles – unwanted – tolerated barely.
These words and phrases define the community of Christians living in late 1st century Palestine, out of which this Gospel of John emerged.  After the Romans had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and the religious foundation of Judaism had shifted away from the Temple to the Synagogue, these Christians had suddenly found themselves as outsiders.  They had been thrown out of the synagogue – exiled within their own community – shunned and avoided by their friends, neighbors and family.  It is hard to describe and understand how profound and traumatic this must have been to these early believers.  To have your culture ripped away, all the relationships that were important to you destroyed.  Can you imagine this?  This describes the community for which this Gospel was written.
In our Old Testament lesson Adam and Eve were the consummate insiders.  Created to live a wonderful, carefree life in the Garden of creation.  Then they hear these words: “Your eyes will be open and you will be like God” comes the temptation, and it is too much to resist.  Wanting to take control, wanting to replace God with their own will, tempted to put themselves in the center of their own worlds Eve and Adam take the forbidden fruit and eat of it. And sure enough their eyes are open, they see, they understand and they are ashamed and hide themselves as they hear God walking in the Garden.
This is the Sin of Adam – also known as Original Sin.  It is not disobedience. It is not breaking the rules, it is even not disregarding the 10 Commandments.  It is the desire to put one’s self in the center of one’s own universe – it is human self-centeredness - selfishness.  And we are all guilty of it.  The bad things we do are the symptoms of the disease. But the disease itself – called Sin – is putting myself in the center of my universe.  From this comes broken relationship – beginning with Adam and Eve.
By now it should not be surprising if I tell you that John adds to this definition of Sin another dimension and it is this dimension of relationship.  To be in Sin – for John – is that your relationship with God and with others is broken.  Which of course is exactly what happens to Adam and Eve and we see the same thing in the story of the man born Blind in chapter 9 of the Gospel of John – but not in the way we expect.
“Whose sin is responsible for the fact that this man was born blind?”  The disciples ask Jesus.  The assumption is that God has punished this man for some sin, some behavior, some horrible infraction of the commandments that he or his parents or someone in his family had committed.  We still hear well-meaning but misguided Christians, even pastors assert the same attitude.  But Jesus completely rejects this popular analysis.  “Neither his sin or his parents,” Jesus says, and you can hear the impatience in his voice.  God so loved the world that God GAVE to Son to enter, enfleshed, incarnate into the world. The key to understanding the incarnate God is LOVE.  That is the bottom line!  God is not in the business of zapping people, or doling out punishments.  Because God’s love for God’s creation, especially the people God created is overwhelming and what God cares about is being in relationship.  That is what this story is about – it is a story of relationship restored. 
Exiled – Thrown out – driven out – shunned – defined as outsiders, as exiles – unwanted – tolerated barely.
These words and phrases describe this man who had been born blind.  But Jesus speaks to him and this man who had been born blind now receives his sight, but more than that, he is restored to relationship with his community – and with God.  He is “saved from isolation and marginalization.  His healing brings him light and saves him from everlasting darkness. Never again will he wonder where his next meal will come from or who will answer his pleas as he sits begging outside the city.”  He has been brought into community, he has been restored to relationship with his community and with God.
But he will be thrown out of the synagogue – just like John’s own community.  Those Jewish leaders will try to redefine him as an outsider and an exile.  But, also like John’s community, it will not work – because Jesus has invited him into the pasture – to return to the garden.  They are invited to enter through the Sheep-Gate – or the Sheep-Door – that is they are invited by Jesus to enter through Jesus, himself.  Those that seek to destroy relationship, through judgment and rejection and hate are the thieves and the bandits.  Jesus invites this man, and the community of believers to enter into the Garden, the pasture – which means that they are invited to enter into relationship with God, through Jesus.  For Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who loves and protects the sheep.  Jesus is the Gate for the Sheep.  Jesus is the I AM – Jesus is God incarnate who calls us into relationship.
Now, you would think that this story about a man being born blind would be all about sight and blindness – about light and darkness.  And it is certainly about those things.  But John adds something else to the mix – something new:  Hearing!  Maybe not so new, Jesus has been speaking and inviting all along.  Come and See he said when he called the disciples.  Come and See the Samaritan woman said the people of her village after entering into a relationship with Jesus.  But here in this story hearing is central.  The man is restored to sight because he hears Jesus’ instructions, he responds and he follows.  Unlike Adam and Eve who hear the sound of YHWH walking in the garden and hide in shame and fear – this man hears Jesus’ call and follows him.  In the same way do all of the Good Shepherd’s sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow through the gate into the Garden.
This will not be the last time either – Lazarus will be lying dead in his tomb for 3 full days, but nevertheless he will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and come forth in the profound final sign of chapter 11.  And Jesus continues to speak words of invitation – Jesus continues to call all of God’s sheep to come and see – to come and follow – to enter into the Sheep Gate – to go through the Door and to accept the invitation.  This man who was born blind is no longer an outsider and cast away, he is there in the Garden; John’s community is NOT exiled and shunned and cast away by God, they are there in the Garden; You and me and others are no longer outsiders, shunned, on the edge, overwhelmed by sin and guilt, for we have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and have entered through the Gate into the Garden.
This is a metaphor then for forgiveness and the restoration of relationship.  The Sin of Adam, the destruction of selfishness does not have the last word.  For we have been washed in the waters of Baptism and we see that God loves us more than we can ever imagine, and we are called to follow and are sent to share this gift of love with all others whom we encounter.
We have heard the call – to paraphrase our Psalm for this morning –
Come and See / Come and Hear
We are sent to reach out of ourselves in the love of Christ and to call others to Come and See – Come and Hear! 

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