Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent 2023
Because of scarlet fever, Helen Keller became blind and deaf when she was only a few months old. Darkness and silence was all she knew until she learned to speak through her hands. She went on to become a great author, teacher and activist. She once stated, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision!”
This weekend we are invited to spend some time with the experience of the man born blind as told in the Gospel according to John. Also, we are called to focus on “communion” as an important part of our Lenten Theme, “Enlarge the Space of our Tent.” How does these peices fit together? The man in the gospel is brought before the powerful… the religious leaders to explain who gave him his vision. Throughout this story, the man has held is own. He didn’t invite Jesus to heal him… by all appearance, he was going about his life. Jesus makes a remedy out of mud and spit… dirt and water mixed together… echos of the Genesis’ creation story where God made man from the dirt of the earth. This tells us that this man not only was healed, but he was re-created.
He gradually comes to realize that it is Jesus who has opened his eyes. Many were disbelieving, an indication of their own blindness. Some see “sin” as the cause of his blindness. Because of his sinfulness or that of his parent, because of this ‘default’ he was not in communion… not considered part of the community. Therefore, he was not employable for that time and culture, and so his only means for survival was to beg for a living. The man recognizes his healer as a prophet and a man from God. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, last week, the ‘Woman at the Well’ another person who seemingly stood outside the main community, had earlier recognized Jesus as a ‘prophet’. And the week before that, in the Transfiguration story, the prophets Moses and Elijiah came and stood with Jesus as witnessed by Peter, James and John.
How do we feel when we hear and absorb this gospel? As we continue ‘to enlarge the space of our tent,’ how are we welcoming and accepting those who are considered not in communion? Because we all want to be part of or included. One of the worse feelings is to be ‘left out’ or ‘not to be included’ … out of communion with the rest of the group. For when that happens both the group and the person(s) excluded suffer. Even when ‘we can see’ no doubt we also realize that there are limits to our vision. With the man born blind, we seek the healing that comes from the encounter with Jesus to open our eyes so that we might see ever more clearly. Perhaps we have limited vision due to culture, tradition, church, our image of God or bad experiences. We seek to see the presence of the Lord in our life experiences. As we share in his vision, we are liberated for the mission of the Gospel. The challenge for all of us is to pray with this text considering how we might see things through the lens of compassion and inclusion.
As we celebrate Pope Francis’ ten years as the Bishop of Rome, we see in him a man who continues to invite us to a new vision of the Reign of God (again… in the here and now). His concern for our communion, our participation in creation, his love of the Gospel, and his engaging all of us in a synod process are blessings for the life of the church and the world. He desires to hear all people’s dreams, hopes, and brokenness. He calls each and everyone of us to be shepherds with him in seeking the broken and the lost. He imagines the church as a field hospital where we triage the many people who have experienced the struggles of life. He calls us to a new way of knowing ourselves as church, and through listening to one another, wash away the mud from our eyes that we might see the graced person who walks with us.
With God’s grace, we may see greater equity of ministry by women in the church, the realization of the gifts that people who have suffered fractured relationships of divorce bring to the community, and the talents of our LGBTQ+ members. We need everyone around the table and everyone on the journey to the heart. Jesus is inviting all of us into communion, just as he did the Woman at the Well and the Man born blind.
I want to close with another quote from Helen Keller, “There is no better way to thank God for our sight than by giving someone a helping hand to someone who is in the dark.” Perhaps our task this week is to open our eyes of our heart, ‘enlarging the space of our tent,’ and welcome someone in to communion… to recognize the gifts of the people in our lives and our community. Then along with the newly sighted man of the Gospel, we too, will give thanks to Jesus. Amen.