A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World who restores sight to the blind. Amen.
I’m not afraid of the dark, generally speaking. But on two separate occasions, I’ve been in a cave where the tour guide shut off the lights for us to see how dark it truly is deep under the earth’s surface: once in the paved tunnels of Wind Cave National Park, accompanied by an experienced ranger, and the other time on in the narrow, damp, muddy caverns under the mountains of eastern Tennessee on a spelunking trip with a high school youth group.
And both times were utterly terrifying. I could see, and then I was blind.
Once the last photons disappeared, it was as though the entire world had been horrifyingly unmade. Suddenly, one entire sense was wiped out. With no fixed objects to look at, I was so disoriented that even the slightest tilt of the head or a subtle shift of balance was nauseatingly dizzying.
When the lights came on, I felt safer – but still not safe. I spent the long trips back to the earth’s surface still terrified that some accident might plunge us back into the void and that this time, we would be stuck in the inky abyss.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. There’s a shockingly embodied healing involving spit, dirt, and a dip in the bath, but BOOM! Miracle! It’s as though he emerged from a cave into vivid world of blue sky and green leaves.
He can see! What good news! And he’s met with…
His neighbors ask if it’s really him or just some lookalike.
The local rabbis are angry that he was healed on the Sabbath.
This miraculous gift becomes the subject of derision and scorn.
“How?!” the people demand.
His answer should be sufficient for a huge celebration: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” But in the end, he’s forced out of the community for receiving such an astonishing gift.
This man’s sight was given to him, but his neighbors and the religious leaders remain blind to the work that Christ is doing. Jesus defies their pious expectations – he heals on the Sabbath! Such scandal! – and in their blindness, they are thrown off balance, making them dizzy and perhaps even a little nauseous.
How blind we remain to God’s salvific work in the world. We turn a blind eye to the sin that plagues us, and when the Spirit calls us to see what new and glorious thing God is doing, we ask, “How can it be?”
How can it be that a ragtag group made of mostly fishermen and women could change the world forever?
How can it be that a roving Italian friar named Francis and a grumpy German monk named Martin could reform the power structures of Church?
How can it be that as so many Lutherans acquiesced to the demands of the Nazi regime, a mild-mannered theologian named Dietrich could lead the resistance?
How can it be that as white Christians unleashed the hounds and the hoses, a few pastors named Martin, Ralph, and Joseph envisioned the blessed community and broke the chains of the Jim Crow South?
How can it be that in the grim void of this world, the Church endures?
It is because Christ came into the world for judgment – that is, for the justification of sinners, setting all things to right. While others were blind in their ignorance, these saints could see the coming Reign of God.
Dear friends, in your baptism, you were washed by Christ! Your eyes were opened – now see what wondrous things our Lord is doing! Live into this vivid new reality!
When that nagging question comes up and you wonder, “How can it be?”, when the sinful abyss of this age becomes dizzying remember that the Light of the World has come to reveal God’s full glory! You were blind, but Christ bid you wash, and now you can see! Open your eyes and trust that the Light will conquer the void!
And to you, beloved, who have not yet been baptized, hear the words of Saint Ambrose:
You, too, should come to Siloam…. Let Christ wash you and you will then see. Come and be baptized…and you too will be able to say, “I went and washed;” you will be able to say, “I was blind, and now I can see,” and as the blind man said when his eyes began to receive the light. “The night is almost over and the day is at hand.”
My dear friends, remember the promises of grace given to us in the Font. Rejoice in the riches of God’s grace, and behold the beauty of our new life in Christ.