4th Sunday of Lent (A)
Fear has big eyes. With just four words this Russian proverb depicts the wide-eyed countenance of intellectual, emotional and spiritual blindness. Fear garners our trust and our friendship and promises vigilance against threats; it conjures the outline of the thief, murderer, or secret agent lurking in every corner. Fear is a shallow breather, a loud talker; it fortifies walls, builds bunkers, spreads untruths like Round-up on a windy day. There’s a snake under every bed. Therefore, fear never rests. Fear suspects everyone of malevolent intentions. Fear, with its myopic goal of self-preservation, shuts out light, extinguishes hope. This kind of fear has no experience or knowledge of God.
When I created the Good Disciple blog, I designed it as a space to reflect upon the Sunday readings in the context of contemporary Christian discipleship. Now, if you take a trip in the way-back machine and read my reflections from 2015, you may notice that I often conclude with the words “As disciples, we are called to blah blah blah” or something of that nature. But, things being what they are these days, I have drifted or waded into deeper waters, perhaps a swamp or something. At some point, disciples also become stewards of what they have learned. Some may say I have grown, or I have found my voice. I wonder. I did get new glasses. So there’s that.
It has been said that experience is the beginning of knowledge. I concur.
Consider the story of the man born blind [John 9:1-41] which is proclaimed on the 4th Sunday of Lent (A). Imagine what it would be like to experience the miracle of sight after a lifetime of darkness. Imagine the naysayers and pessimists who search for holes in your story, who interrogate your family and claim your faith is fraudulent, heretical.
The man born blind did not call out to Jesus to be healed. On the contrary, at first, he was a passive participant in Jesus’ lesson plan. He was in the right place at the right time—just as Jesus and his disciples passed by. Jesus went to him.
Jesus gave sight to the man so that “the works of God might be made visible:” Visible to the man born blind, to his parents and the townspeople; visible to his disciples and other witnesses, and visible to the Pharisees, some of whose eyes were clouded with fear, leading them to interpret Jesus’ clay-making, sight-giving miraculous work on the Sabbath as evidence of his Godlessness (Oh, Hello, Sir Irony!).
For Jesus, life is one big teaching moment.
When I place myself in the biblical scene, I do so as the one whose newfound sight means I can fully engage in the world in a way I could not before. I am free. I am fearless. Awe has big eyes.
The disciples asked Jesus about me as if I was also deaf, or not there and all. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
People with disabilities were not useful members of society, they could not contribute like their able-bodied neighbors and survived on the kindness of strangers. But Jesus corrected their error and touched me. He smeared mud on my eyelids and sent me to the pool to wash it off. I did, and Oh My God. Light entered my world and filled my brain and shapes and colors took form, and I saw the face of the man who touched me, his beautiful face.
Is this real? My head spun from side to side. Is this reliable or is it an illusion? Is it true? I ran home, taking in every sight along the way.
Nothing appeared as I expected it to. Everything was far more beautiful, my parents and siblings, my neighbors, my home and my village, and the trees!
Even with my newfound vision, I sensed my experience and knowledge was partial. The most exciting thing of all was anticipating all that I had yet to see: so many things to experience, so much knowledge to be gained and so many decisions to make. What, for example, would I do with my gift, with my newfound knowledge? Jesus told the disciples I was born blind so that the works of God could be made visible through me. Now that I walked in the light would I use it for the Good? Of course!
In many ways, it is the experience of God that defines our knowledge of what is Good. The experience the man born blind had with Jesus deepened his knowledge of God and motivated him to do Good.
If we believe that God is Good—that the nature of God is the very definition of Good—and if we believe through our spiritual practices we can have an experience of God and therefore gain some knowledge of God, we can then claim some understanding of what is Good. Right?
But as we know, its not that simple. Christians disagree on the nature of God, the meaning of Scripture, the validity of certain theologies and spiritual practices, the place of women in the church, the definition of social justice, the presence of faith in politics and law making and so forth. This is when fear makes an appearance with its thousands of eyes.
All I know is when we make friends with fear we separate ourselves and others from the experience of God, from the full-on, Technicolor, infinitely merciful, life-giving, overflowing, turn-on-all-the-lights, restorative love of God.
Many members of religious institutions and governments, including our own, dwell in the narrow, dank and vapid hallway of fear, blissfully unaware of their intellectual, emotional and spiritual blindness.
Those who have sight have to shine a light on the true experience of God’s Goodness and frankly, the reason for our existence.
Paul exhorts the Ephesians, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” [Eph 5:10]. Moral codes and guidelines serve a purpose, but they are not the arbiter of our conscience. Fear has no place in the equation.
Do we live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God? Are we guided by the true light that casts out fear, do our beliefs and our behaviors reflect our experience and knowledge of God’s love?
Fear may have big eyes, but it is blind to love.