4th Sunday of Lent (A) 2020
Forty Martyrs’; St Bede’s
The hero of the Gospel story is a man who was been marginalized from birth. It is astonishing that he has survived through infancy, a perilous time for all children, even the strong and healthy, to adolescence and on to adulthood. He must have been robust, determined, lucky, and with devoted parental care.
His life-options were always strictly limited. The only occupation open to him was begging, and living on his wits, which must have been well-honed for him to survive as long as he has. His sharpness becomes evident when he is challenged by the Pharisees.
Throughout his life, as if his disability was not hardship enough, he has been reviled as a man who was a sinner or the son of sinners. That affliction like his was the result of sin was a popular notion, not withstanding that the Book of Job discussed the matter and found the theory wrong. The theology had not seeped down to the pious, who wanted to see holiness in their own wholeness; and that was boosted if they could imagine sin in disability.
Those with physical afflictions were barred from worship in the Temple. They could not offer sacrifice; they could not attend prayers; they were outcasts by a trick of birth. This was easily justified because God commands all things and if God had wanted them to take part in sacred ritual he would not have allowed them to be born defective. So, despite the Book of Job and the innocence – the God-declared innocence, of God’s friend Job, the afflicted were sinners, or their condition was caused by sin, and the righteous should give them alms if they wished but keep them at a safe distance otherwise.
That Jesus healed sick people is an undeniable truth. Even his enemies accepted that he had healing powers – even if some said they came from him being in association with the devil. Indeed, it is only in the ‘scientific’ Western world since the eighteenth century that signs and wonders (popularly called ‘miracles’) have been denied. In the other cultures of the world, and across time, extraordinary healings have been accepted, authenticated and acknowledged.
Jesus, a marginalized figure himself in hostile Jerusalem, meets the man. His disciples show they are unfamiliar with the Book of Job, and perhaps think they are clever instigating a theological seminar. Jesus treats the man as a person, not as a specimen. He touches the man and speaks to him. Touch and sound were senses which the unseeing man will have developed. He then sends him to pool named ‘Sent’.
The biblically literate may recall how Jacob, whose well featured in last Sunday’s majestic reading, fooled his blind father by smell – he wore his brothers clothes so he would smell of the outdoors, by touch – his mother had covered his smooth arms with goat’s skin to feel like Esau’s hairy physique, but he could not change his voice to sound like that of his brother. It took a blatant lie to convince his father and gain the blessing of the first-born had had so long coveted. Now touch and voice are used to affirm the blind man whose life was a history of abuse, blows and kicks.
He obeys the authoritative voice and the friendly touch. He washes. HE CAN SEEEE.
But his journey is only beginning. He has to stand his ground against the charmless authorities who cower his parents into cowardice. He is thrown out. Even with his sight, now whole, he is not allowed to be sin-free. Forgiveness, a recognition of a new situation, is not the way of the intransigent, especially when they feel they are losing control.
Jesus has not lost touch with the man he touched. And the man has not forgotten the one who has transformed him, made him whole. He believes. More, he worships the one who has saved him. His sight is new; insight is something he always had, but now that insight is directed to identifying the one who touched him – and he acknowledges in worship the Son of Man. Worship is proper only to God. He sees what the pious, the righteous, the model theologians are never going to see.
They see only a man on the margins who is an irritant to be squashed, as soon as the chance appears.