Getting Ready for Sunday: March 26, John 9:1-41

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Jesus asks, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" (John 9:35). This question comes near the end of our passage from the Gospel of John, but reminds me of a question asked when we renew our Baptismal Covenant: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?" This passage serves as a timely reminder to consider thoughtfully our answer to this question.

Having served as a hospital chaplain, the conversations among the disciples as they approached the blind man are very familiar. They were questioning where to place the blame for the man's blindness: with him or with his parents. I have had many conversations where a loved one was in pain or dealing with a severe illness, and the questions asked were: "Why God?" "How could this happen to someone so young?" "What did I do wrong?" When we ask how or why something happens, we assume the risk of not finding an answer. If we cannot find an answer with some degree of certainty, it is possible to fall into deep despair, into darkness. If we do find an answer, it feels as though we are in control over our lives, but it tends to be short-lived. Today’s gospel lesson helps us to see that the question is not "how" or "why." The question is "who."

While all those standing around Jesus and the blind man ask the wrong questions, Jesus keeps saying it is about who is at work before their eyes. After being healed, the blind man describes his healer by name, "the man called Jesus." Later, he calls him "a prophet." Even later, he recognizes Jesus as a man "from God." In increasingly greater depth, over a period of time, this man comes to confess Jesus as his Lord. Meanwhile, the people surrounding them, who claim to know the answers, become increasingly blinded by their obsession with the wrong questions. Fear and anxiety grips their hearts, while openness and trust enables the man who was blind to walk closer to the light. He is set free.

When we ask the wrong questions, we, too, can become bogged down in the wrong answers. Like the disciples, we can become caught up in believing that sin is the result of bad behavior, and we must have done something to deserve the inevitable punishment. From John’s perspective, however, this is not about our behavior. It is about God's revelation in Jesus Christ. The man's blindness is not an occasion for reflection on sin and causality. It is an occasion to consider the revelation of God's grace in the world. Jesus says, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

All of God's children are born blind in some sense, and through our own anointing and washing, we are also given new sight. Knowing how the man became blind is not as important as believing in the one who can give sight to the blind. While, Jesus healed the man who was blind in verse 6 of this chapter, there are 35 more verses to the story. We are given new life in baptism early in our lives, but there are many more verses to our own story. Just as Jesus suddenly breaks into the blind man's life, God has broken into your life. The first words that Jesus speaks to the blind man are the same words that Jesus speaks to you today: go and seek the one who is sent, the one sent by God. By this invitation, Jesus brings you out of the darkness and into the light. You, too, have been empowered to see the marvelous works of God with new eyes, and you are free to give glory to God in the way you choose to live out your lives.

If like the blind man, we can hear the words of Christ without having to know how or why; if we fully accept the anointing of our heads and the cleansing of our sins; and if we can witness to the truth of Christ's light in our lives even in the face of darkness, then when we hear the question, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" we, too, can say, "Yes, Lord we believe."

Getting Ready for Sunday: The Rev. Matthew Olver

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The season of Epiphany in the three-year lectionary that came to the Church after the Second Vatican Council—and to American Anglicans in the 1979 Prayer Book’s lectionary—reorders the lessons during this season. After the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus, we are taken through various mini-revelations, little disclosures of who Jesus is. But these disclosure happen in a particular way. The revelation is now about the things that Jesus can do—he can heal people!—but who Jesus is, the very nature of Jesus. But all of these revelations come by way of actions. The “signs” in the first part of St. John’s Gospel disclose the identity of the Son of Mary to be concomitantly the eternal Son of God come by way of what Jesus does.

Part of the lectionary’s reconfiguration was to bring Epiphanytide to conclusion with a commemoration of the Transfiguration. Since the ninth century, the Transfiguration was celebrated on August 6. The downside of this timing was that outside of priests and those in religious life, its celebration was not experienced by the laity a great deal. For the Orthodox, the feast falls during the time of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Dormition, the feast that in the West (under the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin) celebrates the glorious mystery that Mary is the first creature to share in the fullness of the fruit of Christ’s Paschal Victory. “O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary,” the collect of our own Prayer Book begins. “Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.” It is not accident that in anticipation of the “arc of flame known as grace” (to use Romano Guardini’s lovely turn) in the life of Mary, which stands as a vision of anticipatory hope for all Christians in the glory of the heavenly kingdom, we should contemplate the even greater glory that constitutes the Incarnate Son of God.

On the holy Mount, a sign is given. But it is not because Jesus does anything. Instead, the infinite damn that protected creation from being overwhelmed by the presence of its Creator developed a small crack. St. Peter tells us in our epistle that he was an eyewitness, not to the action, but an “eyewitness of the majesty.” And what seeped out was nothing else but the “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints” (Col 1:26): the Savior of the World has come. To mash together C.S. Lewis and Milan Kundera, on the holy Mount of Tabor, Peter and John behold the “Unbearable Glory of Being.”

The particular revelation of Israel’s Messiah as the self-same Savior of the Gentiles in the visitation of the Magi is further explicated, first at the Baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and then near the end on the Mount of Transfiguration. In both events, we are given a revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We are shown that what is revealed to us is nothing short of the fullness of God “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). At the baptism, the Father speaks the audible word about his visible Son, the living Word, which is confirmed by a theophany of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. On the Holy Hill of Zion, the divinely constructed damn (for what can look upon God and not by destroyed by the Consuming Fire?) is made slightly less opaque. The tiniest measure of Majestic Glory trickles out and slams the disciples to the ground. The Father speaks again a word of revelation. And wrapping the disciples round—binding them to the invisible Father disclosed in Christ Jesus—is the Holy Spirit’s cloud, that cloud that led Israel out of Egypt. 

It is no accident that Moses stands there with Jesus in this transfiguration scene:

Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ The Lord said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain’ (Ex 3:11-12).

Israel was liberated so that they might worship the Lord and thus be a light to the nations. The veil is pulled back for us that we too might worship “with reverence and awe,” this God who is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). St. Paul explains that the wisdom of God, “secret and hidden” was “decreed before the ages” for one purpose: “for our glory” (1 Cor 2:7).

The glory revealed was on the Mountain of the Lord is a piece of the revelation of the Son of God, whose purpose is our salvation. This is God’s work of transformation, so that we can changed in order to share in His glory. To truly see Him as he is, we must be changed and made like Him (I John 3:1-3). Offer your weakness and your failures along with your bread and wine this Sunday and share in the glory of the eternal Son.

The Rev. 

Matthew S. C. Olver is Assistant Professor of Liturgics and Pastoral Theology, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.