21 March 2017

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2 April 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
Saint John 11:1-45

Background: Ancient Israelite Burial Customs

Like their neighbors in Egypt and in Mesopotamian, the ancient Israelites placed great value on the burial of the dead, usually in an area proximate to the burial places of family members. Burial was so important, that it was considered a curse not to be buried. In Deuteronomy 28:26, we see a curse directed at those that did not honor a covenant, “Your corpses will become food for all the birds of the air and for the beasts of the field, with no one to frighten them off.” The prophets, most notably Jeremiah, also used this threat. It is also interesting to note that this custom also obtained for the stranger, being classed as a necessary social custom such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Psalm 88:6, 10-12 reminds us, however, of how death was thought of theologically,

“My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave.
You remember them no more;
they are cut off from your influence.
*Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades arise and praise you?
Is your mercy proclaimed in the grave,
your faithfulness among those who have perished?”

Therefore burial did not say so much about the state of the dead, as to honor and remember them, and remove them from the possibility of being the cause for ritual impurity among the living. Burial usually happened within a day of the death, and the dead were laid clothed, not embalmed, on rock shelves in a rock chamber or a cave. Jesus’ own burial was simple, where his body was bound with linen cloths and myrrh and aloes.

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Our pericope for today is from a major section of the prophet’s work, which some have entitled, “God’s Transformation of the Covenant People and Return of the Divine Presence (33:1-48:39). The book begins with a section of 24 chapters describing God’s judgment of the people and the departure of the divine presence. Intervening is a section dealing with God’s judgment of the nations, along with words of hope for Israel. Thus we move into the realities of that hope in this vision of the dry bones in which we not only visit the actualities of Israel’s present situation, but also look on to the beginning of things in creation.  Again we will encounter the ruah, spirit of God, an engendering breath that recreates life from bones and dust.

In the second creation story, one individual is created from breath and dust, but in this pericope it is a whole people who are recreated. This view is recounted in the book of Job (10:8-9, 11).

“Your hands have formed me and fashioned me;
will you then turn and destroy me?
Oh, remember that you fashioned me from clay!
Will you then bring me down to dust again?
With skin and flesh you clothed me,
with bones and sinews knit me together.”

What is important in this vision is the presence of the spirit. The world is full of sinew and flesh, but it can only be renewed and live with an outpouring of the spirit. The spirit also comes, as will be seen at Pentecost, with a great noise – a rattling, or as the Septuagint terms it, “an earthquake”. It is all a bit unbelievable, but Ezekiel desires to cut through our present perception of world and God to see and experience something new and different – a change of direction. Walter Brueggemann puts it well:

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”[1]

The purpose of Ezekiel is to release our imagination so that we might see God and our relationship with God in a new way. The trick for the preacher, and for the casual reader will be to apply this prophetic vision to the lives of people today.

Breaking open Ezekiel:
1.          What is dead in your life?
2.          What needs to be renewed or revivified in your life?
3.         What is your relationship with the Spirit?

Psalm 130 De profundis

     Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2      If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
3      For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
4      I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
5      My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
6      O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7      With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

"Out of the Depths" - George Rouault
This sixth of the penitential psalms of the church was a favorite of Luther, who penned a hymn, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir”, based on its text. With an approachable attitude it wrestles with the difficulties of sin and grace. The depths which begin the psalm are representative of the waves of the sea, an Israelite metaphor for death. It is from this despair that the speaker addresses God. What is received from this entirety? Nothing less than forgiveness and hope itself. It becomes the cause for our worship and fear of God. What follows are words that indicate our waiting upon God, our longing for our renewed relationship with God. The final verse notes the abundance of God’s grace, “plenteous redemption.” From this plenty comes redemption from all our sins.

Breaking open the Psalm 130:
1.         What deep needs to you have in your life?
2.         Are you awaiting forgiveness for something?
3.        What will allow you to receive it?

Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law-- indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Study for a self portrait, Francis Bacon
I am always renewed by Robert Jewett’s refreshing translation of Romans, and so I present his translation of our pericope here.

“6) For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. 7) Because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to the law of God, for it isn’t even able. 8) And those who exist in the flesh are unable to please God.

9) But you do not exist in flesh but in Spirit, since indeed God’s Spirit dwells among you (pl.). But if someone does not have Christ’s Spirit, that one is not his. 10) But if Christ is in your midst though the body (be) dead because of sin, the Spirit (is) life because of righteousness. 11) But if the Spirit of “the one who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in your midst, “the one raising Christ Jesus from the dead” will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit dwelling in your midst.”[2]

The spirit that infects Ezekiel’s vision is also present here in Paul’s argument that sin and death is no longer our lot through redemption in Christ Jesus. We are the dry bones of this pericope, with our minds being remade in the spirit; the flesh is set-aside in this vision. This is the good news of freedom – a freedom already won and granted, not only a thing of hope. It is also the good news of resurrection, seeing our participation not only in the death of Jesus, but in his being raised again as well. Our world tempts us to see only with our minds, but the Spirit brings us a new vision of life.

Breaking open Romans
  1. What parts of your life are described by “flesh” and what parts are described by “spirit”?
  2. In what way does worship change your mind about things?
  3. Does it change the way you approach life?

The Gospel: St. John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews, who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

"The Raising of Lazarus", Watanabe

The Book of Signs ends in the previous pericope, and Jesus moves back to the Jordan so as to remove himself from the dangers of Jerusalem.  Raymond Brown is of the mind that chapters 11 and 12 are from a different pen, albeit a similar point of view. Regardless, we have crossed into a new territory here. Jesus is leading us to Jerusalem and to his death. Indeed, the incident here becomes an immediate cause of his death as we can see in 11:46f. “But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together the Sanhedrin.” Jesus, however, sees his death as an action on his part. “This is why the Father loves me: because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one has taken it away from me; rather I lay it down of my own accord.” (10:17-18a). John wants his readers to see in Jesus’ deeds a sign of what God intends in the Kingdom. Thus this story with Lazarus prepares us to see the resurrection of Jesus, and the movement of Jesus from Sign to Glory. What has been seen in the prophetic work of Ezekiel, felt in the psalm, underscored by Paul in Romans is indicated in the two verses of this pericope in which life is given again – a sign of Jesus’ ability to give eternal life.

For those who wish to delve deeply into this text, please see Raymond Brown’s commentary on John.[3]

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Why is it important for Jesus to go to has death rather than being taken to it?
2.     What does this story say about death, from its various viewpoints?
3.    Is there a difference between the responses of Mary and Martha?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

"The Angelic Host", Gustav Dore
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Brueggemann, W. (2001) Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Kindle Edition, page 3.
[2]Jewett, R. (2007) Romans – A Commentary, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, page 474.
[3]Brown, R. (1966) The Anchor Bible – The Gospel According to John (i-xii) Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City.

16 March 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 26 March 2017

I Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
St. John 9:1-41


Background: Sin

In the Hebrew Scriptures, sin moves from epic proportions in the stories of Genesis (3-11) to a more personal and individual mode. Sin seems to be related in these materials to individual lives and events. In his Old Testament Theology, Gerhard Von Rad gives an excellent overview, “The Old Testament prefers the form of expression which is most appropriate for the phenomenon called sin, namely confession.”[1] There seems to be no on-going contemplation on the nature of sin or its origin, at least not of the kind that engaged the early Church.  What is evident is God’s will and how that will was subverted by individuals and events in the stories and histories recorded in the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The primary story that gives us a platform from which to observe the phenomenon of sin is the story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is in that knowing that we begin to confront the problem. So our knowledge moved beyond a simple knowledge and relationship with God, to a knowledge of many things and a relationship that was compromised by such knowledge. What forms the theological viewpoint in the Hebrew Scriptures is God’s reaction and response to our knowledge and our muted relationship to God’s will. This understanding of a progression of events or deeds that result in sin will be helpful when we read the Gospel for this day. Jesus comes to the problem with a different point of view, one that challenges the traditional understandings.

First Reading: I Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

The previous chapter of I Samuel revolves around the idea of listening to the voice of God. This ability is what calls Samuel in the first place, and it is Saul’s reluctance to listen to God’s voice that causes his fall from favor. In this chapter, however, perception is tied to the art of seeing and observing. The theme is best expressed her as, “For not as man sees does God see. For man sees with the eyes and the Lord sees with the heart.” Thus each of seven sons (perfection) passes before both Samuel and the Lord, but none can pass the muster. It is the forgotten one, the one out in the wilderness, the one tending the ship – responsible for the lives of his flock, it is this one that the Lord sees and approves of. The observation of the author of David falls in line with this “seeing” metaphor, “And he was ruddy, with fine eyes and goodly to look on.”

The anointing of David is an intimate and yet a rebellious act, hidden from a jealous and resentful king. The ritual of the anointing was the human measure of choice and selection by God, but the reality of God’s choice is in the spirit that follows. The spirit of the Lord comes mightily on David, and at the same time turns away from Saul. Here the ritual turns into the reality of God’s presence with those chosen as leaders. This, I think, is the preaching moment – the presence of the spirit with those we have chosen to lead us, and their ability to both listen and see as God does.

Breaking open I Samuel:
1.     How do you listen for God?
2.     What do you see God doing in your life?
3.     How has God gifted you with the Spirit?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

       The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2        He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3        He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4        Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5        You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6        Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The familiarity of this psalm will work against us, as we read it in the context of these readings, and in the season of Lent. We most often read it in the context of “Good Shepherd Sunday”, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Its choice here is related most especially to the first reading – the anointing of David, the shepherd. At least that is what it looks like from a first glance. What might it be like to read the psalm from the viewpoint of the man born blind? All the caring and protecting verbs of the psalm find their natural object in the Gospel for today, and in the prayer lists in our parishes.

Breaking open Psalm 23:
1.     Whom do you know who might need the care of a shepherd?
2.     How can you be their shepherd?
3.     Who has been a shepherd to you?

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Here the author continues his discourse on ethics, and how to live in Christ. It is interesting in that a very loose way it connects with the second theme of Samuel, the skill of seeing. The hindrance to such vision is the darkness and “the unfruitful works of darkness.” He argues for a life that is lived in the light of Christ. Some of the language here is redolent of the Qumran community, which might add an eschatological flavor to this exhortation. Not only is the present life to be infused with Christ’s light, but all of eternity as well. The injunction to “try and find out what is pleasing to the Lord,” can inform how we live daily life, but can also set us on a trajectory to God and with God.

Breaking open Ephesians:
1.     Where is darkness in your life?
2.     Where is light in your life?
3.     What makes the difference?

The Gospel: St. John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

This healing story falls in John’s section on Jesus and the Festivals of Judaism (5:1-10:42). Here we are present at the Festival of Tabernacles, and at the sixth of the “signs” that John points to in Jesus ministry. Tabernacles, or the Feast of Succot, was originally a harvest festival (see Exodus 34:22ff) and later became a festival celebrated with a pilgrimage to the Temple. The festival also celebrates the liberation from Egypt (see Leviticus 23:42-43).

Here, again, we will deal with themes of light, along with the theme of water – the healing waters of Siloam (a reference to the Tabernacles theme). The introductory material is of interest here in that it rehearses the notion of sin as an inherited problem, outlined in the disciples’ question to Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus quickly disabuses them of that idea, substituting the notion that the blindness gave opportunity to see God’s glory. The sight of the man is “recreated”, the saliva and mud alluding to a newly created sight for the man (and existence as well, I presume.)

The narrative quickly drags us back into the old ways of thinking as the man is questioned by both neighbors and Pharisees. The dialogue in this section circles around the man, with neighbors and Pharisees attempting to reattach the onus of sin on him. Despite this, he grows in his knowledge (sight) of what has been done for him by Jesus (whom the Pharisees accused as being a sinner). John may reflect the experience of the early Church in telling us of the fate of the man born blind, “And they drove him out.”

The final scene is about blindness and sin, and new sight and light. The man sees Jesus for the first time, and sees in him something worthy of worship. The context of the man's own statement earlier in the pericope becomes important here. “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.” In this way he becomes a sort of new Adam, created with a new vision to see God’s intentions for all humankind. The Pharisees are not convinced and continue in their disbelief.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In what ways are you blind?
2.     From where does your blindness come?
3.     What kind of new vision would you like to have?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Von Rad, G. (1962) Old Testament Theology, Volume I – The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions, Harper & Row, New York, page 154.