Tuesday in Lent 5
Some of you may not know that before I was a priest I was a high school English teacher with a particular love for drama. Or that before I was a high school English teacher I was a child who loved to put on plays in the backyard, roping in as many neighborhood kids as possible, some of whom may not have had speaking parts but who got to wear great costumes from my family’s enormous dress up box.
So this story from John 9 (the whole thing actually runs from verse 1 to 41) is one of my favorites in the New Testament, a big reason being that it’s just begging to be acted out as a play. There’s a large cast of diverse characters, a miracle to start the action, plenty of dialogue, scene changes, and a protagonist you want to cheer on as he grows from sight to insight to belief. Feel free to pull out the dress up box and find some children or children at heart who would enjoy acting out this story!
It’s the sight to insight to belief and how that transformation happens that makes this a good story for Lent, I think. Beginning with unasked for grace—he doesn’t ask for healing—the man blind from birth then moves from having a lack of knowledge about Jesus to having an understanding that is rooted in a relationship with him. And how does he do this? Not with Jesus’ on-site help, actually. For much of the story Jesus is off stage, so to speak. The man born blind, whose faith journey was jumpstarted by the gift of sight, practiced his way to belief by honestly engaging the questions that kept coming to him from people who assumed they could see but really could not. He does not try to answer more than he can; in fact, he is brave enough to answer at least one question with, “I do not know.” But he keeps engaging the questions, step by step, until at last he engages with the One who seeks him out again to assure him that he is in the presence of God.The theologian Origen wrote about the synergy of God’s grace and human effort to effect a person’s growth in God. I suspect something like that is going on in this drama of the man born blind. He received a wonderful blessing in being miraculously healed of physical blindness. But the writer of the fourth gospel doesn’t stop there. The healed man must continue with some human effort—the effort of answering all those questions!–in order to see in the way that Jesus wants him to be able to see, with the eyes of faith.