4th Sunday of Lent

19th March 2023

Reflection (the readings are below. NB there are alternative readings for Mothering Sunday which I am not using)

It is very easy to label people and the only to see the label. The disabled person. The black man. The pregnant woman. The autistic child. The asylum seeker. The climate refugee.  Or in the case of today’s gospel, the blind man. The label is not un-useful. If we know someone is blind  we can try to communicate in ways that don’t rely on seeing. If we know the woman is pregnant, we can take into account that she may have particular needs about what she eats or having a space to sit. But the label shouldn’t stop us from talking to the person who is blind about things we can see, about what is happening in the world, about their views on current affairs. Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you aren’t aware of the world around you. The label shouldn’t stop us from expecting the woman who is pregnant to have views about economics or theology or the best whiskeys.

In the gospel story some people are so used to seeing the label and not the person, they are not sure who the man is once he can see – they thought he looked liked the blind man! In many ways people make the same assumptions about Jesus. Many of them, including some of the Pharisees, labelled him as a sinner, and therefore saw his every action as sinful – and by contrast saw themselves as ‘Godly’.

Who can see the real person? In the passage from 1 Samuel it is God. To his father and his brothers, David was always going to be ‘the youngest son’, the one to run errands, be that herding the sheep or delivering food to his  brothers if they were away from home (1 Samuel 17). Even Samuel discounts David – or rather the ‘youngest son’ – and expects to anoint the eldest son, or if not the eldest, then certainly one of the elder sons. It is God who sees the real person, who knows that David is the one who has the characteristics needed to be a king. 

In the gospel, the disciples see the blind man as a topic of theological debate – was it his sins or his parents’ sins that caused him to be blind? But Jesus sees him as he truly is, a person through whom God’s glory can be revealed. He perceives in the man an intelligence and an independence of mind that allows him to be receptive to God’s presence. 

The words of the 23rd Psalm, reflect the writer’s own receptiveness to the presence of God in his life. God has been his guide and his companion, the one who understands his needs, his hopes and his fears, the one who sticks by him through thick and thin. The psalmist is surely someone who, in the words of the writer to the Ephesians, lives as a child of the light. Someone who does ‘ find out what is pleasing to the Lord.’ 

How do we find out what is pleasing to the Lord? By being open to God, open to new ways of seeing and hearing and doing.  By being aware of what is happening in the world, by being aware of what causes suffering and pain. By finding out how suffering and pain can be alleviated and how they can be prevented – for God desires mercy and goodness for all. 

This last week storm Freddy has savaged Malawi and Mozambique causing destruction and suffering on a vast scale. The people of Malawi and Mozambique are not just numbers who either survived or died, but individuals with friends and families, homes and communities, hope and fears, who are in dire need of assistance. 

Can we offer assistance? Can we be good neighbours? Donate to charities such as Oxfam which are meeting people’s immediate needs. Press our government to forego outstanding debt repayments to allow money to be spent instead on climate adaptation and new infrastructure. Speak out about the climate crisis and how it is the root cause of the extreme intensity of this storm. Point out how governments and corporations across the world are failing to  address the issue of climate and justice. Adjust our own lifestyles so that we too become part of the climate crisis solution.

Let us do what is pleasing to God.

1 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.

Psalm 23

1 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.

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.”

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 neighbours 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.”