Before and After
Before and After
The fourth Sunday of Lent finds us contemplating how we journey with Jesus. Specifically, the movement of time. Who were we before we encountered Jesus and who are we now?
Scripture: John 9: 1-41
Our passages the past few weeks from John’s gospel have had a familiar theme running through them. They’ve looked at opposites: Light vs dark, up vs down, born from above vs born naturally, before vs after.
Today, the reading continues in that vein. Yes, it is a healing miracle and it is part of the Book of Signs which encompass the first section of John’s gospel. This is either the fifth or sixth sign depending on how you are counting. While the passage features a miracle, this is a story about before and after. The miracle points to a deeper meaning about Jesus’ identity.
This is a passage about who the man born of blindness was before his encounter with Jesus and afterwards.
Jennifer Garcia Bashaw writes, “…this healing is one of the signs John chooses to narrate—miracles that point to a deeper meaning about Jesus’ identity. In the same way that the wedding at Cana sign reveals Jesus as the abundantly generous host of the messianic banquet and the feeding of the 5,000 sign shows Jesus as a nourishing provider who gives not just manna but his own body and blood, the sign in John 9 demonstrates that Jesus is the giver of sight and revealer of truth. (Jennifer Garcia Bashaw – Commentary on John 9:1-41 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary).
This is the deeper meaning found in this passage, that Jesus gives sight and reveals truth. John uses the healing of the man born with blindness to illustrate that those who have sight can’t always see and aren’t always aware of the truth. As we read this passage what we need to recognize is that the lectionary has only provided us with half the story. Worse, we think that John 10 which is next, is a new story because it’s a new chapter. However, it is a continuation of the events of our passage and in John 10:21 we read, “But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” A direct reference back to our current passage.
A central theme of John’s gospel are the I Am statements that Jesus makes. In this passage Jesus makes one of those statements when he says, “I Am the light of the world.” If you keep reading into chapter 10 he makes another when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” These words of Jesus echo the statement that God made to Moses in Exodus 3, “I am who I am.”
John is revealing truths about Jesus to us in his gospel. He is using contrasting imagery to make the point. Light and dark is a theme we’ve seen in John before. Remember his dialogue with Nicodemus. The night time visit and of course the next time we will see Nicodemus it will be daylight. There is duality in John’s gospel, contrasts, and opposites. While reality might have far more shades of grey, what is being provided to us in John’s gospel is an example of how Jesus works in the world.
So let’s get back to the miracle and figure out how John is conveying this message. Karoline Lewis points out that “…the blind man recognized Jesus gradually. He goes from seeing ‘the man called Jesus’ to calling Jesus a prophet, to recognizing him as Lord and worshiping him.” (Bartlett & Taylor, ed. Lewis, Karoline, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2 p.118)
I wonder if there is something here that speaks to us about our growth as Christians. How do we first understand God and Jesus? Do we grow in that understanding? How does this growth shape and change our perceptions? John seems to be leaving breadcrumbs for us to follow within this passage. Sometimes we know Jesus, we can call him friend. Other times we see his words as prophetic and demanding change from us. Still other times we worship and we give thanks.
The miracle of restoring sight to the man born blind points towards and deepens our understanding of Jesus. The message that Jesus can restore sight and reveal truth is caught up in the story of one individual’s healing and how the community reacts to it. The truth of who Jesus is, which is setup in the opening of this passage, is what the blind man is able to see and what John wants us to see.
When we keep reading through John’s gospel we learn that Jesus provides more than sight to the blind man. When we continue to read this passage we see that what Jesus is offering is the same thing Jesus offers everyone as the Good Shepherd, the protection of his fold. (ibid).
Anna Florence Carter puts it this way, “[this]… is not a story about talking. It is a story about time: before and after, then and now, years ago and today, always and then suddenly.” (Bartlett & Taylor, ed. Carter, Anna Florence, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2 p.117)
Where are we on our journey with Jesus? Have our eyes been opened? Have they been opened fully? Has the truth been revealed to us or are there things we might still see? Are we in the time before or after? What did we know and see then versus now? How have we rested safe and secure within God’s love and then suddenly God breaks through again.
Who were we before we met and understood the message God has for us as revealed in Jesus Christ? Who are now that we have heard that message? What is the story of our before and after? Amen.
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St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
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