Readings: John 9:1-41
Grace and peace to you in Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen.
We’ve come to Transfiguration Sunday, the final Sunday in this Season of Epiphany.
The Season of Epiphany begins and ends with light. It begins with the Star of Bethlehem, shining in the night, and guiding the Magi to the Christ child. And it ends on the Mountain of Transfiguration, where Jesus is transfigured before his disciples, and his appearance becomes dazzling white. These moments of brilliant light are moments where God’s glory hidden in Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.
This year is a bit different, however. We’ve been following the Gospel of John this year, and John tells the story of Jesus differently than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There is no mountain of transfiguration in John – no glorious moment where his clothes turn blindingly white, and a voice comes from heaven and says, “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to him!”
Instead, on this Transfiguration Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. And we also hear Jesus say, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” It’s a story about a man who has never seen a sunrise, or a rainbow, and how Jesus, the Light of the World, gives this man a gift of light and vision.
So even though there’s no mountaintop experience on this Transfiguration Sunday, the theme of light is still present, just in a different way.
Now, the theme of light and darkness comes up a lot in the Gospel of John. In Chapter 8, Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And in Chapter 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The light has come into the world, but the people loved darkness instead of the light.” And right back in the first verses of John, we hear: “What came into being in the Word was Life, and the Life was the Light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
So these themes keep coming up over and over again in John. Light and darkness. Vision and blindness. Jesus, the Light of the World.
Now there are two very different sets of characters in this story. There is the man who was born blind. He is a beggar, a man who relies on the charity of others just to survive. He has never seen a morning dawn, or a crescent moon, or a constellation of stars. He knows how the world sounds, how it feels, how it smells and tastes, but not how it looks. And yet, this man will receive the gift of vision – both physical and spiritual. He will receive the Light of the World. He will receive the gift of faith.
And then there are the Pharisees. They have never known blindness. In fact, in their world, they are the enlightened ones – the ones who know the Scriptures by heart, the ones who claim to know the way of truth. And yet, they are the ones who are walking in darkness. The see this man who has received the gift of sight, and instead of celebrating with him, instead of honouring his experience, they go storming around, trying to throw shade at the Light of the World.
This story reminds me of a character in Star Trek, the Next Generation. Geordi La Forge, played by LeVar Burton, is the chief engineer on the Starship Enterprise. Like the man in our story, Geordi was born blind. And also like the man in our story, Geordi receives the gift of sight, not from miraculous healing, but with a piece of technology called a visor. In fact, the visor gives Geordi more than just ordinary vision. He can actually see things that fully-sighted humans cannot see: night-vision, infrared, UV, and electromagnetic radiation. He can perceive things that are hidden from others.
In the same way, when Jesus gives this blind man the gift of sight, he actually begins to see things that fully sighted people cannot. The Pharisees see Jesus as a rabble-rouser and a sinner, but with his eyes now opened, this man sees Jesus as the Son of God.
Now there is a third set of characters that we haven’t talked about yet. Jesus’ disciples. Jesus disciples are with him, and when they see this man born blind, they ask Jesus a troubling question: “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents? Who is at fault for his disability?”
We may think this is an old-fashioned question to ask, perhaps even a superstition question. We know that sin doesn’t cause blindness. But the thing is, we actually do ask these kinds of questions all the time. Modern medicine has helped us to understand links between various types of substances and behaviours, especially for expecting mothers, and the possible consequences for a newborn child. And so there is tremendous pressure on expecting mothers to try to do all the right things in order to have a healthy baby: eat these foods, avoid these ones, abstain from alcohol and smoking, don’t take certain medicines, make sure you’re taking all the right vitamins and supplements, eliminate toxins you’re your home, reduce your stress levels… The list is exhausting.
And when a child is born with a disability, even if they’ve tried to do everything right, parents often can’t help but wonder, “Was it our fault?”
Jesus answer to the disciples’ question is life-giving: “Neither this man, nor his parents sinned.” Jesus doesn’t try to explain this man’s disability; he doesn’t say that anyone is to blame. He just accepts this man just the way he is: a beautiful, and beloved child of God. Jesus delights in him, exactly as he is. And Jesus offers the gift of sight, not as a correction for any deficiency, but simply as a gift. And in fact, what Jesus offers goes beyond the gift of sight: Jesus offers this man the gift of relationship.
So, as we leave this season of Epiphany, and prepare for our Lenten journey, may we know that the One who walks with us is indeed the Light of the World, the Light who shines in the darkness, the Light no darkness can extinguish. Amen.