Today’s Scripture focus: John 9:1-38
One of the earliest fears that I clearly remember was the fear of thunderstorms. It wasn’t the wind or rain, or even the lightening really. It was the thunder that sent me diving under the covers and burying my head under the pillow, though. Every single time that I saw the lightening flash, I would curl up into a ball, every muscle in my body would tense, and I would wait for the sound that would rattle my windows and threaten to crash everything in my little world – or so I thought. It’s funny because now I love thunder storms.
On the surface, it is true that this is a passage about healing – about a man who had spent his whole life unable to see the beauty of the world God created and how he gained his sight. It is about Jesus being glorified through this man’s healing. Isn’t this the hope of Lent? Isn’t this the best-case-scenario for our forty days of fasting, confession, and repentance? Out hope and prayer is that these practices will lead to the center of God’s heart where we can find healing. Maybe it’s healing of the body, but maybe not. It couldn’t be healing of the mind, of the emotions, of the guilt and shame that weighs us down on our daily journey.
However, fear seems to play a prominent role in today’s scripture passage as well. I am convinced that fear is the primary reason that many people don’t experience the healing that God wants to give. The people of the community struggled to share in the man’s healing because they weren’t even sure it’s him. “Is this the guy who who used to sit at the gate and beg?” Too often, we define others by their differences from us. For this guy, they seem to not be able to recognize him without the blindness that had defined him his whole life. they weren’t able to share in the joy of his healing because they hadn’t gotten past physical difference to really get to know him on a deeper level.
Even the disciples wanted to define the man, not exactly by the blindness, but the sin that must have obvious caused it. Jesus plainly tells them, “You’re missing the point altogether. This man is the way he is, not due to sin, but so that God’s glory may be revealed in him. He is created in the image of God and God will shine through him so that all the world may see” (my paraphrase).
It’s even possible that the man could only define himself by means of his blindness. We need look no further than the story of the beside the pool at Bethesda in John 5. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks the man. I know many people who have become so enmeshed with life as they know it, that they have defined themselves by their illness, their circumstances, their addictions, or their sin. they cannot imagine an existence different from the one that stares them in the mirror each morning. “Do you really want to get well?” Jesus asks them. But often, fear keeps them from being healed or experiences another’s healing.
The same goes for the religious leaders in today’s passage. They cannot experience the joy of this man’s healing because it threatens their ability to control the story of God. They cannot believe this man’s story because it contradicts the story they are trying to tell. This Jesus cannot be from God because he breaks the law by healing on the Sabbath. This man is not a hero, he is a sinner. They see their power and their authority at stake and seek to remain in control of the religious goods and services of the community.
Even the man’s parents struggle with fear in the face of their son’s healing. They pass the buck, refusing to testify in their son’s defense because, as the scripture says, “they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already said that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” They cannot enter into the joy of their son’s healing because of fear.
As we continue in this journey through Lent, we need to be reminded that fasting, denial, ashes, confession, repentance, and so on are not the goal. Rather, they are a means to an end. The goal of Lent is to enter into Jesus’ death, so that we might experience Jesus’ life. The goal is healing. We need to stop, however, and ask ourselves a long, hard question: “Do you want to be healed?” Are we afraid of healing? Are we afraid of what it might mean for our lives to die to that old self, to leave behind the sins and addictions and illnesses that once defined us? While it seems like it should be, it’s not an easy decision. We have to let go of the very things that used to define to take on our new identity as children of God, followers of the Christ, those that have died and have been born again, those that have been healed. “Do you really want to be healed?”
Prayer: God, help me to see to see the healing that you alone offer. Help me to find my identity in who you say that I am rather than through the imperfections, struggles, addictions, and circumstances of my present life. Help me to lay it all down to follow you. Amen.
* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.