MARCH 30 REFLECTION

4th Sunday of Lent (March 30 • 2014)

‘Learning to See’

ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

 

REFLECTION

Claireece Precious Jones, casually called as Precious, is an obese, illiterate 16-year-old girl who lives in the New York City ghetto of Harlem. When Precious was three years old, her father started abusing her sexually. Her mother, fully aware of the abuse, did nothing to protect her. The abuse continued until she reached puberty, resulting to Precious giving birth to a daughter with Down Syndrome. She named her Mongo, short for Mongoloid.

Her father was eventually separated from her mother, but Precious continues living with her dysfunctional and abusive mother. The family lives on social welfare because her mother doesn’t work. Mongo lives with Precious’ grandmother because neither Precious nor her mother can look after Mongo properly. But Precious' mother always tells the social workers, who visit them regularly, that Mongo lives with them so that she can get extra money from the government.

When Precious becomes pregnant for the second time, her principal arranges for her to attend an alternative school. She hopes that, there, Precious will be able to change the direction of her life. In her new school, Precious meets new friends and a dedicated and charismatic teacher, Ms. Blue. Precious finally learns how to read and write. Slowly, but surely, her reading and writing skill improves and, as the result, her eyes are opened. She learns new things, becomes wiser and more mature. Through the genuine love of her new friends and Ms. Blue, she learns to love her self and her life.

One day, after being assaulted again by her mother in her home, Precious decides not to take the abuse any longer. She fights back and leaves her home. She goes to her school where her friends and Ms. Blue help her find a place to stay.

But her mother wants Precious to come back. She visits Precious and coaxes her into coming back home, back to the way things were. She even asks a social worker to help her. After all, being the guardian of Precious is the reason why she gets the welfare payment from the government. But Precious is no longer a gullible teenager who cannot think for her self. She severs ties with her mother and continues on her path to finish her education and becomes a good mother for her two small children.[1]

The story is from the critically acclaimed movie titled, Precious, directed by my favourite director, Lee Daniels. Precious’ life reminds me of the blind man’s life in our story from John’s Gospel today. Just like Precious’ mother, the people around the healed blond man (the Pharisees, his neighbours, even his own parents!) wanted him to stay the way he was. They did not want him to be cured. They saw his healing as a threat to their belief. How come God healed someone like him who was ‘born in sin’; who was being punished either by his own sin or his parents’ sin. After all, did not their holy Scriptures say that God would punish the third and forth generation for the sins of their grandparents and great grandparents (Exodus 20:5)?

So, despite what they had witnessed or heard, the people who knew the blind man refused to accept the fact that he was healed. The Pharisees even still called the healed blind man as an unworthy man who was born in sin (John 9:34). They acted as if nothing had happened; as if the man had not been cured from his blindness. They failed to see that the person’s healing was the work of God and not the devil, of goodness and not evil; that it was God’s will that the man be healed and not to stay blind. They failed to understand that they could no longer consider those who were born with disability as those who were being punished for their or other people’s sins.

So the healed blind man’s parents and neighbours, as well as the Pharisees, failed to understand the true significance of the healing. They, perhaps without knowing it, rejected and denied the work of the Light of the World and stayed in the dark.

Just like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, whose stories we heard on the previous Sundays, they were interested only in the physical restoration of the blind man’s sight. They were only interested in the miracle. But Jesus’ miracles were not simply spectacular events that defied natural order. Jesus’ miracles were signs that revealed who Jesus was and what his ministry was all about.

Jesus is the Light who has come into the world, yet the world does not know it. Jesus is the Light who has come to the people who live in the dark, yet the people choose to stay in the dark. Yes, Jesus cured the blind man, but what he desperately wanted to heal was the spiritual blindness of the people in his society, represented by the blind man’s parents, neighbours, and the Pharisees.

So the healing of the blind man was an invitation for all, who either witnessed the healing or heard about it, to be cured from their own blindness. The Light of the World has come and all are invited to leave the darkness behind, yet most people chose to keep things the way they had always been.

Friends, we too often suffer from the same kind of blindness. We often want things to stay the way they have always been. We label things and people and expect that they will never change. When God opens another door, when new possibility arises, we reject it because we think that it is not the way thing should be. We even label ourselves and believe that we too will never change.

Jesus cured the blind man to show to the people of his time what was possible when God, not their assumption, was in charge. He healed the blind man to reveal to us about what can happen when we let the Light of the World show us the way from darkness into light.

The writer of our reading from the letter to the Ephesians also reminded the Christians, who lived in the city of Ephesus, that they were no longer children of darkness, but of light. So they should no longer live in the dark, but in the light. That means that they must be ready to let the light of Jesus: his life, his Spirit, and his teachings, to expose all the dark parts of their life. No longer they should hide nor deny the work of darkness in their life.

John Henry Newton was probably one of the most famous hymn-writers of all time. He was the author of probably the best-known hymn in the world, Amazing Grace. The hymns tells the story of a person’s journey from being a ‘wretch’ to being saved’, from being lost to being found by God’s grace, from being blind to being able to see. Without a doubt, the hymns tells Newton’s own story of conversion to faith.

Before he became a Christian, John Newton was involved in slave trading activity. One day, on his way back to Britain, his ship encountered a severe storm and almost sank. When water started filling the ship, he woke up in the middle of the night and called out to God for help. The ship survived the storm and continued sailing home. On the journey, Newton started reading the Bible and other Christian literatures. Soon after he finally arrived safely in Britain, Newton accepted the Christian faith and, from that point on, he decided to avoid profanity, drinking, and gambling.

Yet, unlike the popular story that we often hear about his conversion, he continued working as a slave trader, even though he had gained a considerable amount of sympathy to the slaves. He made three further voyages as captain of slave trading ships and only gave up seafaring and his slave trading activities years later. But he never renounced the slave trade until much later in his life.

34 years after he retired from slave trade, he finally broke his silence regarding slavery and offered his apology to the public. He published a pamphlet in which he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships and said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders." He became an ally of William Wilberforce, his friend who was also the champion of the campaign to abolish the slave trade. He lived to see the passage of the Slave Trade Act, in 1807, that finally banned the trading of slaves in the entire British Empire.{C}{C}{C}[2]

John Newton dared to admit that he had not been true to his Christian conviction; that he had not aligned his life to the kind of life that Jesus wanted him to have; that he had kept certain things in the dark corner of his life and refused the light of Christ to shine on those corners. He was blind for a very long time, but finally he had the courage to let Christ heal his blindness. He learnt to challenge himself to open his eyes and confront the things that he had kept in the dark. He learnt to name the work of darkness as what it was and deny it no more.

Today, we are reminded that we too need to be cured from our blindness, whatever that blindness is. We need to be ready to confront the things in our ‘blind-spot’ and stop denying that only because we cannot see those things; or that only because we refuse to confront those things, they do not exist.

Friends, what blindness that we need to ask Jesus to heal you from today? Let us today let his Light: his life, his love, his teachings, his compassion, shine on those dark corners of our life so that we can live no longer in the dark, but in the bright sunlight of God’s presence.

Let us pray.

God who gives sight to the blind, help us to see more clearly the movement of your Spirit in the world. Teach us to choose and act wisely so that we, too, may play our part in the healing of your people. Amen.

 

[1] Paraphrased from an article about Precious (Film) in www.en.Wikipedia.org (the page was last modified on 17 March 2014 at 18:05)

[2] Paraphrased from about John Newton in www.en.Wikipedia.org (the page was last modified on 26 March 2014 at 13:17)

[3] Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 68