O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life. What we choose to do today, matters. When things happen, as they often do, we ask the question why, why did this happen? Especially in difficult or tragic moments those questions come to mind. They are natural questions.
It is a question that the writer JRR Tolkien explored in his writings in the Lord of the Rings. When Frodo, the Hobbit complains: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” It is the wise Gandalf who responds to him, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It is what we do in response, in the time that is given to each of us, that matters most, even as we ponder the question of why things happen.
The disciples were thinking about the why question when they encountered 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…"
Too often, when something happens, we point the finger. It was that person’s sin that caused the calamity to come upon them. You hear it especially after a terrible tragedy when someone will say it is God’s way of punishing them/us for sin.
But in the response from Jesus to his disciples, it reminds us that this is not how God works. God did not make the man blind because of sin, but through what has happened, God’s works may be revealed in him.
No one is defective, or throw a way, or a mistake. God has made each of us, and through the God given gifts we have, God’s works may be revealed through us. Think of Helen Keller or Beethoven, Stevie Wonder or Stephen Hawking.
And we could name so many others who have been gifted which opens our eyes to see that God works through us all.
The late neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote about a man born blind whose sight was restored. This miracle occurred neither through prayer, nor through a concoction of dirt and divine saliva, but through a surgical correction of the patient's eyes.
The blind man agreed eagerly to the surgery, experimental and delicate though it was. The operation went well, although the man's eyes had to be bandaged for a time to let them heal, but at last the day came when the bandages could be removed. The surgical team, the man's family, and others assembled as the nurses carefully unwound the dressings from the patient's face. All were hushed, expectant.
For the first time in his life, the man opened his eyes and . . . What were they expecting? What would you expect?
Jubilation! Joy! "Ah, color! Light! My wife's sweet face, just as I'd always imagined it!"
But instead, the man turned his head from side to side to side. His expression was baffled and frightened.
"What's wrong?" his doctor asked at last, and at the sound of his voice, the man turned in his direction.
"Oh, my God!" he said, his voice trembling. "I thought I was all alone." And the man began to weep.
The man had been blind since birth. His brain knew only sound and touch, smell and taste; it had never received visual stimulation. It had never developed the neural pathways needed for processing visual images and had never created categories by which he might understand the data now crashing against his retinas on waves of light. Technically, his eyes worked - but he could not make sense of what he saw.
The heartbreaking thing was, he never could learn to make sense of it. His brain could not adjust to process vision, so the visible world never became comprehensible, let along beautiful, to this poor man. It was always a bright, confused madness hovering in front of him.
He became profoundly depressed and begged the doctors to re-blind him. When they would not, he could find relief only in blindfolding himself and living in darkness, artificially returning to the one world in which he could function. [From Beginner's Grace by Kate Braestrup.]
As Jesus explains in the wake of his restoring sight to the blind man in today's Gospel, the light that is Christ both illuminates - and blinds. It reveals the love of God in our very midst - but it can also shine harshly on those elements of our lives that we would prefer to keep in the shadows: our fears, our prejudices, our avarice.
In the light of Christ, our un-Christ-like or sinful behaviors and attitudes are seen for what they are; our failings to see Christ in the faces of others, especially the poor and marginalized. What we see in the light of Christ can be difficult to comprehend: suddenly we see beyond labels and stereotypes, self-interest and old scores, and recognize the love of God we have failed to see - or have refused to see in others.
This Lent may we dare to embrace the light of God in Christ, a vision of faith that illuminates the darkness of injustice and hatred and fear with the light of justice and hope and compassion.
There will come a time when we cannot do the works that God asks of us, so while it is day, we need to use our gifts, Jesus says; or else we may fall into the trap of not seeing God at work in others and all around us. Amen.