Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mar 22, 2020

Two statements from this long gospel reading caught my attention, and I ask you for a moment to direct your attention to them.  At one point the Pharisees question the blind man about Jesus: “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?”  And the man said: “He is a prophet.”  Later in the reading, Jesus clearly states: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see.”  I invite you to reflect with me about Jesus as a prophet who comes for judgment and what that might mean for us. What does a prophetic Jesus have to say about you and me, our country, our world? What is his judgment?

Think of all the major issues that used to fill the news prior to the spread of the Coronavirus.  In light of the prophet Jesus and his judgment, how do we deal with matters like healthcare, refugees, hunger, border control, poverty, violence, and war? How are we to respond to these? What about our responsibility to one another? How might Jesus as prophet help us here? Clearly the Prophet Jesus and his judgment have something to say about what it means to be a neighbor, especially to those who differ from, frighten, or threaten us. And now we are confronted with a world-wide pandemic with a mounting death toll. The prophetic Jesus and his judgment have something to say about this too, especially the loss and fragility of life. What are the values that guide our lives and decision-making? What are faithful choices, and how are we to live? The One who comes for judgment can guide our way.  We face these questions and issues as individuals, as a nation, and as a world. The scale might vary but the struggles are the same.

Prophets and judgment tend to make us a bit uncomfortable because they speak words we often do not want to hear and show us truths we often do not want to see. They ask us to change. And judgment often leaves us thinking about wrong-doing and punishment.  Prophets generally do not work within the system, but often stand outside the system and work against the injustices and abuses perpetrated by the system. Prophets speak against that which diminishes human dignity and impoverishes life.

Think, for example, of the prophetic work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in America, Gandhi in India, Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, or Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa. They called the people of those times and places to see anew and live differently. Behind each of them stood the Prophet Jesus, and they made present his judgment.  On a smaller, more personal scale you might think about the people who have spoken a difficult truth to you, or called you to change, or offered you words of consolation and hope– and in doing so opened your eyes to a new life, a new seeing, a new understanding, a new faith. They, too, were prophets with whom Jesus stood. They, too, presented Jesus’ judgment.

We don’t often think or speak of Jesus as a prophet and yet that’s exactly how the man who has been given new sight sees Jesus. “He is a prophet,” he tells the Pharisees. Jesus affirms the man’s seeing. “I came into this world for judgment,” he says.  That’s what prophets do. They open our eyes to see what is, and present a vision of what might be: their judgment stands in the gap of those two. They call us back to our truer selves. Prophets remove the cataracts from our eyes and offer us clarity and insight. They challenge us to not look on outward appearances, but to look deeper– to see as the Lord sees, and look on the heart of the person or situation (as illustrated through the choice of King David in the first scripture reading).

That’s the judgment for which Jesus comes: that we might see the world, one another, and ourselves differently. The judgment for which Jesus comes into this world is not so much a judgment about good or bad, right or wrong, in or out, saved or damned. It is a judgment about our seeing. Today’s gospel tells us the man born blind had his eyes opened, with the implication that they had been closed. This is not about physical sight. This is about spiritual seeing. Do we see with eyes opened or do we see with eyes closed?  For most of us, I suspect, the answer is yes. Sometimes we see with our eyes open… and other times we see with our eyes closed.  And Jesus is “calling all sinners” this Lent to see with our eyes open.

When we live and see with our eyes closed we withhold mercy, live in fear, and let anger control our lives. When we are unforgiving of ourselves or another we see with eyes closed. Sometimes we either refuse or are unable to see the pain or needs of another. We’re too busy to respond, too important to deal with it, or too afraid to risk it. In those times we see with closed eyes. When we love ourselves more than our neighbor we are seeing with eyes closed, blind to the value of the other’s life. When violence becomes our default response we are seeing with closed eyes. In all those and a thousand other ways we see with our eyes closed. We focus on the outward appearances but neither feel nor establish an inner connection with the person or situation.

Other times we recognize the injustice of a situation, we feel the other’s pain as our own, and we see the needs and life of another as valuable and important as our own. In those times we are seeing with eyes open. When we offer peace, or forgive, or act with compassion we are seeing with eyes open. Our eyes open when the news of another bombing makes us sick to our stomach, when we reach out to make amends with someone we’ve hurt. In all those and a thousand other ways we see with our eyes open. In those times we are looking beyond outward appearances. We are seeing as God sees, and looking into the heart of the other person or the situation.

Jesus did not say that he came into this world to make judgments, but “for judgment.” His judgment is not a series of individual decisions. Rather, his very life and presence are the judgment. And so: his Word is a judgment on our own words and the rhetoric of our leaders; his compassion is a judgment on our indifference and apathy; his justice is a judgment on our injustice; his nonviolence is a judgment on our violence; his mercy is a judgment on our condemnation; his welcome is a judgment on exclusion; his hope is a judgment on despair; his truth is a judgment on lies, falsehoods, and alternative facts; his seeing is a judgment on our blindness; and so on.

Everything about Jesus, his life, his words, his actions, are a judgment on our lives and world. That judgment offers us the chance to see as he sees, to live as he lives, and to be as he is. His judgment, however, is not an adjudication for the purpose of punishment. Rather, it is a diagnosis for the purpose of healing and life. Jesus always casts his judgment with an eye toward change and transformation. Its purpose is to show us the way, the truth, and the life, so that, by God’s grace, we can begin to close the gap between what is and what might be.

Love lies at the heart of Jesus’ judgment. With open eyes he sees in us more beauty, more goodness, more holiness, than we often see in ourselves and each other. He is “calling all sinners” to open our eyes to see anew: a new life, a new world, and new possibilities. What we often don’t understand is that his judgment is in our favor and for our good even when it doesn’t feel that way. He is a prophet who has come into this world for judgment.

Where does Jesus’ judgment intersect your life or my life? What is it asking of us? Where does our seeing diverge from his seeing? What possibilities and hope does his judgment offer to us and our world?  As the Pharisees say so famously in the end: “Surely, we are not blind, are we”?

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