That is an astonishing claim! In the Lord, we are light. If we look around us at the people in our lives, we are looking at God’s light. When we look in the mirror, we are looking at God’s light.
Unfortunately for me, for most of us, our eyes are not good at seeing the light Paul is talking about. When I encounter people as I go about my day, I mostly don’t notice any divine light shining in them. When I look in the mirror, I don’t notice any divine light shining in me.
The fact is, I am typically blind to the light that matters most. So, when I come to our gospel reading, I identify—at least I should identify—with the blind man.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is walking along, but of course the blind man can’t know that, certainly can’t know who Jesus is. And the blind man is just sitting there, apparently minding his own business, when up comes Jesus, spits on the ground, rubs his hands in it, and then wipes the blind man’s eyes. I sometimes wonder how the blind man reacted when Jesus first touched his eyes with those spit-smeared fingers!
But what interests me most is what happens after the miracle. People can’t make any sense out of what happened. The neighbors cannot believe the man was really healed. The Pharisees can’t believe that the person who did the healing came from God. The parents of the healed man are too afraid to take a position. Things get heated.
And in the midst of all this heat, the blind man has to figure out what has happened to him and what it means.
I have never been miraculously healed. But otherwise this story is a like my life. There is action all around, and God is somewhere in the mix, but I am mostly blind to God’s presence, and I have to make sense of my life as best I can.
The gospel writer describes the man gradually figuring it all out. When the Pharisees first ask him where Jesus is, he does not know. He is still unable to see Jesus. When the Pharisees continue to press him, he calls Jesus a prophet. He is seeing more clearly. Finally Jesus comes back, and Jesus tells the man who he is, and the man says, “I believe” and “he worshiped [Jesus]. That is the moment of true insight.
At this point, the blind man can see. Literally his eyes work. But the man has also learned to see the light that Paul talks about in Ephesians, the light that can be so hard to see. The man can see the divine light in the Son of Man standing right in front of him.
The question this reading poses to us is, how can we follow the example of the man born blind? How can we, whose eyes mostly work OK but who are not necessarily good at seeing the divine light, how can we learn to see more clearly that divine light in us and all around us?
That is the great question of Lent.
And the invitation to observe a holy Lent, which we heard back on Ash Wednesday, gives us several answers. We can learn to see God’s light better by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. No doubt there are lots of other ways too. But for the rest of my time today, I want to talk about that last: reading and meditating on God’s holy word as a tool for learning to see God’s light more clearly.
When I first went to seminary, nearly three decades ago, I had no interest in the Bible. God mattered to me. Church mattered to me. I knew the Bible was part of the Christian deal, too. But I did not think of the Bible as very helpful, and I saw too many people use the Bible in unchristian ways. People who quoted the Bible, especially in political contexts, more often resembled the Pharisees in our gospel reading. They held to the literal meaning of what they read and missed the grace of God happening right in front of them.
It was therefore a grand irony when I was hired to teach and assigned mostly Bible classes. I was grossly unprepared, and I feared—rightly as it turned out—that many of my students would be able to quote circles around me.
And so began my true education. As part of my job, I had to work through the Bible year after year. I had to learn what scholars said about the Bible. I had to talk with other people about the Bible.
And, gradually, I learned to see God a little better. I am still not great at seeing the divine light all around me. But I can see better now than I could twenty years ago, and regular engagement with Scripture helped.
In that, I am not alone. At our Diocese’s Leadership Day last weekend, one of the speakers said that healthy Churches help people learn to know God better. And one of the ways that Churches help their people learn is to embed Scripture in everything we do.
Here is just one example from our Church life. We begin vestry meetings by discussing one of the readings for that week. Pretty quickly we move into our regular business of making motions and approving expenses and that kind of thing. But we begin with Scripture (and prayer) to help us focus on what God is calling us to do in our meeting.
I encourage you to do something similar at home.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Some of us are reading the entire Bible this year, which is a wonderful discipline. But the Bible is long, and parts of it are challenging in all sorts of ways. If you are not comfortable with the Bible—and that is true for a lot of Episcopalians—you should probably try something more manageable.
One good option is to read and pray about our gospel reading over the course of the week. We print next Sunday’s reading in the bulletin in case you want to read ahead. Or you could take home the insert and reread what we heard this morning.
Either way, read the passage slowly and let it sink in for a few minutes. At least initially, don’t worry about parts that don’t make sense to you. Find your own meaning. Ask yourself where you fit in the story. Ask yourself what God is saying to you. Take a few minutes to do that for several days in a row.
Some days, some weeks, you may not get much out of it. But if you stick with it, over time, you will grow.
Reading the Bible is like exercise. It is hardest at the beginning, and some days are harder than others. But it gets easier and more pleasurable as you go. The key is to do it regularly, which means in a way that is sustainable for you. And, over time, you will experience the benefit of improved “sight.” You will get better at seeing the light of God in others, and in yourself.
For that opportunity to see God more clearly, I give thanks in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.