Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
If not all people are the same, then not all families are the same either. Some are prosperous, others impoverished. Some are industrious, artistic, inquiring, – or scheming, manipulative and devious. They vary as much as people do and possibly more so, for their sizes, composition, how many extended relatives there are, and the era and prosperity of their setting. And this is before we even start thinking about how relationships vary between parents, between children and between the generations.
In our own times, some families have known war, depression, hunger and insecurity while others have grown in prosperity and health and perhaps a certain kind of cultural indolence.
The Gospel and the Old Testament show us two families and neither is particularly flattering.
The prophet Samuel had visited Jesse, who had to be pressed into calling the youngest to the family table before Samuel could complete his mission. The runt of the family would otherwise be left in the fields while everyone else ate and drank. Some kind of family unity that was.
In the gospel, the parents of the healed blind man were extremely reluctant to get involved in his plight as the Pharisees pressed him, and they soon distanced themselves from his situation. Evidently he was robust enough to muster his own defense in the face of the demand that he denounce Jesus – whose name he did not even know. Not a lot of solidarity there either.
Yet now on Mothering Sunday, we are thinking especially about mothers, our mothers, and the place of the family. Up to now the norm has been for a man and a woman to have children and to bring them up: and this is a privilege that not all married couples receive. It is certainly not a right.
Some are denied by biology, some by war, others by the collapse of relationships, or the hazards of crime and accident. Nobody has, until the last 50 years or so, regarded single-parent families as a desirable life-style, even if that is now much promoted.
The fact that some single-parent families have been blessed with stability and a measure of happiness and success is taken as proof that all such arrangements are tenable life-style options. As if that was really demonstrated by the performance of children from such families at school, in their occupations, and under the law.
But there is something else here, which is set out clearly in the gospel. A boy was born, and born blind. In the thinking of the time there must have been sin in the family that it should be so punished.
But Jesus was firm and definite in this, and He denied that the misfortune of the man, now adult, and his family were in any way the punishment of God. It was something else completely. The sorrows that the family had endured were also the opportunity to allow the mercy of God to show through.
In one sense the man shows this himself, for even if not named, he is determined in reciting the facts of his healing and in resisting pressure to deny or to twist it. Further, he has already been looking and waiting for the Messiah. He has already been meditating, praying, pondering, and indeed waiting, during his long years of blindness.
He had already been using the circumstances of his life to love God, and he was evidently quite well-known. Not only that, but he had a sharp sense of conversation and indeed of debate. One suspects that he could be quite good company. Not only that but he had a healthy sense of skepticism of the powers that be, and he refused to take them at their own evaluation. Quite a character indeed.
For many the sight of suffering is a motive to take action, and for some this will be direct and personal; for others it is indirect and political.
For this man, the response was evidently to seek God through and indeed beyond his blindness, without being crippled with resentment or bitterness at the lot that life had given him.
And that brings me to two points. First, a person such as this is more likely than not to have had a supportive and caring family around him, even if they could be intimidated by the Pharisees. In other words, maybe his parents really did nurture him through the difficulty of growing up without sight, without occupation, and without a wife or family of his own.
Second, none of us can choose the cards that life gives us or the way circumstances turn out. But we can all play the hand that we have to the best of our ability and faith in the situations where we are.
Jesus has said that the blind man was there so that God might be glorified, and not just in his healing but in his life. More to the point however, Jesus also said something else:
It was that “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” But Jesus would be taken out of the world when His mission was complete, and then the task of being the Light of the World would fall to others – to His disciples down the ages.
And yes, as you have guessed, that means you. You are Jesus’ light in the world and He has been clear and specific in commanding that it should shine forth so that others may see it and glorify God.
And that is especially true in the circumstances of our own lives, particularly when they become adverse.
After all, the lighthouse is most needed when it is dark, stormy, with strong tides running and shipping is close to shoals. We are called to be lighthouses when times grow dark and violent and we are tested in our own lives to allow that kind of light to shine forth.