Lent 4 • 26 March 2017


1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41


Rev. Chris Udy



There was a day
when Jesus and his disciples
came across a man
who had been blind from birth.

In those days many people believed
that any illness of disability
was the direct result of some wrongdoing -
they believed that God punished sin directly,
and they concluded that anyone who was sick,
or had any other misfortune,
must be under God’s discipline and curse.
They also believed
that if people did something wrong,
and God
didn’t punish them directly,
God could still show his disapproval
and exercise his retribution
by making their
children suffer.
We might scoff at those ideas now -
but they were very powerful,
and in many ways
they made a lot of sense.

Life was hard,
and the margins for error were tight,
and people who were lazy, or malicious,
or damaged their family relationships -
or did any of the other things
the Law warned them about -
were often caught in disasters of their own making.
But if they escaped their own justice
they often created disasters
for their children and grandchildren.

So the disciples –
who were interested in such things -
asked Jesus:
“Rabbi - who sinned -
who was responsible for this man’s blindness?
Was it this man or his parents?”
“Neither” Jesus said,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned.
This man was born blind
so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
And then Jesus made some mud
and spread it on the man’s eyes,
and sent him away to wash the mud off.
When the mud was gone,
the man, who was born blind, could see.
And, just as happened
with the woman at the well in Samaria,
that’s when the rest of the mud started flying.

The man’s neighbours and the Pharisees
were amazed at his healing.
It was unheard-of,
that a man who had been born blind -
who had been cursed even before his birth -
could be healed.
They even had some reservations
about whether a man born blind
should be healed -
after all, they thought,
God must have made him like that,
so maybe it’s wrong to heal him -
it might be interfering with God’s punishment
in some way.
So the blind man’s healing
stirred up considerable interest and activity.
Some people said:
“The man was healed on the Sabbath,
and that means the healer
is a law-breaker - a sinner!”
But other said -“The one who healed this man
did something only God can do.
How can he be a sinner?”
And the man who had been healed
just kept on saying
“All I know is - once I was blind,
and now I can see!”

Finally the Pharisees had had enough.
They drove the man out of the synagogue,
and they said
“You were born in sin -
who are you to teach anything to us?”

The Pharisees lived in a comfortable, orderly,
carefully controlled world.
They knew who was in and who was out.
They knew they were in,
and they knew that people born blind were out.

For the Pharisees, the lines were clear -
and the world was black and white.
They were good, righteous, healthy sons of the Law.
A man born blind was not like them -
so they didn’t have to worry about him.
And by keeping the man in his place,
and keeping themselves in theirs,
they didn’t have to worry about accepting responsibility,
or changing their behaviour,
or questioning their attitudes and prejudice.

After the Pharisees had thrown the man out,
Jesus came to see him,
and after he’d explained who he was,
Jesus said:
“I came into this world for judgement -
so that those who do not see, may see,
and those who do see, may become blind.”
The Pharisees overheard him, and they asked
“Surely we are not blind, are we?”
And Jesus replied
“If you were blind,
you would not have sin.
But now that you say ‘we see’
your sin remains.”

Most of us are like the Pharisees.
We want to think that we’re OK -
we’re doing what’s required of us,
we’re basically good people.

We think that there are people out there
who aren’t so good:
violent men and dangerous women,
thieves, liars, cheats, and murderers.
We want to believe that we’re not like them.
We want to think we could never be like them.

We’re also aware that there are other people -
people with problems -
poor people, sick people,
people whose lives are hard and sad and struggling.
We know that people like that
could do with our help -
and we know that we could do something to help,
but it would be costly -
it would involve sacrifice,
it would disrupt our plans and hopes -
and it might affect our future.

So sometimes we find ourselves thinking -
maybe even saying -
that those people who have such problems
probably deserve it -
that they must have done something -
or be doing something wrong,
and that the responsibility
for the things that have gone wrong in their lives
rests with them.

We can even construct very elaborate explanations,
and produce clever and convincing arguments
to show that we are right
and everyone else is wrong,
that we’re justified
in leaving things just as they are -
and keeping people like that -
and their problems - away from us.
But at some level
we know the explanations and arguments
are just a front -
the justifications are hollow.

We know - we can see -
that things are not as they should be;
and we know - we see -
that we can do something about it.
Just like the Pharisees, we know - we can see -
but we deny what we see -
and for that, Jesus says,
for saying that we see
while we ignore the wider scene
we’re guilty.

The way the Pharisees lived
is in contrast to the way Jesus lived.
Over the last few weeks
we’ve been reading a series
of passages from John’s Gospel -
all of them encounters
between Jesus and people he met along the way.
He didn’t seek them out,
they were just there.
Nicodemus came one night to see him;
the Samaritan woman met him at a well;
and the blind man was beside the road
as he walked along.
They were ordinary, every-day meetings -
simple encounters -
and in every one,
it would have been normal and expected and usual
for Jesus to have walked on,
ignored the other person,
done what everyone else would have done.

But he didn’t.

In each meeting Jesus made a significant connection.
He established a profound relationship -
he accepted responsibility
and expressed his compassion
for every person he met.

That was the pattern for his life.
He felt for everyone,
he accepted responsibility for everyone.
He cared as deeply for his executioners
as he did for his disciples -
he practised none of the judgements and exclusions
that the Pharisees used
to limit their responsibility.

And that pattern continued throughout his life -
building on itself,
growing deeper and wider -
until finally, in the cross,
he carries responsibility for everyone -
for all humanity -
as he gives himself in love and sacrifice.

When we hear stories of suffering and inhumanity
from places like the Sudan, or Mosul,
or Yemen, or even London,
it’s not too difficult
to let the distances protect us,
and even though we’re fascinated
and horrified by the stories,
it’s not too hard to deny our involvement
or our responsibility.
But when we read that,
after nearly 10 years
of attempting to ‘close the gap’
aboriginal people are deeply disadvantaged in Australia *,
that they are still three times more likely to go blind
than non-aboriginal people -
in fact, aboriginal people
are more likely to go blind
than people in any developed nation on earth;

(http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/eye/plain-language/our-review;
http://www.vision2020australia.org.au/our-work/indigenous-eye-health)

when we know, as the NDIS rolls out,
that nearly 4 million Australians
live with a disability,
and that the weight of support and care
for Australians with disabilities
falls on their partners and families,
and when we discover that families
where one member is disabled
are much more likely
to live in poverty and isolation,
then we know that the illnesses of the broken world
are as much a part of Australian life
and our own neighbourhood and family
as any other place in the world.

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/national-inquiry-employment-and-disability-issues-paper-1


It’s too late once the statistics are registered,
and a family is shattered
and people slip through the holes
in our networks of care,
to ask who’s responsible,
and to decide who’s to blame -
but who knows what grief may be averted,
and what gifts may be nurtured,
and what peace might be won
by giving people the respect and dignity they deserve
for no other reason
than that they are people loved by God.

Jesus was one man -
whose friendships and conversations
began with ordinary, every-day encounters -
in which he showed an interest;
he communicated his concern,
and he accepted responsibility,
for the people he met.
When we do the same, we continue his work,
and we bring his healing and grace.



*
Tiny Aboriginal Children - Karl S. Kruszelnicki
http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/trek/4wd/tinykids.htm

We drove around the circumference of Uluru, looking at the caves where the rock touches the desert. On the way out we stopped at the Ranger's Office/Kiosk/Shop. Baby Karl was immediately surrounded by happy totally-naked Aboriginal children. They were just as tall as he was, but they were far more mature in their looks, and more skilled in their movements, and they could speak really well.

Suddenly our reality shifted and we saw little Karl Jr. in a new light - he had much less co-ordination, dexterity and balancing skills than the Aboriginal kids of his size. We watched them for a few moments before suddenly we remembered that he was a normal 1.5 year old child - and then we could also see that the Aboriginal kids were all around 4 years old, but short. The reason they were his height was because they had suffered from severe malnutrition and infectious diseases during their short 4 years of life.

You've probably seen the beautiful time lapse movies of roses opening, and you might have seen the more aggro time lapse movies of trees or plants growing. They writhe around and struggle with each other as they climb, each trying to get as much light as possible. It's a stressful life, trying to get enough light. If a tree can keep on growing through that stress, it will mature into a full-size tree. But the trees that don't get enough light wither and die, or else stay stunted. It's the same for children. A little bit of stress from infectious diseases, provided it's in small enough doses, will make them stronger. Too much stress will leave them dead, or small for the rest of their life. It's very rare to see Aboriginal kids as tall as white kids of the same age.

You can see this more clearly in the kid's wards in Outback hospitals. There are a few different types of meningitis, but the one caused by the Haemophilus bacterium is one of the worst - if it's not caught early enough, and treated with the heavy-duty industrial-grade antibiotics, it can leave the kids either brain damaged, or dead. Alice Springs has the world's record for Haemophilus meningitis, and it's all in Aboriginal kids!

Pneumonia in children reflects their nutrition and the general environment in which they live. The surface area of the lungs is huge, roughly the size of a tennis court. On one side of the lungs is the environment in which the kids live. On the other side is their blood. In between are two layers of cells and a very thin membrane .There's not much keeping the environment out. An Aboriginal kid is 80 times more likely to get pneumonia than a white kid. But mostly, the medical system picks them up, so they don't all die.

Aboriginal kids are 3 times more likely to die, than white kids, in that first year of life. The record doesn't get any better as they grow older. While white men live to around 73, and women to 78, Aboriginals miss out on about 25 years of life, and die around the age of 50. The Aboriginal of the 1990's has the life expectancy of a white of the 1890's.

The record of Aboriginal health is particularly ironic when you look at Aboriginal eyesight. Aborigines have the sharpest vision ever measured of any humans on our planet, but they're also the humans most likely to be blind when they die. Professor Hollows told me the story of how he corrected an elderly (50 years old, old for a Aboriginal!) Aboriginal man's vision back to 6/6 with glasses. 6/6 is what the average white person has. But his patient said "Thank you for trying, but this is hopeless. I used to be able to see much better." And when the good Professor told him the average white person would think 6/6 was excellent eyesight, his patient expressed sympathy for the poor white people who had such hopeless vision, and who would never know anything better.

Your doctor/optometrist measures vision by two numbers. Average vision is 6/6. The number on top is your seeing distance, measured in metres. The number on the bottom is the seeing distance of the average human. If your vision is 6/6, this means that you can see clearly at a distance of six metres, what the average person can see clearly at six metres. (20/20 is the American version of this - they measure their distances in feet, not metres.)

3/6 means that if the average person can see an object sharply at six metres, you have to be as close as three metres away to see that object clearly. 3/6 means that you probably have to wear glasses. Some people are lucky - they have vision which is better than average. If your vision is 6/5, you can see objects at six metres which the average person can see clearly at five metres.

But Professors Fred Hollows and Hugh Taylor have found Aborigines in Western Australia, whose average vision is 6/1.5 ! This means that they can see at six metres what the average person can see at only 1.5 metres. But Professor Hollows also discovered a very cruel fact. About 5% of Aborigines in the Outback will be blind when they die. If a Aboriginal is lucky enough to live longer than 60, one in 4 will be blind, from trachoma and cataracts. This blindness from trachoma is easily prevented, and the blindness from cataracts is easily fixed with a simple operation. But the medical treatment is not getting to where it's needed.

Little Godzilla finally finished playing with his strange new-found friends - the ones who were just as tall as he was, but who could run where he could only toddle, who could jump and not fall over when they landed, and who could, wonder of wonders, balance on one leg. Unless something changes in Oz, his friends will be dead by 2040, when he will have about a quarter century of life left to live.

© Karl S. Kruszelnicki

http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/trek/4wd/tinykids.htm