Friends, our scripture readings this week call us to walk in the light. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians calls the people of Ephesus, “children of the light.” Paul was accustomed to seeing his converts as spiritual children, believing that they and he had a long way to go to be true followers of Jesus, the Christ. But, when we think about the task before us, “to walk in the light,” having chosen to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we realize that this is not a task for children, but for folks grown-up in their faith. Now, that having been said, it is clear in reflecting on today’s readings that it is not the strong and competent, the physically flawless of this world that God calls into service, but the weak and vulnerable, by this world’s standards.
As I have been recovering from our trip to and from China the past few days–getting nights and days turned around again; I took the opportunity to watch a DVD that I had recently purchased on the life of Mother Teresa. She was a woman of small stature, presumably not to be taken seriously. At 18 she entered a convent in Yugoslavia that was considered “safe” for women as a career choice and for 20 years she worked in ministry teaching girls of the well-to-do behind convent walls. On a trip outside the walls, she became aware of a different reality in India, of the people on the streets who had lost everything, who literally were dying on the streets and became compelled through the call of her brother Jesus, to do something about it.
A woman of small stature, taking on what most considered an impossible task, especially for a woman, but who knew in her heart that the desire, the call, came from God and that God would be all the strength she needed.
Samuel the prophet, in today’s 1st reading goes to Jesse as commanded by God to choose the first in a dynasty of kings to rule and guide the People of God. Jesse brought the perfect number of sons—seven, before Samuel for his choice and even though the people of Jesse’s time saw completion in that number seven, God’s choice was not among them. Even Samuel, God’s prophet had eyed the strongest, most capable-looking one in the bunch, but he was not God’s choice. We see that once again, God turns things upside down. David, the youngest, and seemingly most unfit for the role, by age and experience, is God’s choice. God, we see, doesn’t judge by what is on the outside, but by what is on the inside. God looks into the heart. It was so with Mother Teresa when she was accused of doing all that she did to gain acclaim—she said, “I am the pencil in God’s hands—it is God who does the writing.
In our gospel selection today we are given quite a treatise on how God chooses, and what ultimately each of us is called to, when we choose God back, in Jesus—when we choose to follow in his footsteps.
All the people in this story aside from Jesus and the blind one are walking in some form of darkness. They witness, especially those who regularly frequent the temple, a person that they know and recognize as someone, blind from birth, being given sight. What happens to this blind one through many symbolic gestures on Jesus’ part is nothing short of miraculous. Yet, these people, even the apostles for a time, until Jesus sets them straight, skip over the miracle and look for a dark response for why the person was blind in the first place. It must be sin, if not the blind person’s, then that of the parents. The Pharisees take the darkness to new levels of blackness in believing everyone is steeped in sin, thus making it impossible to see the miracle wrought in their midst through a loving God in the messianic person of Jesus. Why is it so much easier to believe in evil than in good?
In Mother Teresa’s case this was true as she asked to work in the streets of Calcutta—what was she after was what people wondered. She had to have the Church’s hierarchical permission and they too didn’t believe she had been called by God for such a task, until they witnessed her work in the streets and the difference she was making and of course, the followers who came to her asking to do what she was doing.
The blind one who was now recreated with physical sight is the model for all of us to follow. The light that has come into this person through physical eyes has been extended to include the mind and the heart. Sometimes being weak and vulnerable is the very door through which God can enter as the Spirit did through the once blind person.
Jesus sends this sightless one to a pool, Siloam, which is a word meaning, “one who is sent.” The blind person goes, out of the need to see, and returns with the makings of whole-person-sight—in body, mind and spirit.
Even for this blind one, complete sight doesn’t happen immediately, so there is hope for us too, friends. This person who now walks with physical sight spills out the joy that can’t be contained, “I was blind and now I can see!” This simple, yet profound fact is not enough for the Pharisees to praise God because of the claim that the “miracle” came about through the man, Jesus. Because their vision is corrupted by power and greed, their hearts and minds are locked to the mystery that the blind one knew through a lifetime of walking in physical darkness. He/she, could only worship the God obvious in Jesus’ eyes, when in answer to his question, “Do you believe in the Chosen One, the One who is now speaking to you?” the answer came, “Yes, I believe!”
Friends, if ever we are to hear the voice of God, it will be through our hearts first—not through our heads. God is not something we can figure out—God is about the heart—about lovingkindness, justice, mercy, truth, generosity toward ourselves and others, compassion for a world that our God is so in love with. Mother Teresa had a profound and wonderful response to one of her dissenters who asked her why she wasn’t angry with him for not believing in her. Mother Teresa responded that she couldn’t be angry with someone whom God loved.
It is this kind of feeling that will allow each of us to walk in faith, choosing to follow Jesus who first chose us—doing the sometimes hard things that this faith will demand of us, like it did to the blind one whose eyes and heart were opened. When people, such as the Pharisees live and move out of power and greed, the penalty for being inspired by a different drummer apart from the status quo is generally swift and painful. Because the blind one—now seeing, will not let go of the miracle experienced and of who brought it about, she/he is put out of the synagogue. Today, we excommunicate and there is no discussion, no desire to understand.
Mother Teresa was given an ultimatum—either stay within the convent walls or leave. She really had no choice because her God was calling and she had to follow. Out of this, the Missionaries of Charity was founded with her serving as superior for nearly 50 years. Toward the end of her life, she said to a colleague and friend, “Never be afraid to be a contradiction in this world.”
Jesus told the people of his time that he is the light of the world. Let us pray that those who claim to lead our Church might more consistently let this light illuminate their hearts and minds—show them the way to truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Each of us friends is called to walk in that same light—a task not always easy, but one that will give us great peace because we will know in our hearts that it is the right thing to do, standing up for justice for each person. Moving from our hearts is always the right action and we will never do it alone—Jesus will be with us! May God bless us all as we struggle on.