Lent IV 2020 “Deep in the old man’s puzzle….”
I want to share with you a short passage from Robertson Davies novel, Fifth Business. An elderly French Jesuit named Blazon is talking to a Canadian teacher and writer named Dunstan Ramsey. Ramsey has just asked Blazon how he can be a holy man after just having consumed a whole chicken and a whole bottle of wine at dinner. Blazon then replies. Listen:
“Listen, Ramezay, have you heard what Einstein says?—Einstein, the great scientist, not some Jesuit like old Blazon. He says: ‘God is subtle, but He is not cruel.’ There is some sound Jewish wisdom for your muddled Protestant mind. Try to understand the subtlety, and stop whimpering about the cruelty. Maybe God wants you for something special….
“….I am quite a wise old bird but I am no desert hermit who can only prophesy when his guts are knotted in hunger….I am deep in the old man’s puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one….you cannot divide spirit from body without anguish and destruction.”
“I am deep in the old man’s puzzle,” Father Blazon said, “trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one.”
Today’s gospel lesson is so long and complex—more like a short story than the normal readings—that we could spend hours together teasing out all the subtleties of the healing of the man born blind. There obviously isn’t time to do that. We all have places to go and things to do. So, cutting to the chase, I want to spend a few minutes with you “deep in the old man’s puzzle”, wrestling with the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit and how the two are linked together and one.
The story begins with blindness of the body: Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind—so his blindness is genetic, on the level of DNA, not because of some illness or accident. He was blind in the midnight of the womb and wrapped in double darkness until that moment when Jesus gives him new eyes and “first sight”.
The story ends with the “spiritual blindness” of the Pharisees. Their souls dwell in the double darkness of their rigid, unenlightened adherence to a Law that makes no sense and their blindness to the miracle and wonder of Jesus’ power and authority over the Sabbath, over all things.
Jesus says: I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.
Some of the Pharisees who heard his words asked Jesus: Surely we are not blind, are we?
If you were blind, Jesus tells them, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.
We are deep in the old man’s puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one.
Here’s something to notice and remember: in John’s gospel, Jesus always speaks of SIN, in the singular, not the plural, SINS.
When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming to the River Jordan to be baptized, he says: behold the lamb of God who takes away the SIN of the world! John says ‘SIN’ not ‘sins”. Sin, in John’s Gospel, does not refer to actions we do that we should not have done or to actions we didn’t do that we should have done. “Commission” and “Omission”—the way the church refers to those two categories of “sins”—isn’t what John’s Gospel is referring to. It is not our individual “sins” that Jesus comes to “take away”; rather, it is SIN itself.
One way of looking at “sin” is to see it as a state of being—THE STATE OF BEING SEPARATED FROM GOD.
Separation from God—being out of touch with God, alienated from God…alone and empty—that is “the Sin of the World.”
Just as Blazon longs to link the wisdom of the body to the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one; in just that way, Jesus longs to link humankind to God until the two are One.
And old hymn from my childhood goes like this: ‘O, how marvelous, O how wonderful, is my Savior’s love for me….”
Jesus offers us “first sight” and new eyes. Jesus offers us the ability to see—see clearly, see truly, see through our separation from God…our Sin…until we see God face to face. Oh, how marvelous! Oh, how wonderful!
God is subtle, but He is not cruel.
Einstein’s insight points us to the “wisdom” of the story of the man born blind. Jesus speaks of “blindness” and “sight” as if the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit WERE ONE. To the man born blind he gives his own saliva, mixed with dirt into mud, applied to his eyes and washed away by the waters of the healing pool named “SENT.” The man who had never seen is given both the sight of the body and the sight of the spirit.
Do you believe in the Son of Man? Jesus asks him.
And who is he, sir? The man replies. Tell me, so that I may believe in him.
You have seen him, Jesus tells the man with first sight, and the one speaking with you is he.
Then, seeing with both his eyes and his heart, the man says to Jesus, Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him.
Oh, how wonderful….Oh, how marvelous….
How, in our lives, are we like the man born blind? How, in our lives, have we come to see—not with our eyes only, but with our hearts?
And how, in our life, are we like the Pharisees? How, in our lives, are you and I bound and rigid and blind because you and I are tied to the limitations of the past, of our upbringing, of our culture, of our prejudices, of our resistance to “the New Thing” God would do for us?
You see, we are deep in the old man’s puzzle, you and I. We are struggling with the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit and we long to link them together until they are one. God is subtle, but God is not cruel.
The subtlety of God has to do with “how to SEE” and how to find first sight, new eyes.
There is a story I would tell you. Then I would invite you into a few minutes of silence, deep in the old man’s puzzle, to wrestle with what is Broken and what is Whole…with body and spirit…with sight and blindness…with seeing the Face of God.
My story is this: Once there was a very old and very wise Rabbi. He was sitting by the river with his three young, energetic disciples just before dawn.
One of them, there in the last moments of darkness, said to the rabbi: Master, when is there enough light to see?
He replied: Tell me what you think…
One said: There is enough light to see when you can tell the young lambs from the young goats as they play in the field across the river.
The Rabbi replied: No, that is not enough light to see.
A second disciple said: There is enough light to see when you can distinguish the trees from the fog in the early dawn.
But the Rabbi answered: No, that is not enough light to see.
A third student took his turn: There is enough light to see when you can see the leaves on the trees across the river and know which is a myrtle and which is an olive.
The Rabbi said, as before: No, that is not enough light to see. And he grew silent for a long time.
There is enough light to see, the rabbi finally said, when you can look into the face of any human being and see the face of God….
We are deep in the old man’s puzzle. Let us pray for enough light to see.