Signpost 30th March 2014, 4th Sunday in Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23: Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
How I love words. I have written “aposynagogus” in the margin of my Bible against this passage from John, but not surprisingly have never managed to introduce it into any conversation. And here is my chance.
“Expelled from the synagogue”. That fear is the overwhelming emotion of the parents of the man blind from birth, not joy at their son’s miraculous healing. If they were to acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, out they would go. So they deserted their son – “He is of age, ask him” – and he was cast out. But Jesus went looking for him (it’s so easy to miss the implication of those few words in the excitement of the story) and he believed and worshiped. We don’t know what happened to him after that.
Most of us will know somebody who has left, or been cast out from, the Exclusive Brethren, and can begin to comprehend what this means in terms of total rejection and alienation from loved family members and from the security of the familiar. It was worse than that in the first century. The synagogue was the total life of the community – if you were expelled you might as well leave town. And where would you go?
The Pharisees were pretty fearful as well. They rather hoped the story was not true. Maybe this isn’t the same man. They interrogated the man and his parents, asking a few leading questions and resorting to abuse. We can see their bewilderment and denial that this could possibly be the Christ. We can sense their terror.
The passage is about light, revelation, signs, healing – deep, deep theological concepts. I try to comprehend those things, but what I offer my readers is fear – is that because I am a No. 6 on the Enneagram, a rabbit transposed into a deer? I take refuge in the healed man’s affirmation, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know: one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see”.
Is the passage literally true, or a metaphor? Let CS Lewis, a man whose whole life, personal and professional, was dedicated to story, fantasy, legend, myth and poetry, answer that one:
“Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.”