Psalm 119: 105 – 144, Genesis 32: 13 – 30 and John 9: 18 – 41
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119: 105
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. …. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ Genesis 32: 24 and 26
‘One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see’. John 9: 25a
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. Collect for Fourth Sunday in Lent
Today’s collect is a further reminder in Lent of the human condition: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23). Our reading from John chapter 9 picks up the account of a man who had been born blind. At the beginning of the chapter, we read of a question the disciples asked Jesus when they saw the blind beggar. Was his blindness caused by the man’s own sin or that of his parents? Jesus gives the emphatic reply that it was neither, but that God’s works might be revealed through the beggar (verse 3). Jesus goes on to make the statement that for as long as he was in the world, he was the light of the world. He was introducing both the idea of transforming the beggar’s life from physical darkness to light, through the healing that was about to take place, but also the spiritual transformation he was offering. The light of Jesus would seek out and overcome the darkness of sin. The story is then complicated by the fact that the healing of the blind man took place on the Sabbath, which opened up the controversy with the Pharisees that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath by ‘working’ (mixing his saliva with dust to place on the man’s eyes – verse 6). It then took an act of faith on the man’s part to obey Jesus’ command to wash in the pool of Siloam, in order for him to receive sight that he had never before experienced. This is a picture of the spiritual sight we receive when the light of salvation floods our lives.
The reading continues with the man’s parents drawn into what was rapidly becoming a serious religious argument with political overtones, with which it is clear they did not want to become tangled. Then comes a powerful statement from the man who had been an outcast simply because of his physical disability. In verses 30 to 34 we read his rebuttal of their suspicion of Jesus: ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’. The latter part of the reading comprises a second encounter between Jesus and the man now healed of his blindness, where touchingly he places his faith in Jesus (verse 38) after Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. The verse I quoted at the heading of these thoughts sums up this act of simple faith, when we reflect on the mystery of salvation: ‘One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see’.
Resuming the story of Jacob seen in Genesis chapter 32, we take up the narrative at a crucial moment. Will reconciliation be possible with the older brother Jacob had cheated all those years before? It is as if the immensity of what was about to unfold compelled Jacob to send on the final precious family members over the ford of the Jabbok (32: 22), leaving him alone with his thoughts. In the stillness, darkness and isolation of the open country Jacob probably unravelled his complex life, thinking of the foolishness of his early deceptions and the lessons he had learnt at the hands of Uncle Laban. Now a prosperous family man, with wives, offspring, servants and large herds, he could reflect he had made a success of these failures and setbacks. How much credit did he give God in all this? His earlier encounter with the ladder reaching heaven in chapter 28 and the promise God made (28: 13 – 15) had already resulted in evident blessing. He was now on the threshold of a new part of his life when he is encountered by a mysterious adversary during the night. We speak of wrestling in prayer, when we implore God to do something, or agonise in uncertainty praying for wisdom or guidance, but in Jacob’s case it takes on a physical form. It becomes apparent that the figure with whom Jacob struggles, leaving him with an injured hip, represents God Himself. As a new day dawns, Jacob has a new identity as Israel, and a permanent limp as a reminder of that nocturnal struggle. Jacob had plenty of flaws in his character, but God was gracious and had immense plans for how his family would multiply and prosper under His care – and ultimately cause blessing to the whole world when Jesus came.
We come finally to consider our portion of Psalm 119. Life may be difficult (examples in verses 107, 110, 115, 123, 134, 141, 143), but the psalmist has faith and determination (verses 106, 109, 111, 112, 121, 124 – 133, 135, 137 – 138, 140, 142 and 144). As we wrestle with the difficulties of life, we take heart that God’s light has streamed into our lives to give us spiritual sight, and that we are recipients of His promises just like Jacob. The place to find these promises is in God’s word, and our prayer is for light to illuminate our path.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader