The news on Friday night was the usual grim feed of war, sabotage, torture, murder, a missing plane named MH370 and the continuing saga of the Oscar Pistorius trial. It’s all harrowing stuff, the kind that one cannot give too much attention to and remain sane. However, this night there was one heartwarming story. Joanne Milne, who was born deaf nearly 40 years ago, was able to hear for the first time in her life after being fitted with cochlear implants. Her mother filmed the life-changing moment that instantly became an Internet sensation.
Joanne’s reaction was one of incredible joy. She burst into tears of shock and joy as she listened to a nurse read out the days of the week. It was the first time she had ever heard another person speak, and the first time she ever heard her own voice. As she said herself, “The switch-on was the most emotional and overwhelming experience of my life and I’m still in shock now. Hearing things for the first time is so, so emotional, from the ping of a light switch to running water… I can’t stop crying. I can already foresee how it’s going to be life changing and the implants will get better and better over time, I’m so, so happy.”
It’s all too easy to miss out on the full impact of the healing of the man born blind in today’s Gospel. Joanne’s story may help. Just as she lived in a world of silence, this man lived in a world of total darkness until this moment. As he says himself, ‘I was blind, now I can see.’ This had to be just as life changing for him as it was for Joanne. I’m sure he could identify with her words completely – ‘the most emotional and overwhelming experience of my life.’
The story of the journey of the man from blindness to the light of worship has been associated with baptism since the earliest days. The newly baptised were even called ‘the enlightened’. The letter to the Ephesians concurs with this. ‘Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.’ The preface for today has the same motif. “By the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus has led the human race that walked in darkness into the light of the faith.” Even the telling of the healing has baptismal references in it. Jesus didn’t simply rub the paste of clay and spittle on his eyes, he anointed him with it which refers to the anointing of the Spirit in baptism. Then he was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam which can be understood as the waters of baptism. The man goes and washes in the wells of salvation and comes back enlightened by Christ.
The overarching theme however is that baptism transports one from darkness to light. The newly baptised have left an old, tired life behind, for a new way of living, full of meaning and love. But sometimes one may wonder. Do we really see a difference between a baptised and a non-baptised life? Do we Christians look like people redeemed? And is it not true to say that many, who profess neither faith in God or in Christ, seem to live the good life very well. Nor does there seem to be any particular darkness about the way they live.
On the face of it there seems to be little enough difference. If one is young, healthy and rich and generally blessed with good fortune, then there is everything to live for in this world. But what happens when one or two of these are taken away? What about Joanne who was born deaf? What happens when bad things happen to good people? How does one explain suffering from a merely agnostic, worldly point of view? Just yesterday Fr. Charlie, my colleague here, told me of a young boy who has just died at the age of 12. He has had numerous brain operations over the last 5 years. Just before he died his father asked him, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ His answer was simple, ‘just love me!’ That sums up baptism for me. Baptism gives us the bigger picture where God is at the centre and this little boy knew that. Baptism enables us to die to this world and all worldly concerns so that we can enter into and belong to God’s world – a world full of meaning and love. The terms ‘who am I?’ and ‘whose am I?’ are radically changed. Firstly, I am now a child of God, loved without measure by God. Secondly I belong to God. I no longer live for myself but for God and my whole life is determined by this belonging. Furthermore, today’s reassuring psalm tells us that all shall be well because the Lord is always our Shepherd. With his loving attention to us always, we will never be in want.
That Joanne can now hear sounds is a marvelous development. However, her road ahead is long. She now has to be able to distinguish sounds and know what they mean. Likewise the blind man may have received the gift of sight but he still has to distinguish and learn what different objects are. The same goes for his spiritual life. He didn’t understand Jesus all in one go. After his eyes were opened he only gradually came to a clearer understanding of Jesus. At first he refers to him as ‘the man called Jesus.’ Later when asked what did he think about Jesus, he answered, ‘He is a prophet.’ By the end of the story the title he gives to Jesus is Lord and bows down and worships him.
We too have been enlightened in baptism but that’s only a beginning. We now have to grow into Christ. We must expose ourselves continually to his teaching and allow his value system to direct our minds and hearts. St. Paul called it putting on the mind of Christ.
May the Lord free us from all falsehoods that surround and blind us. May truth be the foundation of our lives! May we live forever in the light of the Lord!
Sunday, 30 March 2014