In my line of work, I often ask children what they want to be when they grow up. A couple of years ago, I asked the whole class. I got all the standard responses; doctor, nurse, vet, fireman, Manchester United player and astronaut. On this occasion however one child told me they wanted to be an ophthalmologist. As you can well imagine this took me back slightly. I’m not ashamed to say I had to ask the child what exactly an ophthalmologist was. I was told very specifically that it is a doctor of the eye who treats eye problems medically and surgically very importantly she explained, unlike the optometrist who is trained to examine the eye for certain problems, such as how well the eye focuses. I always like it when I get an answer to that question that is a bit more left field. It reminds me of myself. You see, when I was little I had the rather unusual desire to be a news reader. I loved, and still do, watching the news. I would never miss it and took it all in. While other children were watching cartoons there I was glued to the news. At age 8, I could have rhymed off each member of Tony Blair’s cabinet and most of the shadow cabinet. All my Christmases came at once when we got Sky put in and I realised with great excitement that the news was on 24/7.
Something that has been in the news a great deal over the past year or so has been the concept of ‘fake news’ and its dangers. Indeed, the leading headline on the BBC News website on Thursday evening was entitled ‘Fake news a democratic crisis, MPs warn.’ Fake news is generally accepted to be a type of ‘journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.’ For example, a piece of fake news entitled ‘Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide’ received 2,177,000 Facebook shares, comments and reactions. I believe however that Fake News now goes further than just deliberate misinformation. There is an increasing trend to denounce opposing opinions as Fake News. We just need to look at the current debate around Brexit. When Remainers released research around the negative impact of a No Deal Brexit many Brexiteers were quick to denounce this information as Fake News. Conversely, when Brexiteers released information stating we will be better off and that money will come from here and there, Remainers in turn denounced this as Fake News too. What underpins all of this is that over the past decade or so there has been a fundamental shift in the mindset of our society. The concept of there being an absolute truth has become somewhat offensive. Truth has become increasingly subjective and unique to the individual. We live in a society with multiple truths. The issue with this is that it’s hard to reconcile these multiple truths together, they don’t sit well alongside each other and often come into opposition.
In our passage today, we read about a man who had been blind from birth. He lived in a world of darkness and, in the society of the day, would have been unable to reach his full potential or experience life to its fullest. Then into the midst of this situation, along comes not an ophthalmologist, but Jesus. We are told, that quite strangely, Jesus ‘spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud’. The man was then instructed to wash his eyes which resulted in his miraculous healing and being able to see for the first time. Can you imagine that moment when he first experienced sight? How wonderous and overwhelming it must have been to see the faces of his loved ones and the beauty of creation. No longer would he have been relying on the, no doubt, varying descriptions of others, but he was now able to see things as they truly were. This whole event in part fulfils the words Jesus quoted from Isaiah as recorded in Luke 4:18 ‘“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (ESV).
I believe wholeheartedly that God still heals physically today and I’m proud to be part of a church that has whole liturgies dedicated to it. But when Jesus says he is sent to proclaim sight for the blind it goes much deeper than just the physical. He is talking about bringing sight to the spiritually blind. Just before the healing Jesus states ‘I am the light of the world.’ The fact is we can’t see in the dark, we need light. Without the light of Christ illuminating our lives we are incapable of seeing and knowing the truth, the absolute truth of who we truly are, of world, of the meaning of life itself. We are bombarded day by day by various so-called truths and opinions and world views and ways of living. We’re faced with a society that is changing at lightning speed, with a morality and set of values that are changing so swiftly it’s almost impossible to keep track off. Without the light of Christ to guide our way we really are just stumbling about in the dark desperately trying to grab something solid to take hold off as we try to find the meaning of it all and to answer the questions who am I? why am I here? am I significant?
To answers these questions, we need to rewind right back to the beginning of creation itself. In Genesis 1:3, out of the darkness and the chaos, God says ‘Let there be light,’ (ESV). This is the light of creation. Of course, we know how the story continues, God creates this perfect world only for it to be spoiled as man rebels causing them to be cut off from God as sin enters and pollutes the world. Moving back to our reading today, in verse 4 Jesus states ‘night is coming’ (ESV). He is talking about the darkness and the chaos and the pain of Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the Son of God is brutally murdered upon the cross and lies dead in the tomb. But then we see on Easter Sunday that, even after the sin of the entire world had been placed upon Him and the devil had thrown everything he had at Him, that even then death could not hold Him and He rose again victorious over it all and as He did, just like God said ‘Let there be light,’, the light of new creation came flooding into the world with Him.
Jesus says in the unforgettable words of John 14:6 ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ When we accept the truth of Jesus Christ, that He is our saviour, our redeemer and the very Son of God, that same light of new creation washes over us and through us and we find ourselves not only able to see the world as it is but to know who we truly are. The truth is that no what people think of us, no matter where we come from, no matter what we have done that we are beloved children of God, members of His family who are no longer in condemnation, who are no longer lost in the dark, who are no longer grasping for meaning but rather people who are loved and cherished and valued and who have a hope and a future. The hope of a life changed and an eternity spent in the presence of God Himself. No matter what society says, no matter what it believes, there is such a thing as absolute truth and His name is Jesus Christ. That truth is unshakeable, eternal and unchanging and it is the only truth that can bring true meaning and true transformation. Nothing else can or ever will compare to the truth of Jesus Christ and the most important question that any of us will ever face is ‘do I accept that truth?’
When we say ‘yes, I believe’ and we accept the absolute truth of Jesus Christ, like the blind man saw his first ray of light, beheld the faces of his loved ones, saw the beauty of the earth and started his life anew, so we too will find that we see as if for the first time as the light of Christ illuminates our path and shines into our hearts with the knowledge that we are loved, that we are valued, that we are significant. We will find ourselves moving forward in newness of life, still aware of the darkness yes, but reassured by the truth of Christ as we go about our lives full of true meaning, true purpose and true joy. And when the darkness touches on our lives, when we face pain or illness or death, we can be assured that the light of new creation is greater than anything we face and that its source is making all things new. And just like Jesus spit in the mud, people will find our way of life strange. As with the Pharisees in the passage, people will doubt and question and argue. We will come into conflict with a society that will find our claim to absolute truth offensive. But through it all, no matter how tough it gets, no matter what is thrown at us, no matter what opposition comes we have the freedom of knowing Christ, of knowing who we are, of being loved so completely that we can say with confidence to whoever asks, ‘I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.’