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Lent 4 and the Fourth Week of Lent

with James Kornelsen, Public Engagement Coordinator

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank

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John 9: 1-41 – Jesus and the Man Born Blind

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “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 near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Reflection by James Kornelsen, based on John 9:1-41

I’m James Kornelsen, Public Engagement Coordinator for Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an association of 15 church-based agencies working together to end global hunger. One of those 15 agencies is the Anglican agency PWRDF; another is Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC. It was through both MCC and the Anglican Church that I got into the work of relief and development about 20 years ago, when my wife, Michelle, and I together with our one-year-old daughter, were assigned as MCC volunteers to organize a vocational training program with the Anglican Diocese of Lebombos in Mozambique.

Early in 2000, the new millennium and after the anti-climactic Y2K, devastating floods in Mozambique forced hundreds of thousands onto rooftops and trees to be rescued by helicopters. The year started off badly, then it got worse with Cyclone Eline dousing the country and overflowing rivers. One woman was forced to give birth to her child while in a tree. People seem to remember that one. Maybe more than they remember Y2K even.

We had just finished language training in the capital city, Maputo. A large truck was all packed up ready to move to our parish home in Maxixe, Inhambane, about 6 hours north to start this project. But, days and nights of heavy rains prevented us from going.

Three weeks of steady rainfall inundated the country, downed power lines, washed away houses, destroyed farmland, and cut roads, including the one we needed to move to our new home in Maxixe. We ended up being in the thick of a full disaster response. We planned and accompanied food distributions on behalf of MCC and Canadian Foodgrains Bank—which, incidentally, was my first exposure to this organization. We also worked with the local Anglican churches as they responded to the overwhelming needs as best they could, and the Christian Council of Mozambique.

One story stands out for me though, as I reflect on today’s gospel reading and the story of Jesus and the blind man. My story involves a man who sat begging outside our house in Maputo. When Jesus responds to the question, “Why was this man born blind?” it’s much the same question as, “Why do people go hungry?” The easiest way to share this story is to read the reflection directly from my journal entry at that time. It’s entitled Alberto and Laura.

Wednesday, February 16, 2000: “Alberto and Laura”

Alberto is the elderly man we see every day sitting under the tree in front of the Anglican Church on the Avenue just outside our house. We pass him every single day. While Michelle and I regularly hand him a piece of bread or a few coins, it does little to alleviate the helplessness that we feel watching Alberto, and others like him, left to fend for themselves. Alberto has a speech impediment which makes it difficult to understand him; he gets around very slowly with the use of crutches. He had been a mechanic working in South Africa for many years but being elderly and disabled, now without a means to earn money.

After many days of heavy rain, Maputo has quickly become a city under siege by the many waters that flow through it on their way to the sea. A few days ago, while passing Alberto under his tree, we noticed that his long, bearded face had more worry than usual. He uttered some words about losing his house and about a large hole. We understood some of it. We acknowledged this politely and he motioned to us that he would explain in writing. The next day we received a note on a piece of cardboard, which read:

“After rains lasted days and nights, an invasion of water completely turned my house and yard into a deep valley. I have lost everything that I own. Signed, Alberto Macuácua. Bairro Ferroviário. Section 44. House #112.”

Wow. We took the note home and thought about it. What could we do, realistically? So many people have lost their homes…and we’re already doing what we can through the Anglican Church and the Christian Council of Mozambique.

He also included a scripture passage, scrawled out in his barely legible handwriting from Matthew 5 which I quickly opened up and read: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Gulp.

A few days later Michelle and I decided the least we could do was to go and see Alberto’s house for ourselves. When we told him this, his eyes lit up. We piled in with a few friends, and Alberto maneuvered himself to our car with some help. Until then we hadn’t realized how tall he was. His long legs were a tight fit for the back seat of the Toyota 4×4, but we soon had him nestled in. He directed us to his bairro, but the first few roads we tried were completely under water. There’s always another way. We passed a school building holding victims of the floods in that area who had lost their homes, and this is where we met his wife, Laura. She was all smiles as she hopped in our car. She directed us the rest of the way while Alberto stayed in the backseat. Brushing against hedges while navigating twists and turns of the narrow, sandy roads of the bairro, we felt utterly lost by the time we stopped near their section. At this point we had to get out and walk. Laura seemed very happy to guide us through the neighbourhood. She walked ahead of us with grace and purpose. We passed a couple of men who made a comment in the local dialect, saying: “Our neighbourhood must be developing – there’s white folks walking through it.”

Arriving, we were joined by a growing crowd of interested neighbours. I’m guessing everyone wanted to see the looks on our faces when we first caught sight of the devastation. Well, there wasn’t much to say. The place where Alberto and Laura’s house used to stand looked as though God dragged his heel through the earth. A trench at least 10 metres deep and 8 metres across. I took a picture of Laura pointing at the devastation, for which she erased her smile and put on a very serious face. We made our way back to the car where Alberto was waiting.

We did return to the school later that afternoon with a food delivery from the Christian Council of Mozambique. We had been making deliveries all over the city. One of the first things I saw when I jumped off the truck was Laura’s smiling face; we greeted each other like longtime friends. As far as we know, these now homeless people – among others, thousands of other Mozambican families – are still waiting for a place to live.

Now, what happened after that journal entry, and over the course of the next few weeks, was the development of some unlikely and wonderful relationships. We knew we had to do something more for our neighbour. So with the help of local friends and colleagues, neighbours and others, we organized the construction of a simple house for Alberto and Laura in a relocated bairro designated for people who lost homes. Coordinated volunteers, purchasing supplies, arranging meals for workers – we made lots of mistakes typical of white do-gooders! But Alberto and Laura got a new home, and we felt the joy of new and wonderful relationships. Everyone extended their family just a little.

Alberto took his place again on the sidewalk outside our house on the Avenue. Our relationship from then on was more like family.

Today’s Gospel is about relationships. Parents, religious leaders, neighbours and friends, they all play a role. When we reach out to help and heal our fellow human beings, the result is a deepening of relationships. Our stories come together. The message to PWRDF supporters is that people halfway around the world are usually deeply touched that you care enough to do something, to donate in their time of crisis. That’s love.

We won’t ever have easy answers for why people are blind or ill or destitute. But God’s work IS revealed when we respond to the call and enter into these relationships. To remind myself of this, I still have Alberto’s note tucked into my Bible to this day. More specifically, it’s folded up in Matthew, chapter 5.

Let me end with another journal entry that I had written from this time period, which happened to be exactly 20 years ago, on World Water Day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

From one perspective, this flood relief effort is basically a big wad of cash and a boatload of stuff. It’s a lot of concerned people trying to do a lot of things and a lot of journalists trying to cover a lot of people doing a lot of things. More details can be obtained in your bulletin insert. 

From another side, it’s about the deepening of relationship. Folks in Canada will feel good about giving to a disaster relief effort in Mozambique, but let it take on the maturity of a gift given and received; a reaching out to others in an act of friendship; an opportunity to say, “You are a part of the Body of Christ together with me and it’s our privilege to learn about you and realize who you are in addition to what you need in this moment.” You know, we have to look for these stories.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What words, ideas or phrases stand out for you?

March 24, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel saying to you?

March 25, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel calling you to do?

March 26, 2020

PWRDF Connects

James’ reflection talks about relationships. At PWRDF, relationships are key to the way we work. In Tanzania, the Diocese of Masasi has been a valued partner for more than 20 years, the last four culminating in the All Mothers and Children Count program. Read about some of the project highlights here.

March 27, 2020

PWRDF Connects

In his reflection, James describes the devastating effects of a cyclone that hit Mozambique in 2000. In 2019, Cyclone Idai tore through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, causing similar destruction. Read how PWRDF responded and continues to respond to this disaster.

March 28, 2020

Your Saturday Sabbath

Is the woman hauling debris from a destroyed home, or carrying construction supplies to rebuild her home? As the world is suspended in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, how will you approach the recovery?