The lectionary readings these last few Sunday’s may make you want to think twice about signing up to read scripture! They have been long and complicated stories of encounters with Jesus that are full of twists and turns, clarification and consternation.
Last week, Tom Vawter valiantly made his way through the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. The week before that Nancy Laste read of Nicodemus coming in the cover of darkness to be undone by Jesus’ assertion that he must be born from above, and this week Karen has skillfully led us through the twists and turns of this quite lengthy story of what happens when Jesus comes upon a man blind from birth.
As long and as involved as all of the stories are, they all revolve around or are set in motion by, a question.
Nicodemus asks “How can these things be?” when Jesus tells him he must be born from above.
The Samaritan woman at the well asks “Where do you get that living water?”
And today a disciple asks “Is this man blind because of his sins or the sins of his parents?”
This makes me think that we should never shy away from our questions for who knows what may unfold if we too dare to ask them?
But before we see where the disciple’s question will take us today, let us pray. Holy God, use the questions of our hearts and the words of my mouth to open new insight into how to see as you see and how to live as you would have us live. Amen.
Unlike the Samaritan woman, and unlike Nicodemus, the man born blind never asked to be the main character in the story for today. The man born blind did not set in motion all that transpired including his own healing with his question. Instead it is a disciple that asks the question and that sets it all in motion.
And yet it is this man born blind who finds himself in the middle of it all.
There he was, sitting beside the road, begging. Lost perhaps in his own thoughts and certainly lost in his own world.
Just then the disciples and Jesus round the bend and draw near to where blind man is sitting.
One of the disciples who perhaps wanted to distinguish himself from the rest, sees the blind man there by the road and asks what he hopes will be a really quite a brilliant theoretical / theological question. “Is this man blind because of his sins or the sins of his parents?”
I imagine, with that question, Jesus stops. I imagine Jesus takes a moment. Looks upon the blind man and then looking upon his disciples says:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Now the impact of this statement is lost on us for we (thank God!) do not believe that disability or disease is caused by sin.
But that was what was believed in Jesus time. That was the construct of understanding that they believed governed reality. So in asking this “brilliant question” you see the disciple was not questioning this construct at all. He was just trying to fine tune his understanding of it. “Was this man blind because of his sins or the sins of his parents?”
So when Jesus says “Neither,” well that was jarring enough, but when he goes on to say “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” that must have been down-right mystifying.
Are you familiar with the Jose Saramago novel Blindness? It tells the story of a terrible time when an epidemic of blindness overcomes a city. In the grip of blindness, the bonds of community and care break down, people are pitched one against another groping literally for survival. There is only one person who is spared from this blindness and this is main character, who is the wife of the ophthalmologist. She alone remains sighted. But through her vision and care, a small band make their way and actually succeed in creating for themselves a new order and new way of living.
I wonder if in that moment when that disciples asked the question “Is this man blind because of his sins or the sins of his parents?”, did Jesus not somehow reawaken again to the truth that he was, in essence, the only sighted one in a world that had gone blind? Despite all that they had done together did Jesus realize in that moment that he was still the only one who could see clearly? The only one with vision? Were all the rest, even his dear disciples still enmeshed in a way of seeing that was so very limiting?
Blindness was not the way it was to be. Limitation was not as not part of God’s desiring for God’s good creation. In the beginning and in the beginnings of now, there was and is to be fluidity of grace and blessing that defies rigidity and judgment. In the beginning and in the beginnings of now there was and is to be playfulness in the dynamic outpouring of divine creativity that could not and cannot be defined or confined by rules that bind.
And so in a great outpouring of love not just for the one sitting blind by the road but also for his disciples who were still dwelling in deep darkness, Jesus crosses over to the blind one and saying “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” bends down and taking the stuff of the earth- mud, and the stuff of his very being – spit, in a kind of re-creation moment covers the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash.
And with that Jesus and the disciples walk out of the story, at least for now. And can’t you hear them muttering amongst themselves — “What in the world was that about?”
But the story does not stop there does it. In fact, all that just gets the story started. For the man does go wash in the pool of Siloam and when he does an amazing thing happens. He sees.
But instead of declaring it a day of celebration, instead of turning out with tambourines and song in the way that Miriam danced on the far side of the Red Sea when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Pharaoh to fullness of life with God, instead — there is this huge backlash, this big push to “change back.” The community does not recognize and cannot tolerate this healing that goes against how they understand things to be. One does not work on the Sabbath and so work that happens on the Sabbath must be wrong. So the man’s sight, or something about him or something about he who made it all happen must be wrong.
But did you notice how the newly sighted man is increasingly amazed by the blindness of those around him? Did you see how his vision become clearer and clearer? He, a former invisible one begging on the margins, now speaks with such clarity and vision that the community finds it completely intolerable and tosses him out.
But again, it does not stop there.
For as if knowing that all of this would transpire and so not moving too far down the road, Jesus again steps onto the scene and takes this man who while blind had a place within the social order but now with vision is cast out, into his care. And though it does not explicitly say so I like to think that Jesus’ disciples are there to witness this moment. What do they think when they see this sighted man? Can they see him not as a billboard of sin but as a brother and a friend? Through him, has their sight become just a little bit clearer?
I sure hope so.
I said that the man who had been born blind was the main character in this story, in much the same way that Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were the main characters in the stories of these last few weeks. But of course, that is not really true. Who is the main character? I think it is the disciples, and during this season of Lent — it is us. We are those that are doing our best to walk with Jesus but who, very well, may be blind still to what it is that Jesus sees and asks us to see.
Are we so caught up with how things are that we have lost sight of how things should be? Are we so used to seeing suffering that we no longer have the vision to see things differently?
Where are our blind spots? Where is our vision limited even still?
You know it is a humbling thing really to be reminded that even in our desire and commitment to follow Jesus, we may be missing the mark completely. But it is good to be reminded. We may feel quite competent in many aspects of our life, but in living as God would have us live? Well maybe not so much. And I say that not because we are bad, or sinful, not at all! I say that because the truth of the matter is that it is hard. We may be able to see with twenty –twenty hindsight where we may have gotten it wrong, but when we are in the thick of things seeing as God sees is hard.
But the good news is that we have each other and we have Jesus to lead us as we grope along and find our way. And when we do, do you know what sometimes happens? Have you felt it?
Well there are time, and there will be times when suddenly we are lifted by God’s grace as if mud and spit have been rubbed on our eyes, to a clarity of vision we did not think possible. Where we clearly see grace and blessing that defies rigidity and judgment. When we see as perhaps Jesus sees. When we feel caught up in playfulness — in the dynamic outpouring of divine creativity that could not and cannot be defined or confined by rules that bind. And in my experience this happens most readily not when we are alone in our thoughts and in our own little world but when we dare to be more and more a part of the world of those God places in our path.
So let us question not so much with conviction but with humility. Let our hearts be open so that our eyes may be so too. And let us forever be reminded that the walk of this Christian discipleship is not just for our own benefit, but so that we may more fully see and embrace those who in our blindness, we may been pushed to the edge of our relevance, but who are most surely in the center of Gods! For ours is a God that cannot be contained by rules that bind. Ours is a God that crosses over to the one others walk by. Ours is a God who does not give up on us but time and time again seeks fullness of life and clarity of vision for all of God’s beloved. Thanks be to God, Amen.