4th Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017
Lynn Bruer, my Santa Barbara Pastor, wanted to set this story to music. She didn’t know at the time that she needed Lin-Manuel Miranda to make it a hit musical. It has all the elements of a great drama. A main character whose life is changed forever by a brief encounter; A superhero in modern-day dress; powerful people who are shown to be idiots when circumstances don’t fit their pre-conceived ideas; parents caught in the middle, who dodge a confrontation that could make their lives miserable. Whew! She’s right. It even has an EWWWW! factor when Jesus uses spit as the vehicle to accomplish a miracle.
There was a cartoon on my Facebook feed this week about this story: the top panel shows all the ways Jesus’ mother used spit to fix things for him as a kid.Spit kisses away the scrape on an elbow, pats down a cowlick, removes a smudge from a dirty face. The bottom panel shows Jesus meeting a blind man. He says, “Here goes nothing!” and spits in his hand.
John, the Evangelist, could have told this story lots of ways, but he chose irony. I guess he really wanted us to remember the human comedy of this tale, the entrances and exits, the confrontations of various characters, the hero finally throwing up his hands at the hounding of his questioners, so we would think about it long enough to pick up on some important ideas. Our Bibles do us a disservice by giving the story the title: The Man Born Blind. We would do better to start with the title: The Man Who Received His Sight, because salvation in this story comes in the form of a new future for a person who had been marginalized his whole life.
So how do we relate to this wacky story?
All of us have been classified by something in our lives that is an accident of our circumstances. You can be the UPS man, and never have anyone see you for a father, and model train enthusiast, a survivor of a plane crash. You are just the guy who delivers my packages. In this story, Jesus sees beyond this man’s disability to see into his human longing.
We are often categorized by our past. If you’ve ever gone to jail, or had an abortion, or been widowed at an early age, that can be the way people see you forever. Jesus sees beyond past this man’s marginalization to imagine a new future for him that could include a wife and family and being a good provider.
We are often measured against arbitrary standards that are put upon us by our social status, by our church’s rules, by conventions that don’t recognize our giftedness because we are unique. Jesus sees beyond the conventions of the church about what can happen on the Sabbath, physically doing the work of picking up dust and making mud to apply to the man’s eyes. He will not let man-made interpretations of God’s laws keep him from reaching out in love to someone who can benefit by his gift of healing.
We have all been the victims of bad theology that wants you believe that God must be teaching you a lesson by letting you experience this trial, or that everything happens for a reason, or that maybe God is testing your faith. No way, Jesus says. Evil happens and God wants you to know that God is always with you. God understands your suffering and will never leave you to suffer alone. God always sends healing of one kind or another – being held in prayer, being cared for by people who love you, and, yes, maybe full recovery.
In Chapter 8 of John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is the light of the world.
In this story, rather than accepting Jesus’ miraculous signs as confirming his claim to be from God, the church elders close their minds more and more to the possibility that he is the answer to all their hopes for a Messiah. Because he doesn’t fit their definition of what they expected, they are more and more in the dark.
This hip-hop musical or morality play we have before us this morning can be a warning to us faithful Christians not to lock ourselves into the darkness of our own pre-conceived ideas of what God is about in the world or in our lives. But rather for us to open our own eyes to presence of God around us, to the healing that happens in our world in one form or another every day, and especially to step out of the past that may have defined us, and into the light of a future into which God is calling us.
This story assures us that God can change your life in a moment, and send you on an adventure you never imagined. Amen.