4 Lent, Year A “Laetare” Sunday
March 2, 2008
Gospel: John 9:1-41
Preacher: The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell
When we see through the eyes of judgment and self-righteousness, we don't see.
We miss the signs of God's kingdom.
Take the Pharisees in today's gospel. They think they see accurately into the hearts of others, but they don't. They don't see accurately into their *own* hearts.
It's the unexpected people, those at the margins, who often have the real insight.
As in the Beatitudes... the poor, sorrowful, and mourning are the ones who are blessed. Not the ones who think they have it all together.
In today’s gospel, the blind man -- the one who is helpless, the one others point the finger at – is the one who shows the miracle of God's mercy. Who becomes the focal point of God's grace.
Today's Scriptures are about God choosing and blessing unexpected people. In our Old Testament reading, God chooses David, youngest and least experienced of Jesse's sons, to be the new king of Israel. In John's gospel, Jesus chooses a man blind from birth, considered an outcast, to demonstrate the in-breaking kingdom of God.
Unlikely choices. They shake up the expected order. And Jesus himself is an unexpected choice -- the Pharisees expect that a Man of God would never heal on the Sabbath. Jesus must be a sinner...but if he is, how could he have the power to heal a blind man? The poor Pharisees are very perplexed.
But today's Scriptures tell us that God doesn’t see along lines of traditional human hierarchies or judgments.
God doesn't look at a youngest child and think: "Not as good as the eldest." God doesn't look at a blind person and think "Sinner." And God didn't send the kind of Messiah Jesus's contemporaries were expecting. God sent a healer, not a warrior. God sent one who mingled with outcasts, not upheld the rigid purity codes of his time.
The Pharisees ask the blind man: “What did he do to you?” “How did he open your eyes?” They want all the details of this mysterious healing.
And it's significant, the manner in which Jesus cures the blind man. He mixes his own saliva with mud and puts it over the man's eyes. You don't get more earthy than that. I’m not sure in all honesty I would like that kind of paste put on my eyes. But the beauty of this is that it's part of Jesus himself, mixed with mud, ground, the same stuff Adam was made of. Humus, the Greek word for ground and the root of our word humility. Jesus takes this paste -- this very earthy, grounded stuff -- and puts that healing mixture on the man's eyes. Then asks him to bathe in the waters of Siloam, which means the One Who is Sent. Meaning Jesus.
What is healing in this gospel? What helps the blind man, what helps us, who are all born blind? Being grounded, being humble. Being in touch with our basic humanity. And being touched by the one who was Sent from God. Knowing Jesus and believing in him. These two things, being humble and being open to Jesus, are very potent healers.
Many times it's not until we face some hardship or loss that the scales fall from our eyes. We learn to see ourselves and others with compassion, give up our false pride and self-righteousness. We stop making judgments, differentiating between who's in and who's out. We learn to see as a loving God sees.
It may be hard to empathize with someone who has a chronic illness, unless we too have been sick for any length of time. It may not be easy to feel compassion for someone going through a divorce, unless we have had our own relationship struggles. It's difficult to imagine the pain a victim of abuse might suffer, unless we too have known that kind of pain. It may be hard to relate to poverty, unless we’ve ever had to scrounge to get a cup of coffee.
Jesus never glorifies the suffering of those on the margins. Instead he says to them: "Yours is the kingdom of God." In today’s gospel, Jesus says that the blind man is the one who really sees what's going on. Jesus knows the reality of the world, in all its hardships and potential for cruelty. And he knows that if we have experienced suffering, our eyes can be opened in a particular way.
If we know what it's like to dance on the margins, we’re in a more knowledgeable place to offer compassion to others, to offer them freedom from judgment. As Jesus did with the blind, poor, and outcast. Not condemning them or leaving them to their fate. The ones Jesus does condemn are the arrogant and self-righteous, who think they see, but don't.
For many of us, when we accept that our lives are out of control, that we have reached bottom, or that we that cannot live by the Law alone, we finally admit our need for Jesus. That’s when we reach out for a messiah who came not in power and might but in a manger, and who was broken for us on a cross. That’s when we develop the radical openness to Jesus that the blind man shows – an openness that is itself healing.
The Pharisees ask the blind man: "What did he do to you?" "How did he open your eyes?"
And that is a question for each of us. What has Jesus done to us? How did he open our eyes?
For me, I’d have to say that before things became clearer, they got muddier. And I'm aware of this element in the story of the blind man. To help him see, Jesus first puts mud on his eyes -- not something clear. This is part of what Jesus is about -- muddying things. The gospel is an upside down message -- the blind see, the last are first, the master is a servant. God is definitely muddying the waters, in Jesus. Confusion follows Jesus wherever he goes, as do hope and joy. Sometimes in order to really see, we have to lose our sightlines, our bearings. It's a whole new orientation to life -- to see as God sees. To see with the eyes of the heart. And it’s too much for some people. They would prefer to stay blind, like the Pharisees, secure in their own judgments and their world of easy cause and effects. They would prefer to believe that people suffer because of their own sinfulness. There are some folks, for example who believe that the homeless, the battered women, or the children with AIDS are responsible for their own conditions. So they seek to slash funding for shelters and programs that will help people get up and get back on their feet. And they continue to support tax cuts for the rich. As the saying goes: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
But for those of us who are willing to learn the lessons of humility and compassion -- what a sight for sore eyes – this vista of God’s kingdom that opens before us when we gain our true sight. We see a vision of a world where there is grace and mercy, and where God has a special place in God’s heart for the low and cast down.
The man born blind is just one story. Each of us has a story to tell. What has Jesus done for you? How did he open your eyes?