Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mud in Your Eye

(A sermon for Lent 4a, April 3, 2011, John 9:1-41)

What a wonderfully rich and well presented story.

So many theological themes...

So many narrative nuances…

So many characters with so much character…

So it’s particularly sad that I just can’t seem to get over that dirt and saliva combination. When (Jesus) had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes.

I believe the theological term for that is: iwwwww…..

According to John’s narrative the blind man does not even ask for healing. Presumably this man who relies on his begging for a living is doing his thing when he hears some men talking, the sound of someone spitting and then feels granules of sticky dirt on his eyes.

He is told to go and wash his eyes – as if having a stranger’s spit and mud in his eyes didn’t already compel him to do that – and his eyesight is restored.

A little dirt, a little spit, the actions of Jesus towards this man and his transformation has begun. He has begun his movement from darkness to light.

What does Jesus have to do to get our attention?

Lent has been full of stories of coming to an understanding… of eyes being opened… movements from darkness to light.

Jesus in the wilderness – his own eyes having been opened at baptism, it is now the Tempter’s turn to recognize God incarnate.

Nicodemus in the dark – taking just about the entire time of Jesus’ ministry to walk fully into the light, from examiner to disciple.

The woman at the well – blazing, noonday sun and social mores aside she drinks in the word of truth sitting beside her and sets off to quench the thirst of others.

And now the man born in blindness… he doesn’t confront Jesus. He doesn’t ask to be healed. He is merely spotted along the roadway, living his existence as he has since the day he had been born. Potentially flinching as he once again heard the accusation against him and his family – sinners. Once healed he doesn’t exactly shout out the Good News:

“How did this happen?”

“Some guy named Jesus did it.”

“Where is he now?”

“I dunno.”

But next he calls him a prophet and finally, by the end of what must have seemed like a ridiculously long day, the truth becomes clear.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

Lord, I believe.

What does Jesus have to do to get our attention?

I love theologian Jack Shea's poetic imagination on this passage, Listen to his retell of the story:

Another time
Jesus smeared God like mud
on the eyes of a man born blind
and pushed him toward the pool of Siloam.
The blind man splashed his eyes
and stared into the rippling reflection
of the face he had only felt.
First he did a handstand, then a cartwheel,
and rounded off his joy
with a series of somersaults.
He ran to his neighbors,
singing the news.
They said,
"You look like the blind beggar
but we cannot be sure."

The problem was never
that he was blind
and could not look out
but that they could see
and did not look in.

"I am the one, the seeing blind!"
They seized him in mid cartwheel
and dragged him to the authorities.
"What do you think
of the man who made the mud?"
But the man born blind
was staring at a green vase.
His mouth was open slightly
as if he was being fed by its color.
"He is a sinner," said the priest
who knew what pleased God's eyes.
"Can one who lights candles in the eyes of the night
not have the fire of God in his hands?"
said the man fondling the green vase.
The priests murmured
and sent for his parents
who looked their son
straight in his new eyes
and said,
"Looks like our son.
But he is old enough
to speak for himself."
Off the hook they hurried home.
"All I know," said the man
with the green vase tucked under his robe,
"is that I was blind
and now I see."
But with his new eyes
came a turbulence in his soul
as if the man who calmed one sea
turned another to storm.

So before those who locked knowledge in a small room
and kept the key on a string around their neck
he launched into a theology of sin and salvation.
It was then
that the full horror of the miracle
visited the priests.
"You, steeped in sin, lecture us!"
They tore him from the podium
and threw him into the street
where a man was rubbing mud from his hands.

"How did it go?"
"I talked back."
The man with the new eyes
took in every laughing line
on the face of the Son
who was as happy as a free man
dancing on the far side of the Red Sea.[i]

He once was blind and now can see…

What does Jesus have to do to get our attention?

Those who proclaimed they could see are shown to be more blind than he ever was.

And worse, so much worse… they think they are in the light. They think they can see.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says:
‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
(Ephesians 5:8-14)

This is what happened to the blind man. He had been sleeping. He had been in darkness and slowly we watch and listen as he moves towards the shining light of the truth of Christ.

He once was blind and now can see…

What does Jesus have to do to get our attention?

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Charge: When I was in Youth Ministry and was asked to do speaking engagements I would always warn those who were organizing the event that I didn’t have The Story.

“What story?”

“You know, the story that stuns everyone and has them all thankful that God has saved a wretch like me.”

I was brought up with faith, I stayed with faith, I made faith my own, I now proclaim faith to others. If I was never lost, how can I be found? It’s a very boring story.

I never was blind, I could always see.

Some of you are nodding in agreement. “Yes, yes we have always been able to see.”

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.”

What does Jesus have to do to get our attention?

[i] John Shea. Stories of Faith. Chicago, Illinois: The Thomas More Press, 1980. Pages 193-194.