By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
April 3, 2011
Read: John 9:1-41
This is another long gospel story this morning and I can’t begin to touch on all that’s here. But, sinfulness is a theme that runs through this powerful story. The Pharisees discuss Jesus’ sinfulness in several verses. In v. 34, they return to the sinfulness of the man born blind, with another reference to his birth in sin. But the story ends with Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees, whose sin remains because unlike the blind man, who recognizes the grace of God in Jesus’ gift of sight and light in his blindness, the Pharisees insist that they see and know everything already. They are closed to the gift of Jesus, the judge, who can only give sight to those who know they are blind.
The story opens with the disciples questioning Jesus about who sinned, the blind man or his parents. Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t try to explain the why’s of what is, he simply turns the focus on the “who” of what may become. Stop looking for a scapegoat, he says, what good is assigning blame? Instead, let’s make something happen for this man’s good and for God’s glory. We spend too much time and energy looking over our shoulders. While we are trying to perfect our hindsight, we sacrifice our foresight, and become blind to the possibilities before us.
Leonardo da Vinci saw things that other people could not see. You are most familiar with his paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, but he did many other things. He was an architect. He was a sculptor. He designed weaponry. He drew sketches of a flying machine that, 500 years later, we recognize as a helicopter. He practically invented the science of anatomy. At one point Leonardo talked about vision. He said that there are three classes of people: Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.
Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see. That is what our Gospel text is about today. Jesus was walking with his disciples when they saw a blind man. The disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They assumed that it had to be one or the other. If a person was blind or lame or a leper, they must have done something wrong. Their infirmity was a punishment for their sins. Or it might be punishment for the sins of their parents. But Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” He went on to say, “I am the light of the world.” Then he healed the blind man.
Jesus spat and rubbed and rolled a mud salve. This word salve suggests to us a kind of ointment that creates a soothing or healing effect on a wound and is essentially the Latin root of our word salvation. It denotes a healing, a restored wholeness, wellness. I think of the little mudpacks we used to make as kids to apply to the bee stings we occasionally received. Our kid-style homeopathy functioned on the assumption that this little mud salve, somehow or other, was the best medicine for a bee’s sting. Can you see the that the salve-ation God offers us in Jesus Christ is, in fact, a salving, a healing of our whole person, of every dimension of our lives—spiritual, mental, emotional, relational, physical, everything!—in the hope that all of God’s good creation can be healed. (Micheal Lodahl – When Love Bends Down)
Reuben Welch tells the story of being the preacher in a revival where, after one of the services, a woman new to the church began to unload on him about all the horrible things that had happened in her life the previous few years: spousal abuse and abandonment, larger family squabbles, illness and accidents and deaths.
Finally Reuben asked, “Sister, have you ever gone out at night under the starts and just poured all this out to God?”
“Oh, preacher,” she answered, “there are some things that you just don’t tell God!”
This woman really needed to see Jesus down there on His knees, spitting in the dirt, didn’t she? If Jesus really is the Word, “very God of very God,” who became flesh—and blood and bones—and lived among us; if this Incarnate Word could bend down to the ground and spit in the dirt, make a mud salve, smear it on those eyes; if Jesus could live that close to the earth, is it really the case that there are some things that you don’t tell God? I think not. We can tell all things to God.
And you know, sometimes our eyes are closed but our hearts are open–and sometimes our eyes are open but our hearts are closed. I read a story about a woman who boarded a bus in New York City. She had overslept, and had gotten off on the wrong foot. Then things went badly at work. Then her bus home was late and jam-packed. She says, “I was ready for a triple dose of Mylanta and a six-pack of Tums.”
Then she heard a deep voice from the front of the bus: “Beautiful day, isn’t it!” She could not see the man to whom the voice belonged, but he maintained a commentary as they drove along. He talked about the spring greenery, the beautiful church windows, the children romping in the park, the stately old firehouse, the lush cemetery lawn.
Something happened as he talked. People began to glance out the windows. They began to sit a little straighter. They began to smile. The woman says, “When we reached my stop, I got a glimpse of our self-appointed ‘guide.’ He was a plump, bearded man, wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane. Incredible! I stepped off the bus and, suddenly, all my built-up tensions drained away. God had sent a man who could scarcely see, to help me see that, when all seems dark and dreary, there is still light in the world. God’s beautiful world!
How often we walk through life with our eyes open and our hearts closed:
· How often we sit with downcast eyes, seeing only the chewing gum wrapper on the bus floor and missing the beautiful spring day passing by the windows.
· How often we miss the blessings that are all around us! That is one of the realities that Emily Gibbs dealt with in Thornton Wilder’s, play “Our Town.” After having died, Emily was permitted an unseen visit to her home for a day — a return to her twelfth birthday. There she noticed, for the first time, how people look past each other and talk past each other. She observed, broken-hearted, how people let the important moments of their lives go by unnoticed. She pled with them to notice, but they could not hear her – they were not aware of her presence. Devastated by the realization that we so often go through life without savoring its blessings, she requested to cut her painful visit short and to return to the cemetery.
All too often we have eyes but do not see. We have ears, but do not hear. God is in our midst, but all too often we try to face life by ourselves — never availing ourselves of God’s presence — God’s power.
Christ has come into our world to open our eyes. More especially, Christ has come into our world to open our hearts. Only with open eyes and open hearts will we see God in our midst. We will feel God’s presence in our lives.
Christ healed the man born blind, but he could not bring sight to those who would not see.
The first chapter of John’s gospel, verse 14, says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us”. That is the miracle and the mystery of the Incarnation—there is a balm, a divine healing salve, for each of us and the world—and his name is Jesus.
Let us pray this week for the grace to receive Christ’s healing touch–that he might open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. Amen.
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