This story about the blind man and Jesus is just classic. It would be a comedy, except it is so painful. Why do I say that? Well, let’s look at what happens: There is this blind man, and not just any old blind man, this guy has been blind since birth. That makes him “really” blind, not just temporarily blind, which presumably could be cured – but not someone blind from birth. He, obviously, cannot see Jesus, so the blind guy knows what Jesus sounds like, but Jesus actually says very little to him, just 5 words according to our text, so Jesus is kind of an unknown quantity to the blind man. Jesus does not even ask if the guy wants to be healed, and we have no record as to whether the guy asked to be healed.
It would seem to be obvious, that someone who had a major infirmity like this would want to be healed, but that is not always true! And, we see from what happens next that as soon as the guy is healed, the trouble starts. First of all, it was the sabbath when he was healed. Jesus broke the law by working on the sabbath. The neighbors, who have seen this blind guy since he was born, cannot believe their own eyes. It is not possible for him to see, so this must be some imposter. The religious authorities cannot allow for this kind of thing to happen, so they try to make Jesus into the bad guy. The formerly blind guy refuses to agree with Jesus being the bad guy. I love what he says: “Here is an astonishing thing. Never since the world began has it been known that anyone can open the eyes of someone born blind. If he were not from God, he could do nothing.” The religious people tell him that he was born in sin, and everyone knows that because he was born blind, and therefore he should not even be talking to them. The guy’s parents are trying desperately to stay out of the mess, they can see what is going to happen here, and while they cannot help keep their son out of trouble, they are hopeful that they can distance themselves enough to keep the peace.
But they are all just nuts! Here is a major miracle that has happened right in front of their noses, and no one is celebrating! The man himself is not allowed to celebrate, he has to defend himself, his parents have to defend themselves, the neighbors are nervous, and the religious authorities are quite sure that something bad, very bad, has happened. After all, they did not authorize it! It did not fit into their box of how things are supposed to happen, and therefore it is wrong. The poor man, instead of having his family and friends throwing a big party to celebrate his healing, his return to wholeness, instead they throw him out. Jesus hears about it, and finds him, and gives him the greatest gift. Jesus lets him know that he is looking at the messiah of the world.
I wonder how often we miss miracles, because they do not fit into our concepts of reality. It is a safety mechanism, don’t you think? If we don’t pay attention to the miracle, then we do not have to deal with the fact that this miracle just violated our sense of normalcy, our concept of reality will have to change, and so on. Life gets very, very messy if we allow ourselves to see miracles. Is it worth it to be able to see?
So there is another thing that is important to me about this story. There are several stories in the Gospels about Jesus healing blind men. What is important is that they are all different. Why is that important? Because so often, when we actually do wrap our heads around a miracle, then we want to make God fit into that box. So we would look at this miracle and say aha! If you want to heal a man who is blind from birth, spit on the dirt, and tell him to go wash in the special pool. But no – the next man Jesus heals of blindness is not the same man, and Jesus does something different. And then, with the third blind man, he does things differently again. We don’t get a rule book here, we get a relationship. It is that relationship that we are looking at over these weeks with these long lessons.
So what is going on during Lent, really? What are we getting ready for? What we are getting ready for is baptism. These stories are telling us some really important things that we need to know for baptism. When you look at them, there is one strange person after another, and the climax of the story is that Jesus tells them who and what he is. These strange people do not fit the box of good religious people. This is a good thing and a scary thing. It is a good thing, because what it says is that it does not matter who you are and what you have done, Jesus is willing to be in relationship with you. The scary thing about these stories is that the people who end up on the wrong side of the equation are the good religious people who don’t understand and/or won’t accept what Jesus has to offer. And what he is offering is a direct relationship with God. Why is this scary? Because we are much closer to the good religious people than we are to the people who Jesus comes to. We match the good people who miss the point entirely, and are the ones who sacrificed Jesus rather than change their basic assumptions. That’s what’s scary! And, there is hope. There were some Jewish leaders who did take Jesus seriously, and we can too, but we need to pay special attention.
One of the things that caught my attention in my recent trip to Guatemala was that two of the people in our tour spoke Spanish really well. The woman who was guiding us did, but we expected that. However, these were other women like us, taking the tour. One was from Argentina, and the other was from the Texas border area. When we were in Guatemala, they heard Spanish, and yes, this word was different and that word was different, but fundamentally, they were totally fluent. What they didn’t realize was that they were fluent in the language, but not in the culture. The guide, who is also a friend of ours, quietly expressed her frustration to us one night. “They don’t even know that they don’t know,” she said. It drove the guide crazy.
It stuck with me, this issue of not knowing, because they thought they knew. No, it is even stronger than that. They knew that they knew. There was no question about it at all for them. They felt totally comfortable. The rest of us knew that we were outsiders, foreigners, the people who needed to pay attention so as not to give offense, who needed to learn more than anything. When we think about Jesus coming into this situation, he was coming to people who knew that they were good religious people, people who knew that they knew the language of God and knew how to act. There was just one problem. They didn’t know how to act, and they were acting badly, and Jesus told them so. They were shocked, and very unhappy with Jesus.
There is a very smart woman who writes about Christianity and religion in general called Phyllis Tickle. I have talked about her before. She has written a lot about what is going on with Christianity right now, and she says that yes, the form of Christianity is changing, a lot. In twenty or thirty years, things will be very different. Does that mean that Christianity will die? She does not think so. However, she does think that the way we do church now will be very different in the future. We can either be scared of this or we can listen to Jesus talk about new ways of being. We can wonder what that might look like. One of the hardest things to do is to “think outside the box.” Jesus thought outside the box all the time, and was forever getting in trouble for doing so. So what would it mean if we thought outside the box? How does one do that? We start by looking at what we want for an end result – not as a particular, but as a general. So, for instance, we could say that what we want as an end result is for more people to feel close to God, or for more people to know how to grow healthy communities with God at the center. Then we might look at what helps us to do that, and to look at how we might do more of that, and how we might invite others to join us in that activity.
Yesterday Marie and I went to a disaster preparedness seminar, and one of the things they started with was the assumption that they wanted to help people in churches get organized so that they could help their communities. This was not so that people in churches could help themselves, but rather that they would be able to help others. The interesting thing is that the church which has done the most of this kind of organizing is now finding that people are beginning to come to church because of the effort they are making to reach out to the community. Who knew that disaster prep would be an evangelism tool? However, if you look at it, it makes sense. They are reaching out to help, and people respond to that. So what can we do to help? What can we do here? How can we peek over the edge of our box and open our eyes to looking at something new? Are we stuck? Let’s talk about some things we might do to help, and get organized!