For personal, devotional use in this season of “social distancing”.
March 22, 2020 John 9:1-12; 35-38
Scripture Reading: John 9:1-2; 35-38 (NIV)
9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Continuing the story at verse 35:
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out (of the synagogue), and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
How quickly life changes. I think we can all say this after this past week. For example, last week there were smiles when the children present came to the front for the children’s story and greeted me with a little bow. We had “rehearsed” such a greeting during the announcements at the start of the service. This week, for our safety and well-being, we cannot gather in person. “Self-isolation” and “social distancing” are now a part of our daily vocabulary whereas last week we could barely get our tongues around such words. The coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic has changed our lives…not only here in Canada but the world over. We are living in days of broad-sweeping uncertainty. There is much worry and anxiety about today and the days to come. There is discomfort as we change our routines and our comfortable ways of interacting with others. On top of all this many households continue to live in stressful situations: financial concerns, serious illness, pending medical procedures and tests, grief, addictions, relational estrangement and alienation…the list can go on. Life is a full, full cup and for many it is now running over “big time”.
While the implications of this pandemic in our midst may be unique to our contemporary life experience, adversity is no stranger to any of us. The circumstances may be particular to our lives, but if I were to ask you “Have you ever had a dark day?” I think many of you would say “Absolutely!”. And some of you might add “Not just one, but many!” Yes, adversity is a part of our lives. We live in a less than perfect world. Bad things do happen to good people. Life is unfair. There is profound mystery why some people face so much hardship, and so many difficulties one on top of the other, and other people seem to sail through life with a periodic rough patch here and a rough patch there. We often neglect the truth that at the core of who we are and what the world is, there is brokenness. There is sin. There is evil. None of our lives are unscathed.
Before us today is a biblical story that addresses brokenness…and sin…and evil. Jesus, along with his disciples, come across a man who, we’re told, has been blind from birth. In any time and in any culture, blindness would be one type of adversity. The story tells us this man is known to others because he is a regular beggar on the roadside.
The disciples see his adversity…his blindness…and they question Jesus about it: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The disciples immediately judge the man based on his infirmity, obvious to them as some consequence of an affront to God. For the disciples, this man, or his parents, and so implied somebody somewhere in his family tree, has done something to have earned God’s disfavour that has resulted in the man’s blindness. This is not an uncommon way of thinking in the time in which Jesus lives. Disease and infirmity are regarded as a sign of God’s displeasure; a sign of punishment for some sin or another. In Israel’s traditional faith there is a very strict code of behaviour of what is considered acceptable to God and therefore appropriate. This rigidity, with its narrow perspective, leaves a wide berth for what might be considered “sin”.
In our story, Jesus sees the man very differently. The man’s blindness is not a punishment for some sin but rather an opportunity. An opportunity for God’s blessing; an opportunity for God’s hand to be at work. An opportunity for someone’s life to be changed by God’s power to bring forgiveness and renewal. An opportunity for Jesus to announce the presence of God’s light in the midst of the world’s darkness.
Jesus’ encounter with the man is rich in compassion. In an act of deep vulnerability and intimacy, Jesus’ uses his own spittle and the dust of the ground to make a salve. He places this healing salve on the man’s eyes. (For a moment think about how this would feel if you were the blind man.) Jesus then commands the man to go to the Pool of Siloam in the city of Jerusalem. The man goes as Jesus has directed him, washes in the waters there, and receives his sight. His eyes are opened in a way they’ve never been opened before. His life is irreversibly changed.
The man causes a stir when he returns home. Those who recognize him are taken aback. Never in their wildest dreams would they have ever believed their own eyes at seeing this man able to see the world around him. “Is it really him?” some of them ask. “No, he’s a look-alike.” some others say. But the man insists that he truly is the blind beggar that now can see. The neighbourhood wants to hear the scoop on his cure. So he tells them about encountering Jesus…and what Jesus has done for him.
If we were to read on in John chapter 9, we would discover that the situation does not unfold with the bells and whistles of jubilation. Some of the religious authorities of the day are informed what’s happened and this happening…miracle that it is…is not well received. There’s serious discussion about the ethicality of the man’s healing and the source of Jesus’ power. Jesus’ action and the man’s healing do not happen to “fit” into the prescribed rigidity of the religious thinking and experience of the day. There’s resistance to the presence of this “newness”; there’s animosity that the man’s healing is an act of God. At the end of the day, Jesus is rejected as a channel of God’s healing. The man is thrown out of the community of the faithful…a “religious distancing” of a shunning variety.
We need to remember that in a day, the man’s life is completely changed. He’s gained his sight…but has lost the community that gives him belonging and identity. Jesus hears about what has happened to him and seeks him out. Jesus asks him a spiritual question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”. It’s another way of asking does he believe in the One who is sent from God. The man replies that he would, if he only knew who this One is. So Jesus tells him. This One is he whom the man sees, the One who brought renewed sight to his eyes…and his life. We’re told the man believes and worships Jesus.
There is rich meaning in this biblical story. Jesus’ ministry challenges the narrow-minded thinking of his disciples, the religious authorities of the day, and the people of the neighbourhood. They are all confident and comfortable in their ways of understanding how life should work. But Jesus’ presence offers a new way of thinking, of perceiving, of seeing God’s power manifest itself in the world. Jesus changes the life of a man, who never asks to be healed of his blindness, but given the opportunity, takes it and becomes obedient to Jesus’ word to him. His obedience sets him on the path of eternal life as he believes in Jesus and comes to worship him. In this story those who consider themselves spiritually enlightened in fact reject the light of the world in their midst. They are blind and unsighted to the healing, redemptive power of God that Jesus is sharing in the midst of daily, earthly living.
In the blindness of that time, in the midst of swift judgment and condemnation of others, in the denial that Jesus could possibility have any power to do anything ‘good’ to change the life of another, Jesus dares to act. A nameless, sightless man becomes obedient to the Saviour’s voice. In so doing his eyes are opened to the wonder of God’s gracious power to transform and renew when all eyes around him would consider him beyond the realm of God’s blessing and grace.
In these unprecedented days of our own contemporary experience Jesus, the Living Lord, is present in our midst too. May we harken to his voice and healing touch in the discombobulation we are experiencing. In the uncertainty, in the confusing and conflicting voices, in the blindness of panic and heightened anxiety, Jesus sees opportunity…the opportunity that the work of God might be displayed in the nitty-gritty of human living, imperfect and broken as it is. As life about us is changing, may we be confident that our God of faithfulness and tender mercy is here for us. May we ground our feet upon the path of eternal life with Jesus as our companion and guide. In the grip of this pandemic may we pray to have our eyes opened…again and again and again…to signs of God’s healing and renewing hand at work in our own lives, in the community around us and in our world.
To God be all glory, honour and praise now and forevermore. Amen.
Rev. Marion Barclay MacKay