In the Presence
How do you see the world? This is an interesting question to ask right after we hear the story of the man born blind. Until he encountered Jesus, he had not seen the world. Sure, he experienced the world through his other senses, but he had not seen the world. He had only imagination and the description of other people to inform him of how things looked. So he saw the world in a certain way.
When Jesus and his disciples first encounter the man, they ask, who sinned him or his parents? 1st-century medical knowledge was limited in relation to what we know today. It was thought that disabilities such as being born blind were a reaction to sin rather than some medical explanation. Obviously, it was someone’s fault, and the disciples wanted to know the answer.
If we see the world in black and white, we always look for the cause, but if we see the world as shades of gray and other colors, a world of opportunity opens to us. It is no longer good vs. evil or us against them; it becomes something much more.
There is an interplay here between light and darkness. In one sense, the man born blind is symbolic of the world. Jesus has encountered a world that is blind, blind to the suffering of others and he hopes to change that. Jesus is bringing light not only to the man born blind but, through his actions, to the entire world. He is opening not just this man’s eyes but the eyes of all of humanity.
As you have heard me say in the past, very often in Scripture, when a person is not named, it is because the person represents something larger than themselves. In a sense, we are all born blind. Although we can see we need someone to care for us in every way and provide all that we need. As we age, those needs change, and we become more resilient.
Not long ago, Nicky and I switched out Oonagh’s crib for what we call her big girl bed. Physically it is the same bed with a different side. She was so proud that first night and a little concerned when she saw the larger piece at the bottom of the stairs. She entered her room, looked at it, and then looked back at me. I told her it was ok, and she ran over and climbed in. As a result, our evening ritual has changed; she can now climb into her bed by herself and does not need me to lift her in any longer. She is moving too fast for me anyway, from dependence to independence.
But back to the blind man.
A couple of things to notice. The first is Jesus does not ask if the man wants to be healed. In fact, he announces that this man exists solely for the purpose of this moment in time. Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind, so God’s works might be revealed in him.” So he does not ask permission to heal; he just gets to work.
Healings in Scripture take on many forms. Sometimes Jesus is present, and sometimes he is not. Sometimes he touches the person, and sometimes, the person touches him. He heals with words, with his presence, and his touch. But his time, Jesus goes a little further and uses an outside element to heal. He uses dirt and spit.
Remember, there is symbolism in everything.
Dirt is, well, dirty. If it gets tracked into your house, you sweep it out. So one of the first things that would happen when you entered a home in Jesus’ day is your feet would be washed to remove the dust and dirt from the road. Dirt is what is under our feet, but dirt also provides life.
Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, the day of equal light and darkness. In the Norse and Celtic traditions, it was also the day that seeds were planted, and prayers were said that the harvest would be plentiful and get them through the long winter ahead. Seeds hold life, but that life only begins when buried in dirt or soil. The very thing that is alive must first die to be born.
Jesus stoops down, gathers dirt on the road, spits in it, makes a paste, and places it on the man’s eyes. This should remind us of the creation story from Genesis. God fashioned humanity out of the dust of the earth. We began the season of Lent with the words, “you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” Jesus is using the elements of creation that makeup humanity to restore humanity to what it was created for, to worship God!
But it does not end here.
Another first. This is the first time that the person being healed has to do something; Jesus tells the man to go and wash in the pool, not just any pool, but the pool of Siloam, which means sent. The base elements of creation have been applied; the man has been told to go and wash after he washes; he can see. The one sent by God has come not to judge, not to save the world from sin, but to restore humanity to that relationship that existed in the beginning. Jesus has not come to save us from sin but to save us from blindness.
Jesus came to open our eyes to another way of seeing the world. We no longer see the world through the lens of rules and regulations, but we see the world as God sees the world with mercy, compassion, and love. Rather than destruction, God chose love, God chose to send Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but to show the world a different way. To open the world’s blind eyes and point them away from the darkness and towards the light.
But the story does not end there.
Our friends, the Pharisees, witnessed this little miracle and have some questions. Talk about a group so blind by their own rules that they cannot see the glory of God! Anyway, they hall the man in to question him. Of course, Jesus cannot be who he says he is because not only did he uses dirt and spit, he did this on the Sabbath. Jesus knew what he was doing when he did it. Jesus knew what day it was and that his actions would invoke a response. In a sense, Jesus was poking the Pharisees in their collective eyes!
The Pharisees don’t believe him and actually get enraged when the man, “formally born blind,” presumes to teach them. They don’t believe his story, so they haul his parents in. His parents throw him under the bus and say he is old enough to answer for himself. So they ask the man again, who asks them why he is asking again since they did not answer the first time. Then he gives the best sarcastic answer in all of Scripture, “why do you ask?” he says, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” They become unhinged and throw him out of the temple. They call him a sinner and banish him forever. They think they are casting him into the darkness, but he has witnessed the light, and darkness will never overcome it.
He encounters Jesus and tells his story. Jesus asks if he believes in the Messiah, and the man asks who that is. Jesus tells him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And the man believed.
The Pharisees question Jesus and insist they are not sinners. Jesus tells them that those who see and reject become blind. Those who cannot see the suffering of others, those who set up rules to keep others out rather than welcoming all, are the ones who are blind, and the sin of ignorance causes their blindness. There are none so blind as those that refuse to see.
What blinds us today? Do pride and arrogance blind us? Does a lack of knowledge blind us? Is it fear that blinds us? Whatever it is, Jesus can and will heal us from that blindness and bring us back into the light.