Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Let's Get Dirty” (John 9:1-41)

Jesus spit on the ground.  Then he reached down to the spot where he had spit, picked up the wet soil, and manipulated it until it had become mud.  Then he reached out with the muddy paste and smeared it on the eyes of the man who stood before him . . . a blind man . . . blind since his birth.  And, then, he told him to go and wash it off.

Jesus got his hands dirty . . . it was the beginning of a miracle.

Our scripture reading this morning is filled with all sorts of things . . . all sorts of things that a person could go off on.  There is the issue of sin . . . who was at fault for the blindness of this individual, after all, someone had to have sinned for him to be born blind.  There is the issue of the miracle . . . a person was healed of blindness, but was it a legitimate miracle?  Was it up to snuff or was it some sort of elaborate hoax to woo the people to follow Jesus?  There is the issue of belief . . . does a miracle open the door for one to believe, or is it sleight of hand trick meant to impress the impressionable?  Then there is the issue of who is really blind . . . the one who cannot see, or the one who can see but chooses not to act.

There is so much to choose from, where does one begin?

To be honest with you, this is a scripture reading that has resonated with me most of my life . . . has been one that I can identify with.  The reason for that is because I grew up in a family with siblings who had disabilities, and I have two sons with disabilities.  The world of disabilities is a world that very few of us have ever had to deal with, and a world I do not wish upon anyone.  Thus it is that as I read this passage for the umpteenth time, I can identify and feel the frustration of those who were on the side of the blind man.

So, yes, there was the prevalent belief at the time of this story, that people with disabilities were disabled because either they had sinned or someone in their family had sinned.  Thus there was always this underlying current of disgust in the community of those families in which there were family members with disabilities . . . the finger had to be pointed somewhere.  The truth was that there was no “sin” associated with the disability.  The disability was what it was.  People are born with disabilities and it is not because they or their parents or family members committed some horrendous sin.  It just happened.  It is what it is.

Besides . . . what does it matter?  The bottom line is that there is a person who has a disability who needs a little more help than others in order to become a part of the community.  Attempting to find blame does nothing to help the individual.

From the very beginning of our story, Jesus reiterates, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”  People who have members of their family with disabilities have spent a lifetime fighting the “blame game” . . . and, in all honesty, it does not matter.  That is not the issue.  Jesus understood that there was a bigger fish to catch than who was at fault.  It does not matter . . . what matters is the response.

Unfortunately, I cannot attest to witnessing a miracle of the magnitude of what we heard in our reading this morning.  In all the years that I have dealt with the disabilities touching the lives of my siblings and my two sons, I have never witnessed a miracle as described in our reading.  I have not seen the blind suddenly able to see.  Yet, at the same time, I have witnessed countless little miracles . . . little breakthroughs that brought hope and promise into the lives of those I love . . . little moments of hope and promise.  Moments when the darkness that surrounded the disability was shattered exposing the possibilities of what could be.  The potential.  I have never seen a major miracle, but I have seen a whole lot of little miracles.

But, as Jesus said, for those who see there is no problem . . . but, for those who are blind, the problems arise.

Thus there is the constant need to defend . . . to defend that which seems miraculous.  In our story we read over and over again how the parents and even the healed man, had to defend themselves and to defend the miracle that had taken place.  Over and over again they had to prove to those gathered that they were who they said they were, and that what had taken place had really taken place.  Any parent of a child with a disability can attest to the constant battle of having to prove . . . first that there is a disability, and second that the disability is worthy of receiving help.  It is a constant struggle and fight, whether it is right or not.  It is the “put up or shut up” argument.

Is this not what we see when the miracle occurs?

Over and over again, the parents are grilled.  Over and over again, the man who is healed is grilled.  Their word is not good enough.  The facts are not good enough.  The frustration is beyond imagination . . . and, yet, for families with members who have disabilities, this is a daily part of their lives.

Yet, we forget.  We forget that miracles are not about the a person receiving sight; but, it is about the revealing of God.  In a miracle, God is revealed.  There is no doubt in this story that God is revealed.  In the miracle it was not that the man could see, but that he could see God.  In seeing, the man believed.  His words to Jesus were, “Lord, I believe.”

“Lord, I believe.”

Right there, in those three words, is the gist of the story . . . the whole point of the story.  It is not a theological debate about sin.  It is not a discourse on miracles.  It is about the power of a person who has stepped into the presence of God and believed.  And, that belief comes not from these debates, but from the fact that someone paused for a moment and took action . . . “he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.”  That is the crux of what we are called to hear this morning.  Someone was willing to get dirty.

Jesus was willing to get his hands dirty to help another.  In his actions, Jesus set the example for all of us.  He did not question from where the man’s disability came from . . . he reached out to help.  For Jesus it was not a matter of debate or conjecture, it was a matter of helping another in their need.  Thus it is that it was not the restoration of sight that was the true miracle, but the willingness to reach out and help another.  In the act, God was revealed.

So, what is the “good news” of our reading this morning?

The “good news” is in the willingness to get one’s hands dirty to help another.  Unfortunately we live in a time in which this is easier said than done.  Ask anyone who has been in the need of help.  They will tell you that there are almost insurmountable hoops that must be jumped through before assistance is offered . . . a ton of proof that must be submitted before help will be given.  In the meantime, the problems do not go away.

During the season of Lent, we are asked to not only examine our lives to
see what barriers are keeping us from getting closer to God, but we are also asked to examine our lives to see where the barriers are that keep us from helping others.  We are asked to consider getting our hands dirty . . . of reaching out and helping others in their need.  We are called to make a difference.

Jesus spit on the ground.  Then he reached down to the spot where he had spit, picked up the wet soil, and manipulated it until it had become mud.  Then he reached out with the muddy paste and smeared it on the eyes of the man who stood before him . . . a blind man . . . blind since his birth.  And, then, he told him to go and wash it off.

It made a difference.

During the season of Lent, we are asked whether or not we will make a difference . . . are we willing to get our hands dirty.  Amen.

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