How were your eyes opened?
Scripture: John 9:1-41
In this past week, as we have continued to grapple with our life disrupted by COVID-19, as we have refreshed our social media foods and watched TV, there has been too much to digest.
So many questions. So many perspectives. So much information.
And mixed in, of course, are a lot of bad takes. A lot of bad ideas. A lot of bad information.
- We’ve seen images of young Spring Break partiers shrugging off their concerns over getting sick.
- We’ve seen fear and anxiety over this virus get placed on the shoulders of an entire group of people - Asian Americans or Chinese Americans.
- We’ve witnessed conflicting messages from those in charge or seen rumors spread in our inboxes about conspiracies.
- And there are even those who are hawking miracle cures to get rid of the coronavirus.
On one level, I know this is a confusing time. There is so much information coming at us, and there are reasons to ask questions of our news media, our leaders, and the things we hear. We are sorting through all of this, trying to figure out a sense of meaning. Why is this happening? Where is God in all of this? Or, as Robin Apparicio sent to me in an email this week, what are we supposed to learn from all of this?
And on the other level, there is a lot of plain ol’ goofy thinking out there. Several months ago, I had a great conversation with the President of our church’s board, Ramona Crawford, where she told me that it is the job of those of us who are sometimes older or just more level-headed and wise to shut down “bad thinking” when we see it. It is a Christian act to do.
- When we see some young person shrugging off this pandemic as no big deal, we need to shut them down to save lives - even their life.
- When we witness someone hoarding toilet paper, eggs, cleaning supplies, or heck, even delicious Ledo pizza, we need to shut them down so that there is enough for those behind us in line.
- Especially, when we witness fellow Christians giving into narratives of scarcity and fear and hate, we need to shut that bad thinking down.
What if instead, when we feel those feelings and fear about to take hold, we asked Jesus instead?
Jesus knew how to shut down bad thinking.
In our scripture this morning, Jesus and his Disciples are in or around Jerusalem when they come upon a blind man who has been blind since birth.
Jesus’ disciples ask their rabbi, “Who sinned to cause this man to be blind - him or his parents?”
The disciples were working with a bad theology that they had likely picked up from teachers and leaders and family members around them as they had witnessed a world filled with suffering and struggle. The theology was based on a misreading of wisdom traditions in the Torah. Basically, this shallow way of understanding the world was that if you were successful, you must be righteous, because God always blesses the righteous. And if you are struggling or poor or sick, it’s because God is punishing you - because those who mess up and sin and do wrong are always punished by God.
And look, if the world was that simple, it would be so easy to vote for a President, right? It would be so easy to pick leaders and know which church to go and who to avoid. It would be so easy to judge good Christians from bad Christians.
So, the disciples see this blind man and think, he must be in this situation because he was really bad or his parents were really bad.
Jesus, however, shuts down their bad thinking. He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Let’s be careful - the second part of that is not suggesting that God makes people suffer so God can show off.
Rather, Jesus is reminding his disciples that God is glorified not when people are successful and at the top - but rather when lives are made whole. (May want to sit with this or repeat it.)
Jesus then takes some mud to make his point (pick up some mud) - places it over the man’s eyes, and then ironically, sends the man to wash himself in the Pool of Siloam. The pool itself in Aramaic means “sent”. The one who is sent by God commands others to go and be healed. Wow.
When the man does so, suddenly, he can see. He is healed. No longer will we have to spend his days begging to get by, no longer feeling like a burden for his family, no longer stepped over and avoided by busy people on their way to Costco. His life has begun again.
A peculiar thing happens. The people in the neighborhood don’t get it. They look at this now healed man and can’t believe their own eyes. Is this the same guy, the blind guy who used to be a beggar? Nah, must be fake news. Must be a hoax. This man’s own neighbors who have known him since birth cannot see him, cannot understand the good news right in front of them.
They ask him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”
And he says, “A man named Jesus.”
There are two themes I want to draw out for you today from this passage are this -
First, Jesus isn’t afraid of our bad questions or our bad theology or our bad way of thinking.
The disciples were unafraid to put their bad thinking out there when they saw this blind man, and Jesus didn’t hold back from correcting their understanding.
Sometimes, we are like the people saying “then how were your eyes opened?” How can this be? How does this work? Is it possible for God to move in a way we do not understand?
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, we who follow Jesus are called to go back to the source to figure out how to navigate and be good neighbors in this time. I’m here to help you, but nothing beats opening up your Bible to read and reflect on these stories. Nothing beats taking your questions to God in prayer. Nothing beats asking “I wonder” questions like we heard in our awesome Worship & Wonder story.
An encounter with Jesus opens our eyes. An encounter with Jesus gives us a better understanding of how we are to operate and endure in a world where pandemics claim lives, especially of those who are vulnerable and not well. An encounter with Jesus opens our eyes to see that even those who are struggling around us deserve to be seen, not as failures or sinners, but as targets of God’s energy and love.
Maybe this time when we are working from home is a perfect time to ask Jesus some questions, even if we have a hunch they are some bad thinking. Maybe this season of Lent can be an opportunity to gain new understanding.
Next, God truly desires our wholeness.
Healing stories are so important. In our worship and wonder story, we heard a similar encounter with Jesus and blind Bartamaeus. In both of these passages, we understand that a central part of who Jesus was - his mission and ministry - was healing. He did not come to simply observe how bad things are and report back to God. Rather, he came to get his hands - literally - dirty.
In John 9, if you continue to read the story, you will find a lot of argument and disbelief over what Jesus did. The Pharisees come along and question the now healed man. They are certain that Jesus is a sinner, and in the same bad thinking that the disciples had, these Pharisees are certain that sinners are incapable of good. They tell the healed man, despite the good news he had experienced, “God does not listen to sinners.”
In whatever bad thinking they had, they could not see with their own eyes the very heart of God in display in front of them. And they could not see how far their own bad thinking had pushed them from God’ heart.
Jesus as God’s Beloved over and over again reveals who God loved - those who suffered, those who were waiting for ICU beds, those who silenced, those who are most vulnerable and afraid. God did not send Jesus to just tell them, “Poor thing, everything’s gonna be better soon.” Rather, Jesus came to continue God’s healing work in restoring a broken Creation and broken lives.
Why else would Jesus use mud in this beautiful healing encounter?
Jesus sought to witness to God’s vision for a restored Creation and restored humanity.
That we all might see and know the glory and wonder of our Creator.
For centuries, that meant for Christians, for followers of Jesus, to open their homes, their wallets, their gifts to start hospitals, care facilities, and support for those who were suffering from physical and mental and spiritual ailments. In this time, do we have courage enough to continue that work? Are we still called to it? Are we being sent to go and wash ourselves so that we might see and imagine a new world?
How can we live that out in the coming weeks?
How can we turn to Jesus to let him shut down our bad thinking and help us see anew?
How do we renew our call to live and work for a whole Creation and whole human lives?
I’d really like to hear what you are thinking as your discipleship response in this time - send me an email. Let’s talk.
My friend and colleague, the Rev. Karen Shoecraft-Robu, shared a story on her Facebook profile this past week that exemplified how she is working to open our eyes to God’s healing light.
One year, she and her family left their blue-lighted Christmas tree up well into February, even though they would occasionally get some flack for it. They lived out far in the country, and one night, a woman and her daughters were making their way out that way when they got stuck in mud. They got out and began to walk, looking for help. They passed by houses here and there, spread out in the country, but were afraid to knock. The lights were off.
Then the mom looked up and saw it - a blue glow from a Christmas tree shining in a window.
She told her daughters, “A Christmas tree in February! It must be a sign that this is a safe place to stop and ask to use the phone.”
Karen wrote, “This week, I put our blue-lighted Christmas tree back up in the front window as well as the hand carved nativity I purchased in Bethlehem this past January. They will remain up until we are through this crisis to remind myself and others that the light of God shines in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it.”
Friends, this past week and the weeks ahead may feel like darkness, but we serve a Savior who came to shine a light bright and open our lives to a love and wholeness that will turn our lives around. How will we let our lights shine?
The how were your eyes opened?
A man named Jesus.