2004—Fourth Sunday of Lent—C
What, they exclaimed, "you are steeped in sin from your birth, and you are giving us lectures?" With that they threw him out bodily.
These words of condemnation from today's story of the man blind from birth made me think of an image I saw in the Globe within the past weeks. It was an image of a confrontation of two opposing sides on the constitutional amendment on marriage on the steps of Beacon Hill. I only remember the words on one of the signs that one person was carrying. It said "God abhors you". The sign did not say "I abhor you" but was making the claim for God. "God abhors you". You could not hear the venom in the voice but you could see the "mud-slinging". Mud slinging, confrontation, one side pitted against the other. We have seen so much of it lately.
aRabbi, whose sin was it that caused this man to be born blind? His own, or his parents. Someone must be responsible for this "Defect in nature". God must abhor this man since he is born defective, born blind. Jesus' answer. This blindness is no fault of his or his parents. "Rather it was to let God's works show forth in him." And Jesus, not slinging mud at the man but spreading mud on his eyes tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam ; so that he might see. As the story continues we see a lot of mud slinging. Some of the Pharisees can not believe that this blind man, "who by law is steeped in sin" could possibly be seeing now, thanks to that man they call Jesus. They become more and more angry with him, less and less tolerant of his existence and ultimately expel him from their sight and from the synagogue. Saying in so many words, God abhors you. The man with new sight himself does not engage in the same name-calling, mud slinging. Rather he comes to have a voice that speaks of a new way of seeing and being in the world through Jesus.
Theologian James Allison, in his book Faith Beyond Resentment gives a remarkably challenging analysis of this passage of scripture. The way you probably heard it and the way I preached it so far clearly established two sides, the good guys, Jesus and the blind man, and the bad guys. Allison, however, reads the scripture with "new sight", Allison says this is not about "black and white", good and bad. but is about the human tendency to "exclude". The blind man is first excluded by his society, seen to be "Defective'. He will continue to be excluded by the religious authorities who see him as "essentially disordered" You who were born in sin dare to lecture us! He will be expelled, excommunicated. When he was blind, he did not count for much and now that he sees and has found his voice, he counts for less.
Notice what Jesus does. He takes the mud of the earth and covers the eyes of the blind man and tells him to go and wash. Allison points out that Jesus is continuing the creation that God began in Genesis. AS God formed the human from the clay, from the mud of the earth, Jesus is renewing this creation. And he is doing it on the Sabbath, the day of rest. In Jesus God is working "overtime" to bring about this new creation. Jesus enables the man born blind to see that there is nothing defective about him, nor was there ever but rather he, like all human beings are "incomplete" "works in progress."
What Allison points out, however, is the temptation for the blind man to fall into the same trap that some of the Pharisees had fallen into. That is the tendency of human beings to "exclude and expel" Can we admit that we feel no sympathy for the Pharisees in this story. Isn't it so easy to just point the finger, throw some more mud and exclude them
It is so easy for us to speak out of righteousness, pointing the finger at the other, excluding and expelling another because he or she does not think the way we would like. The real moral dilemma for us as Christians is to not give into the violence that separates and excludes. James Allison knows first hand what it is to be called "defective" and to be expelled by religious society but Allison says that as Christians we are always called to take the incarnation seriously. As God took on skin, flesh and blood in Jesus. We have to wear the skin, the flesh and blood of the other and resist the temptation to judge and exclude.
If there is something to learn from the story it is that none of us is "complete". None of us have it all together. None of us are all good and always right. But Jesus offers us a way that we can be works in progress. Jesus allows us to not only to have our eyes opened but our hearts opened.
And that's why you are here today, Scot. As you said yesterday, quoting the man born blind. "I was blind and now I see" Jesus Christ has opened your eyes and your heart. You are coming here today not because you have you have it all together but because you are a work in progress. Jesus himself in the image of his sacred heart, has revealed to you that it's about love, mercy and acceptance. Thank you for reminding us all, as your prepare to wash in the baptismal waters, that God's desire for us all is mercy and abundant life.