1 Samuel 16:1-13 † Psalm 23 † Ephesians 5:8-14† John 9:1-41
This story in John is long and involved, isn’t it? It echoes my experience of late, maybe yours too: so much information being thrown at us. So many details to remember, so many nuances to consume. So many emails and articles to read. It’s not just unsettling; it is overwhelming, if we let it be. So, in the spirit of self-care, many details will have to wait for another time. I mean, it’s not like we’ve got all day, cooped up in our homes with little to do.
I’m struck by how this blind man has, for so long, been essentially useless. He is a beggar on the edge of the community. He knows social distancing and isolation. He’s more of a weight on society than a contributor. He exists as a moral lesson or a cautionary tale, but not as a human being with sacred worth and immeasurable value. At least that’s the way all four groups in the story see it—the disciples, the neighbors, the parents and the Pharisees. None of them celebrate the man’s healing. None of them rejoice with him. In fact, in a bit of Monty Pythonesque humor, you can see the man struggling to get a word in edge-wise as they argue about who he is. Jumping up and down, waving his arms. “I’m the man,” he keeps saying, but they are blind and deaf to his presence. All of them, even Jesus’ disciples, even the man’s parents are more interested in distancing themselves from the man than they are following him to the margins where he is ultimately driven.
It’s a pretty funny scene, if it weren’t so deeply painful. And no one, other than Jesus, sees him for much other than the ideas they debate and the power they wield. His humanity seems to be lost.
There are at least two insights we might draw from this: First of all, I think we are beginning to pay attention to and even re-evaluate the ways we have assigned value to some in our communities while neglecting or missing others. I for one have been deeply gratified to see the ways in which we have tried to call out inequities in access to health care and testing for COVID-19 for some and not others. We’ve been trying to acknowledge the vulnerabilities of our neighbors who are unhoused or shut-in, for example. We’ve had conversations about our responsibility as a broader community to change our behavior to help others, even if we are not particularly threatened.
Secondly, it has not been lost on me the conversations we’ve been having about who is useful and who isn’t in times like these. We pastors have been wondering what it means to be a pastor, for example, when we cannot be side-by-side with those we have been given to. If only a few of you read or hear this reflection, do I matter? If I cannot sit next to you or across from you and talk about things of the soul right now, have I become irrelevant?
I’ll bet you have your own forms of these questions as so many of our routines have been disrupted. Yet, I suspect this is a great opportunity for us to all re-evaluate how we, well, evaluate things. Perhaps we are more with the disciples, the neighbors, the parents and the Pharisees in that this story is jumping up and down, trying to get a word in edgewise about how we could come out of this seeing one another differently and then letting our actions follow.
What do we make of those who are not defined as essential on a regular basis? Are we beginning to see them in a different light? To borrow an old, and not particularly accurate or helpful phrase, isn’t it interesting that so many of us who consider ourselves able and resourceful and essential have suddenly become shut-ins ourselves. What truly matters and how do we give ourselves to these things when all the ways we’ve known to do so aren’t available to us. Where will our imagination and ingenuity take us?
Perhaps we too might join John at the end of the story, at the margins where the only two characters with good judgment, the only two characters who have eyes to see are waiting for us, inviting us to a new and more sustainable community is being formed—built on mercy and generosity and empathy.
This is no easy thing we are dealing with. And I know it is weighing many of us down. But I keep thinking that the silver lining to this dark cloud is pretty bright. I am so struck by the glimmers and bright rays of generosity I’ve glimpsed. I’m encouraged by the eclipse of so much divisive language and the reminders I see all over that we are connected. How will we hold onto these once this pandemic fades? What new competencies will we have developed that will serve us going forward?
And one more thing. Let’s just be clear that the creation is not trying to kill us. It’s just nature, brimming with the same life-force that is in you and me, doing what it is created to do. Don’t forget all of those common elements present in the story—the mud that Jesus puts on the man’s eyes--adamah, the same root word as for Adam in Genesis. And water. A pool of healing. We are, after all dirt people, watered, baptized. Stuff of the earth, stuff of the stars, intimately and impossibly connected to this life around us.
So we didn’t get to see it. But we did see this—life just bursting out of what otherwise looked like a dead stick. And we saw sunlight shining through mossy trees and reaching down to draw out blossoms beginning to form on trees that know full well Spring is coming.
Beloved people of God. We’ve got this. We are held tightly in the arms of the merciful one who calls us to new places where sight is restored and mercy is abundant. So hold onto one another. Reach out. Find new ways to stay connected. Trust that the Holy One is near, the Spirit is present in and with you and me, that the world goes on even when we are doing nothing.
St. Andrew Sermons