Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mud in Your Eye

He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.

                        John 9.6

Enlightenment Through Mercy

The typical healing scenario in Christ’s ministry engulfs Him with ailing people competing for His attention. The cure of a man’s blindness in John 9 departs from this convention. From what we’re told, he’s evidently unaware Jesus is walking by. He doesn’t cry out for healing; in fact, we don’t hear one word from him at all. The most we learn is he’s congenitally blind, which appears to be common knowledge, because the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v2) Their question, not the man’s condition, stops Christ. It provides a teaching moment that coincidentally involves physical healing. Before the episode concludes, however, there’s no doubt Jesus also pauses to perform spiritual healing in His disciples.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answers. “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (v3) Sin doesn’t enter this equation. It’s all about mercy, or more accurately, enlightenment through mercy. In verses 4 and 5, He explains, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The disciples’ blindness stops Jesus. They’ve bought into benighted beliefs that people outside the norm are intrinsically sinful. “Not so,” Jesus says. “God creates anomalies to display His unconditional mercy.” The man’s physical and social disadvantages are designed so Jesus can use him to cure the disciples’ religious astigmatism. Once their eyes open, Jesus makes some mud, covers the man’s eyes, and sends him to rinse it off. The man instantly receives sight. What do the disciples see? Witnessing mercy for one presumed unworthy of it—from birth, no less—exposes their error. Christ’s light floods their eyes and they see the urgency of doing God’s work.

Recovery and Release

After great success away from home, Jesus returns to Nazareth, where His family, friends, and neighbors pack out the synagogue to hear Him preach. He stands up and reads Isaiah’s prophetic summary of His ministry that includes proclaiming “recovery of sight for the blind [and] to release the oppressed.” (Matthew 4.18) The parallel cures of the disciples’ spiritual blindness and the man’s congenital limitations fulfill His promises of recovery and release. Scales of superstition, social prejudice, and false doctrine destroyed the disciple’s vision. Christ’s teaching enables them to recover their sight. But the blind man has never seen. He’s lived his entire life in darkness. Jesus releases him from oppressive darkness. The contrast in how Jesus ministers to both conditions is where the story acquires great beauty.

Jesus speaks light to the disciples much like God speaks light to darkness in Genesis. Just as God calls the light “day” and the darkness “night,” Jesus calls the light of His presence “day” and its absence “night.” And just as God divides day from night, Jesus divides those who live in His light and do God’s work from those who live in darkness and can’t work. Christ corrects the disciples’ vision by His word. But He creates the blind man’s vision by hand. Again, He mirrors God’s method for crafting humanity out of clay by creating sight out of mud. He then releases the man to rinse off the mud and see with new eyes. The disciples don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. They recover their sight the instant the enlightenment of Christ’s truth penetrates their hearts and minds.

One or the Other

Reading the story through this prism, we’re apt to project ourselves as one or the other—either disciples who’ve lost sight or people disadvantaged by blindness. If we’re honest, though, we’ll recognize it’s not an either/or situation. It’s both. We’ve been schooled by society, mass culture, and religion to make blind assumptions about others’ limitations. It’s our custom to feel our way through dark myths and superstitions that insist their inadequacies result from intrinsic wrong. We’ve lost sight of their potential to display God’s work in their lives. Yet Christ is speaking light to our blindness. Recovery of our vision comes by hearing His word.

We also relate to the blind man’s side of story. Simply coming into an unmerciful, fearful world saddles us with limitations and struggles. Before we outgrow the playground, we encounter others who make false assumptions about us by how we’re made—gender, ethnicity, and orientation—and where we’re placed. There will always be some who believe we deserve their scorn and prejudice because we’re born “wrong.” But we can’t forget we’re handmade and guided by God to display His work. Limitations become His opportunities. Blind struggles lead to moments when He puts mud in our eyes to enlighten others. It’s never pleasant but, like it or not, mud is His creative medium. When He releases us to rinse the mud away, as it lifts, oppressive darkness lifts also. We see with new sight.

Mud in our eyes creates new sight in us and enlightenment in others.

(Tomorrow: Pep Talk)

Personal Postscript: Quick Bit o’ Praise

As some of you know, my brother lost his position with a privately owned company last October. As time dragged on, he and his amazing wife and their two sons inched ever closer to inevitabilities no one wants to face—selling their home, switching schools, relocating far from family and friends, and so on. Yet through it all, not one complaint or doubt passed their lips. Our nephews, 11 and 16, were as sure and stoic as their parents. It was amazing to witness.

Last week, a position comparable to the one he lost opened up. His new employers worked with him so he and his family can remain in their present home and the boys’ schooling won’t be interrupted. As he told me how all things worked together for good—as Romans 8.28 promises—he recalled a chat with his pastor several months into his trial. “God’s taking you to school,” his pastor said. My brother answered, “I realize that. But I didn’t expect the curriculum to be so hard!” I rejoice to say he graduated with honors.

I can’t pass this chance to offer praise and thanksgiving for God’s provision for Steve and his family. But Walt and I are also deeply grateful for the example of unwavering faith they set for us. I’m slightly older than Steve. But he’s the bigger brother by far.

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