Sermons That Work

Monuments Attract Outcasts…, Lent 4 (A) – 2002

March 10, 2002

Monuments attract outcasts. This is as true today as it was in our Lord’s time. Walk outside the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, a.k.a. the National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C., and you will find today’s outcasts, the homeless. If you had walked outside the Temple in Jerusalem, mentioned in today’s Gospel, you would have also found an outcast of his time, a man blind from his birth.

All the blind man in Jerusalem knew of the sun was the feeling of warmth on his face and his hands as the sun rose in the morning, and the smell of flowers and sweat and dung as the heat of the day drew on. He knew nothing of the gleam or the glare or the glory of the Temple blazing in white and gold. He was, however, intimately familiar with the shoves and the kicks of the impatient and the arrogant as they made their way in and out of the Temple.

On a certain day when Jesus and his disciples had just fled a stoning, they rather curiously stop in front of this man to take the time to engage in a disputation on the hermeneutics of disability. Noticing him, but not addressing him (as is often the pattern of interaction between the abled and disabled), the disciples asked our Lord whose fault it was that this man was blind, his or his parents’? Disabilities were seen as the result of moral flaws in those days. Jesus immediately responded: “It is no one’s fault. The man’s blindness is, in fact, a window through which the world will see and know our Lord is the light of the world.”

Jesus then made a salve from dirt and his own saliva and rubbed the man’s eyes with it, and told the man to rinse his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. The man did as he was directed, and he returned, seeing.

What follows next is the playing out of an ancient drama for anyone who has ever undergone seemingly inexplicable conversion, healing, or restoration outside the boundaries of convention. First, the man’s neighbors and acquaintances questioned him in wonder and more than a little suspicion about his healing. But he couldn’t tell them who the agent of his healing had been, just as we find it difficult to talk about our own experiences of the holy, of being made whole.

So they take him to the Pharisees, who, because Jesus had not been approved by the “JMA” or “Jerusalem Medical Association for healing on the Sabbath,” decide Jesus could not possibly be of God. Striving for a minimum of fairness before passing judgment, the Pharisees asked the man what he thought. He said, “By your own logic, he must be a prophet for only a prophet could do what he has done.”

Foiled in their initial attempt to exercise damage control, the Pharisees fall back on the tactics of prosecutors everywhere and began to investigate the man’s parents. They inveigled them with questions and accusations, “Was he ever blind?” His parents replied, “Yes, from birth, but ask what you want to know yourselves. He can answer for himself.”

Once again, the “grand jury” convened and the Pharisees, more frustrated than ever, said, “Give us a break. This man has to be a sinner.” And the formerly blind man said in turn, “I don’t know anything about his behavior except this: once I was blind; now I see.” Again, they had asked him to explain the inexplicable and all he could do was to state once again the facts, the good news that a blind man begging outside the Temple one day encountered a stranger who gave him his sight.

Furiously, they accused the man of being in cahoots with the putative healer. Throughout this, they never assigned a name to the healer. For the Pharisees, this is truly an encounter with the unnamed God, and it frightens them to know that one is walking abroad in the world doing the work of God out of their control. The healed man’s reassertion of the facts just got him into hotter water, and they kicked him out, probably literally throwing
him out the door.

So it goes with us at times. We encounter God somewhere — unasked, uninvited, unexpected. Something changes radically in us. Burdens are removed, and backs are straightened. And, for a while, we walk about in a fog, a fog of serenity, a fog of peace, and we are suffused with a feeling of connectedness, of oneness. People in our lives notice and they question us. We can’t explain it — all we can do is tell our story. Once we were blind, now we see.

But human beings do not accept blithely the unexplainable, the numinous, the holy. They hurl questions: “Who?” “How?” “Why?” “Why you and not me?” If we allow ourselves to lose focus of the healing event, we can find ourselves in spiritual chaos, for this is when we are most spiritually vulnerable. The world knows this and will try to exploit our vulnerability.

But if we accept our new health confidently, giving thanks to the giver of our healing, then one day the unnamed healer will reveal himself to us. And we will find that along with healing he has blessed us with faith.

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Christopher Sikkema


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