On the surface, this seems just like any of the other healing stories in the gospels. And there are lots of them. It is a miraculous story, revealing Jesus’s power and his bringing healing to one of the many sufferers lining the streets of first-century Israel. But it is so much more. It is an invitation to look at the world through God’s eyes. That’s what it means, I believe, to stand in the presence of God. It means to see God, yes, but also to see what God sees. To stand with God and see a world that vibrates with the presence of the holy. John gives us a glimpse of a new way to see in this story of healing.
This healing takes place as the result of a question. Normally, Jesus would respond to a question with a story or a teaching of some kind. But here his response to the question is to heal a man blind from birth. The question was about sin. and Jesus stakes his claim as the conqueror of sin. He wanted to move the discussion beyond that of fault and focus on possibility.
He says that this man and this moment is given to show the presence and power of God. And then he bends down and gets some dirt and then spits in it to make a paste that he rubs on the man’s eyes. Odd, but ok, we think. But not the first observers of this little circus. They would have been appalled. Dirt is, well, dirt! And spit is worse than dirt. Add to the messy mix that this is taking place on the Sabbath, and it seems like Jesus was intent on upsetting people. It was like he wanted to poke them in the eye! He uses more than mundane (which is a word from the Latin for of the earth) elements to bring about the glory of God. How can this be? Surely God wants fancy stuff. Surely God wants extraordinary elements and spectacular people to prove the power of God.
No, God doesn’t. In fact, it shows God’s power even more wonderfully when the simple, the plain, the everyday is used to bring God glory. That is part of what Jesus was trying to tell them, and us. But they didn’t want to hear.
Most of the rest of the text after the healing is an argument about whether Jesus really healed or if it was some sort of trick. The adversaries or the religious leaders went out of their way to find some way to prove that what was right there in front of their eyes couldn’t possibly be the truth. They challenged the man’s parents. Then, when that didn’t work, they challenged the man himself. And when that didn’t work, they drove him out (vs.34). They didn’t like that a man such as this, a sinner, they called him, had something to teach them.
They should have read their own scriptures. God had a tendency to do this sort of thing all the time. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for this Sunday is I Samuel: 16:1-13. It is the story of the anointing of David. You remember that David was selected by God to be king of Israel while there was still another king on the throne. You remember that David was chosen while he was but a boy, tending sheep for his father, Jesse, and serving all his older brothers. Some of those older brothers were king material, at least as far as Samuel, the Lord’s representative, was concerned. But, for some reason, God overlooked all the others and asked for David. When David came in from the barn, still smelling of sheep and red-faced from running in the wind, God told Samuel that this was it. Samuel dumped the oil and ran out of town, afraid of the wrath of the then king Saul. And David stood in his living room dripping with oil, looking at the surprised and disappointed faces of his brothers and father, wondering what in God’s name was next.
The only explanation that we get for this whole event is tucked away in the middle of the story, when God and Samuel are arguing over the leadership abilities of the older brothers. Here is what it says:
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
Over and over, God has given this message. Over and over, God has told us that the things we normally use to evaluate people are misdirected. Over and over, God has shown us that when we live on the surface, then we miss what is really going on; but when we go deeply into matter of life and of death, then we find what really matters. Then we see what is really important. But we have to learn to look in a new way. We have to learn faith vision. That means giving up what we think is best and surrendering to God’s way of looking at the world. And ourselves.
You know, it is one thing to just miss stuff. To be so blind that a snake would have bit us. But it is something else to choose to be blind. The Pharisees had everything they needed to learn to see as God sees, but they chose not to do so. They chose the eye of human judgment, rather than the eye of God’s grace. What’s that old saying? “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
Psalm 23, one of everyone’s favorites, is also about seeing in new ways. Seeing presence when you feel alone. Seeing dinner guests, when, before, all we saw were enemies. Seeing sustenance and abundance where, before ,we saw only lack. Seeing
Do you want to see?