Are we ready to think outside the box? That’s the question that, in so many words, keeps coming up in this reading from John 9. Are we ready to think outside the box?
Jesus’ disciples ask who is to blame for the blind beggar’s blindness. They are thinking inside a certain theological box that says if you are faced with a hardship, you must have done something to deserve it. And Jesus says, “Think outside of that box. It’s not a matter of blame or sin or fault. Instead, look for how God is present in this situation, how God’s love and power can shine through this blind man—or shine through any of us—in the way in which we respond to the circumstances.”
So he puts mud and saliva on the man’s eyes, has him wash in a certain pool, and the man can see. For the first time in his life, he has vision. Now, in these days of COVID-19 and social distancing, the idea of putting saliva on someone’s eyes as a means of healing sounds incredibly unhealthy, and personally I don’t recommend it. So we’re going to set that bit aside for the moment. Because this is Jesus we’re talking about, not the coronavirus.
And what happens next is a lot of questioning and division. If you have ever radically altered your appearance—major hair cut from really long to really short, or loss or gain of lots of weight—you may have experienced this. We put people in boxes of a sort based on how we perceive them. This person is in the long-hair box, and when they get a big haircut it takes us a minute to recognize them because they’ve stepped out of that box. So you see the people saying, “Is that the blind beggar guy?” “Yes, it is.” “No, it’s not, but boy he sure looks like him.”
And then we move on to the Pharisees. Their question is less about who the formerly blind man is and more about who Jesus is. Is he a sinner, because he healed on the Sabbath? They know the rules of how to be with God, and it says right there in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” But this Jesus fellow is healing on the Sabbath, so clearly he must be a sinner. And others say, but he’s healing—surely that comes from God? The Pharisees have God in a box, and they are so stuck with that box that they cannot perceive God doing a new thing.
Everyone keeps asking how, which is just the wrong question. Or they ask who to blame, which is also a distraction. They all get hung up on the technicalities. With God, anything is possible. We talk about a God who makes a way out of no way. It’s not a guarantee—we already see how that works when the Pharisees think they have God in a box. It’s a relationship.
So how are we seeing and hearing in new ways in this time of the coronavirus?
We’re used to holding worship in the box that is our building. Now we are forced out of that box, forced to find new ways to be Prospect UCC. And we’re doing it. We’re finding new ways to be church that don’t involve meeting face to face in our church building.
We may be forced to slow down, stay home. What do we see in that home space?
Spring is still springing, regardless. How are you seeing and hearing spring? Can you walk around your block, keeping a safe distance from others? Can you sit in your yard and listen to the birds? Can you notice buds on the trees, daffodils? I invite you to pay attention to these things, to really take in spring this year. See it, marvel at it, practice awe at the way it unfolds with such beauty. Behold, God makes all things new—every spring. New leaves, new baby lambs soon, new flowers after the dull colors of winter. The world is waking up around us—we can attune ourselves to it.
See anew your relationships. As I said, now that we can’t gather, we see with new eyes who we are as church community. We may as individuals also be seeing and valuing our family and friends, our neighbors who drop off groceries on our porches—or for whom we can do these things. We value in new ways the people in our communities who are risking their own health in order to keep the medical facilities running, the buses circulating, the power and water functioning, the grocery stores stocked, the gas stations open. We may have new eyes to appreciate how many people in our midst are thrown out of work entirely: the performing artists, the librarians, the chefs and wait staff and dish washers of restaurants, the teachers and custodians in our schools, and on and on. We see anew how connected we all are—how our dollars help keep the economy humming, and how that economy is now contracting abruptly when all of these social and educational and other opportunities shut down.
The Pharisees react out of a place of rigidity and fear. Let us respond out of a place of love, awe, seeing and hearing with new eyes and ears.
Post your photos on Facebook or share with a friend: When you see with new eyes, what inspires awe? What seems like a miracle? What fills you with hope, joy, love for God’s creation? Jesus say, as long as he is here, he is the light of the world. Well, as long as we are waking up to a new day, we can shine that light wherever and however we are. So let us have eyes open, ears open, hearts open wide to be perceiving God doing new things in us and all around us. It’s not about blame or judgment. It’s about how we respond with God’s love. Amen.