When sight was restored to the man born blind, it was definitely a big problem for everybody in town – for his neighbors, his parents and the local branch of the Pharisees. It was not only totally unexpected, but it was also a healing done on the Sabbath. The kneading spit and dirt into mud, is a form of work, and so prohibited on the Holy Day. You know this could have waited until the Monday.
But that was the things about Jesus. When he was in the presence of brokenness, love poured out in all directions, and things changed, often changed in ways that were not according to people’s expectations. In fact, in this case the man had not even asked to be healed. And I wonder if he was unsure, at the time, whether it was worth it.
Oh sure, now he could see. But he was also landed in the middle of a mess, with Jesus nowhere around. His neighbors weren’t sure it was really he. The man underwent an in-depth grilling by them, and then by the religious leaders. “…the Pharisees began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’” This was a problem for the authorities. Can one do good through a sinful act?
So they sent for his parents to ask: was this really, truly their son; and had he really, truly been blind; and if so how come he could now see? The parents knew that if they said it must have been a miracle, they would be thrown out of the synagogue. That would destroy their life in a small village. So they said that, yes, he was their son; and he really, truly couldn’t see before. But they didn’t know how it had happened. He was old enough to answer for himself.
So the whole crowd went back to the victim of the miracle, with questioning that was taking on some of the higher qualities of a Laurel and Hardy routine.
“Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’”
Now that was the worst wrong thing to say. It infuriated the questioners, who were probably shouting by now.
“We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this Jesus, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.”
For this answer the once-blind man was cast out.
Now we Episcopalians don’t go in for excommunication. But would we be any better prepared to deal with a restoration of sight, not accomplished by a Board-Certified Ophthalmologist? If God were to break into our nice orderly world, turning things upside down, would we think that was good or not?
The Reverend Richard Lischer, a professor at Duke Divinity School, writes about a member of his congregation coming to his office to tell him that he had been born again. “’You’ve been what?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘last week I visited my brother-in-law’s church, the Running River of Life Tabernacle, and I don’t know what it was, but something happened and I’m born again.’ ‘You can’t be born again,’ I said, “you’re a Lutheran. You are the chairman of the board of trustees.’”
The problem for Lischer was that the man’s experience of renewal had not occurred within the normal, orderly channels of church life. Maybe we, too, have a blindness to the ways in which the Kingdom of God could suddenly break out in our world.
If I were to say this morning that I have been born again, what would be the response? But here’s the thing. It’s true.
I know what my life was like and where it was headed before The Hound of Heaven ran me down. I wasn’t a terrible person, headed for a life of sin and degradation (to the best of my knowledge). But I was stuck in a life with no meaning beyond the short-term: finish medical school, do a residency, get rich because doctors always do (for the reality on that, check with me later). When med school lectures were boring, I would doodle plans of the fabulous house I would have, complete with lavish furnishings. All of this would have been a standard, if up-scale, American life. But it had no more flavor than the white of an egg.
Then I was side-tracked from these plans. The chance reading of C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, followed by his book Mere Christianity, led me to read a modern translation of the Bible beginning to end. The next thing I knew, I was returning to church, which I had left behind when I started college. Then came the hare-brained idea of going to seminary – with, I might add, no intention of going into parish ministry. I deliberately went to a non-denominational seminary so I wouldn’t have to take a preaching class. But, somehow, I ended up taking such a class anyway. One thing after another.
And it actually took years of explaining all this to people before a colleague in my psychiatric residency said to me, “It sounds as though you had a call from God.” I was stunned. Was that really what it had all been, not just a random series of choices I had made? Had I really been called by God to this entirely new life? I had been steadily walking down this road, but only then did I realize that it had been Jesus walking me along that way from the beginning. I was blind, but now I see.
I might add that my parents and family were really no more delighted by all this than were the parents and neighbors of the man born blind. I had thought that after they dragged me to church all through my growing up, they would be thrilled by these developments. But while they didn’t oppose my choices, they saw them as idiosyncratic in the extreme. My father’s reaction was, “You know, for someone trained in a field where you could make a lot of money, you sure have some interesting ways of not doing so.”
I couldn’t quite stay in the same slot of my family’s expectations, because although I had been blind, now I could see. I had been born again into a life filled with meaning and joy.
My story is not especially unique. The Hound of Heaven always chases to run us down, to clean up our vision, to offer new life. In the end, we will choose. And any or all of us may finally say, “I once was blind, but now I see.”