Year A, Lent 4
“Here is an astonishing thing!” cries the man born blind who now can see (John 9:30a). My heart leaps when I read this. My ears are quickened. This man who has been badgered beyond patience by the authorities proclaims his experience and his faith with his own authentic authority. “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9: 30b-33). What if the man’s cry became the rallying cry of all Christendom against injustice and lies? “Here is an astonishing thing!”
Our texts this week follow the cry of the man born blind. They could each be prefaced with his proclamation. God’s vision of the world is full of surprising truth that we do not see with first glance.
- “Here is an astonishing thing!” ~ God tells Samuel to anoint Jesse’s youngest son as the King of Israel. Not the oldest and most experienced. Not the physically strongest. Not the most intellectual. But the youngest and perhaps most naïve, most singularly faithful to God. Being a good shepherd is the qualification that rises to the top in God’s estimation. The blind man’s cry heralds a new leader in David. We are to look carefully at the characteristics of a just and faithful leader of people
- “Here is an astonishing thing!” ~ Like the most faithful shepherd God leads and protects us even through darkest valleys. Psalm 23 is so familiar even to those who are nominally or culturally Jewish or Christian, perhaps even to the spiritual but not religious. Sometimes it familiarity can make it seem banal. Yet it can be a wonderful thing because its claims are astonishing! God promises faithful guidance through easy and hard terrain, an overflowing cup of abundance in the midst of enemies, and to literally pursue us with goodness all the days of our lives. What amazing reassurance as we walk God’s right paths to engage the false powers of injustice in God’s name!
- “Here is an astonishing thing!” ~ The writer of Ephesians follows in the footsteps of the psalmist testifying to God’s powers of protection and guidance. If we assume that Psalm 23 was written during the reign of King David, perhaps even by him, then there is a millennium between the psalm’s writing and the letter to the church at Ephesus. Yet the revelation continues. Through the further testimony of God in Christ, God is still leading God’s people in ways out of darkness and into “the fruit of the light found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9). Sounds like God’s justice and love to me!
- “Here is an astonishing thing!” ~ In our story from John 8, a man is miraculously healed! Yet the religious authorities do not want to celebrate but to analyze and condemn. What is received by the man as an astonishing gift of God is threatened to be obscured by fear, greed and envy of power. How often does this happen in our world? Where can we be on the look out for the “miracles” – small and large – that testify to God’s life-changing power in the world? Do we have the courage to proclaim them in the face of opposition and the powers of consumerism and “money talks” who want to shut up God’s ways of justice and love for their own gain?
The mud which Jesus puts on the eyes of the blind man is for me an image the astonishing in the world. What looks like it is ordinary and useless becomes the medium for transformation. It becomes sacred in a sense. The writer of John continues the use of water as a life-giving image as well in that the transformation is not complete until the mud is washed with the water from the well, Siloam, meaning “Sent.” The blind man was willing to trust the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to go where he was sent to receive healing. How does this image find application in our lives? In our work for justice?
Below are two folktales with the image of mud or earth as a transforming agent.
- The first is from Burma, “The Alchemy of Earth.” This is one of my favorite stories to tell. I first found it years ago in Allan B. Chinen’s In the Ever After: Folktales for the Second Half of Life. It is the delightful story of an old man, his daughter and his son in law who is searching for the meaning of life. You can find Chinen’s version
- The second tale is from Russia and is a story of St. Nicholas, “Covered in Mud.” In this story St. Nicholas and St. Cassian are sent from Heaven to visit earth. The story revolves around which saint is willing to literally get his hands dirty for the betterment of humankind.
Finally, on the subject of mud, I also love the story of Naaman, the great Aramean general who is told by young girl from Israel to consult the prophet, Elisha, about a cure for his leprosy. Once again the youngest – and a girl not less – takes the lead in transformation. When the general does consult with the prophet, he balks at the prophet’s command to wash himself in the muddy waters of the Jordan River. Mud, again! Yet his servants – the least of these again! – convince him to try and he is cured. You can find Naaman’s story in 2nd Kings 5.
Blessings on your Lenten story journeys! May they be filled with transformation even in the midst of life’s mud,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!