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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 21 October 2018 10am Choral Eucharist
Ecclus 38.1-15 & John 9.1-12
(York Medical Society in attendance at this service)
It is virtually impossible for me to describe what it is like to suddenly see after being blind since birth. My first sensation, as I washed the mud from my eyes, was a kind of pain. It hurt. My eyes hurt. I immediately shut them again. I felt dizzy and disorientated. When I opened my eyes again all I can say is that it was like someone blowing a horn right in your ear after you had been sitting in silence for a long time – only it was someone shining light in to my eyes.
It had been just an ordinary day. My parents had put me in my prime begging spot early in the morning. I chatted to a few of the locals about this and that and sat the rest of the time just thinking and occasionally I hummed a tune quietly.
Suddenly I became aware of quite a large group of people coming towards me. They stood near me and soon I realised that they were talking about me. I supposed they were a group of students or Pharisees because they were talking about why I was blind – for whose sin was this man’s blindness a punishment, his parents or his own – they mused. For them I was an interesting subject for discussion, not a person. This did not unduly worry me because it happened all the time, I was used to it. And then one of them came close to me. He touched me on my arm very gently and introduced himself. He asked me if I would mind him touching my eyes. He said he was going to give me my sight back. I thought for a moment. Was this some kind of sick joke? Was this someone taunting me – like the children who would laugh at me, hide my stick and kick my begging bowl down the street? But I could sense only gentleness in his touch and sincerity in his quiet voice and so I said that I did not mind. I had nothing to lose. He let go of my arm, there was a slight pause, and then I felt this warm, slightly gritty substance being smoothed over my eyes. He told me to go and wash my face in the nearby pool of Siloam. I slowly made my way there and did as he had asked and it was as I stood to dry my face that my eyes were hit with a thousand tons of brightness.
It took me ages to be able to open my eyes just a little bit and begin to adjust to this new world I had been given – by the time I had begun to get used to it he had gone. I could not understand why he had chosen me. I was not particularly good, I could be short tempered and selfish like everyone else. I was not particularly religious either, certainly I was Jewish, but like my blindness I had no choice about that, it was mine by birth.
I used to think that life was hard and full of problems when I was blind, but on the day I received my sight things got really difficult and complicated. For a start my friends and neighbours, whose voices I knew well, seemed not to know who I was. They were confused. We were all disorientated. They asked me what had happened and I simply explained about the man who had touched my eyes with what I now know was just mud and that I could see ……..
I find it helpful, sometimes, to play with bible stories like this. To put them in context of ordinary people experiencing extraordinary things. One of the most interesting things about healing miracles, like the one we heard in the gospel this morning, is that we rarely hear what happened after the healing. In the passage we heard today we hear of the man regaining his sight, and that’s it. If it was an episode of EastEnders the drums would sound and we’d all wait to tune in to the next episode to see what happened next. Of course the whole of chapter 9 of John’s gospel is about the same miracle, but all we hear about in the subsequent verses are the arguments between different factions relating, mainly, to the fact that the miracle had happened on the Sabbath. That is all very interesting and significant, but for me, the most interesting and challenging aspect of this story is simply never told – what did the healed man do with the rest of his life? Apart from regaining his sight, how did his encounter with Jesus change him?
My version of the story ended with this sentence ‘I used to think that life was hard and full of problems when I was blind, but on the day I received my sight things got really difficult and complicated.’ The healed man had survived into adulthood as a blind man presumably because he had parents who cared for him and because he could make some money begging. All of that would have to change. He could now live independently of his parents if he wanted to. He would have to go out and get a job as well because begging was no longer an option – but what could he do? He had been blind since birth!
If you reflect on nearly all the healing miracles in the gospels and try to imagine, what happened next, it does not take long to conclude that being lame, blind, having leprosy or being possessed was undoubtedly horrendous, but life as someone who could suddenly walk or see, or as someone who used to have leprosy or who used to be possessed, is not without its challenges!
It is very fashionable these days to be dismissive of people of faith. We are talked about by some as people who are living in a fantasy, people who are essentially frightened of dying so believe all sorts of ridiculous things about resurrection and eternal life. What our critics never consider is that being a person of faith is actually quite hard! Encountering God in Jesus, responding to the invitation ‘follow me’, living a new life as someone who has been healed or forgiven is actually very challenging and involves a total re-orientation of your life and a lot of hard work. I believe life is much more challenging for those who live by faith than it is for those who live lives based on their own, often quite self-centred, belief systems. Jesus understood this. Once he met a man who had been lame for 38 years who lived by a pool of water which was thought to have healing properties, presumably in the hopes that one day he would be healed. When Jesus met him he asked him this question, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ In context this, at first, seems like an incredibly crass question to ask someone who had been lame for 38 years, but it was an excellent question. I expect that there are some here in the medical profession who regularly see people who appear to want to be made well, but have actually got so used to their illness or condition that they cannot really imagine living life in a different way so they never really get better.
The point of the gospel story today, and the point of all the stories of people who genuinely encounter Jesus, is that it is a life changing event. After encountering Jesus nothing can ever be the same again. Living as an invited, healed or forgiven follower of Jesus is extremely challenging, but in the end it enables us to live life more fully, enables us to live lives which are enriched and more fruitful because we cease to find our identity in our status, or our abilities, or our disabilities, or our qualifications, or our possessions and discover our true identity as beloved, healed and forgiven, children of God.
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