John 9:1-41 *
6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (read the whole passage)
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is a day that swings us from the revelation of Epiphany to Lent and preparation. We go up the mountain to find God revealed to us on the mountain top and Jesus carries us down into the valley of Lent. Transfiguration is a moment that allows us to glimpse the way ahead before the journey begins, to see out into the valley of Lent, to landmark Holy Week as our next destination, and remind ourselves that Easter is just over the next hill – even if that hill is Golgatha.
Now today, we didn’t actually hear the familiar transfiguration story. The one where Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and then is transformed into dazzling white. Elijah and Moses show up, and Peter wants to build an altar. But then God’s intervenes, just like at Jesus’ baptism, and tells everyone gathered that Jesus is God’s beloved son. And then Jesus is back to normal, tells everyone to keep quiet about what they saw and they all head back down the mountain.
So instead of Transfiguration, we heard a story about Jesus encountering a Blind Man and restoring his sight. A story that follows the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman that we heard in the past couple weeks.
Yet, this story of the Blind man might not be THE Transfiguration story, but you could say it is A story of Transfiguration.
As Jesus and his disciples are walking along, they encounter a blind man, and in order to make a point, Jesus heals blind man’s sight. And then Jesus moves on.
The blind man however, begins an extended encounter with the incredulous community around him. At first people don’t even recognize him, they just cannot wrap their brains around this changed man. Still, once they accept it is the man, they have trouble accepting that this change in him in a good thing. They put him on trial, they want to know who has done this thing that has upset their whole community. They want to know how a sinner like him can now see.
Still not being satisfied with the blind man’s answers, they ask his parents. But they are no help.
So they ask the man who had been blind once again, this time the Pharisees and community leaders are beginning to sound enraged. They simply cannot allows this kind of thing to mess with their community. Everyone has their place, this man was a blind beggar… who will do that now?
The blind man, sensing their rage, pokes fun at his community, asking them if they want to follow Jesus. That’s the last straw and the community drives him out.
The community just cannot see how this sinner among them was healed by some wandering preacher, who were a dime a dozen in those days. They cannot see through the flesh of Jesus, to what just might be a sign of God’s presence among them.
The community is blind.
Blind to God’s presence among them, blind to possibility that God could be close and doing something new.
We get what those people around the blind man feel. We have been there too. It is just as hard for us to dig through the fleshiness we see around us. Like them we can find it so hard to believe that God could be doing things with us.
We look around our community, at each other, at the people we have known for years and years, and those who are new among us… and we just cannot imagine that God could be found in us.
And we look around at this place, these walls and pews, this structure and building where it can feel so mundane and familiar… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God here.
And we look at ourselves. Our own flaws and imperfections, our failings and limits, and we feel so human, so anything but God’s children… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God near and close to us.
And so we can be just like that community around the Blind Man, unable, unwilling to imagine that God could do something among us.
We are blind just as they are. We are blind because we see what we see… which seems to be the absence of God in our very mundane surroundings.
But because the Blind Man doesn’t see what we see, what his community sees just might be why he experiences God.
The blind man is just doing what he always does, beginning at the side of the road, living off the charity and good will of those passing by.
Yet when Jesus and his disciples pass by, the Blind Man does not see what his community sees – another wandering preacher coming to town. Rather the Blind Man hears a voice say,
“I am the light of the world.”
And then the blind man feels hands on his face. Hands and mud. And then follows the simple command,
“Go and was in the pool of Siloam.”
So the Blind Man goes and washes…. and light floods in. The light floods into his eyes and he can now see.
But still, all that he knows of the one who healed him are a voice speaking light into the world. Hands fashioning something new out of the mud, and the command to go and be washed.
The Blind Man’s experience of Jesus follows a story that every Jew would know well, one that we know well. The story of the creation. The story a of voice who said,
“Let there be light.” and “I am the Light of the world.”
The story of hands that shaped the Adam, the first human out of the mud of the earth.
The story of the creator who commanded the creation to live in the good world that God had made.
The Blind Man’s experience was a divine one, the Blind Man had heard God’s voice and felt God’s hands.
But his community could only see another mundane human being, another preacher coming to live off the hospitality of the community.
So sent away because of the story he had to tell and the new life he had been given, Jesus finds the Blind Man again.
And it is there that we find a Transfiguration moment. Jesus meets the Blind Man and tells him that he is finally seeing and speaking with the Son of Man, the Messiah.
With that, Jesus bridges the distance between human and divine. Just like Jesus is Transfigured on the mountain top and then changed back, Jesus show the Blind Man that wrapped in flesh, is the God of the creation, the God who spoke life into the darkness, and who is still the light of the world.
The Blind Man, like the disciples on the mountaintop, finally, truly, sees.
And yet, we still struggle like the community who just couldn’t peer under Jesus’ flesh to see the divine.
But Jesus knows that about us. Jesus knows that we have trouble seeing God.
So here in this place, where we are supposed to encounter God, Jesus meets us in ways that don’t require us to see.
Here, Jesus speaks to us. Jesus speaks words like forgiven, healed, renewed, beloved, washed, raised. Jesus speaks to us with the Word of God proclaimed in this place. And just as God spoke in creation, God speaks to us in our ears.
And here Jesus reaches out to us. Jesus washes our eyes in the waters at the font, the waters of gospel promise, the waters of new life. And just as God commanded the Blind Man to wash, God washes the light into our world too.
And here Jesus presses flesh into our flesh. Bread and Wine, the very body and blood of Christ are pressed into our flesh, and brought to our lips. And just as Jesus reached out to touch the Blind Man, God reaches out and comes as close as God can to us.
So when we look around and only see regular, familiar faces, faces that we cannot seem to imagine God in, Jesus sees in us the Body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world.
When we look around and only see the walls and pews and hymnbooks of routine and mundane experience, Jesus sees people gathered in God’s house.
When look at ourselves and only see flawed and imperfect people who cannot seem to get faith right, Jesus sees in you and me people that God has faith in, people who are God’s beloved children.
And just like the Blind Man, there is A Transfiguration story here too, week after week. A Transfiguration story where God is revealed in human flesh, where the light of creation shines on us, where Jesus comes to us in experiences where we do no see, but instead hear, and feel and taste and touch… in Word, in Water, and in Bread and Wine.
*The congregations I serve are using the Narrative Lectionary in the first three months of 2018