I am slowly acclimating myself to the world of the computer. My wife tells me that it is relatively safe to ask the computer a question. Until just a few weeks ago, I used to ask her to look up stuff for me. It wasn’t that long ago that I asked her to find out if Opie Taylor had ever appeared on an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie.” These are the important questions of life; never mind who Mahershalalhashbaz is*. But what I really wanted to find out, and I did this on my very own, was to learn where the expression, “Here’s mud in your eye” comes from. And it turns out that it either comes from this very passage, or from the British pub scene in the early 1800’s. I like that. That tells me that there was a theologian in the pub, which in those days was not so unusual.
“Here’s mud in your eye” means “good luck,” or maybe “congratulations,” but it is often said to a person who is about to embark upon a brand new adventure. And the blind man in our story is certainly off on a brand new and very exciting adventure, but almost nobody is willing to celebrate it with him. It is strange that something this wonderful and this exciting could be so soundly condemned by almost everyone who witnessed it.
But, then again, it is a new thing. It is not every day in our world, nor in the world of the first century, for someone who had been blind from birth, to suddenly become a sighted person. I wonder if it even happens today. Perhaps not. I didn’t look it up on the computer. It is clear though, from the way that John tells this story, that no one quite knows how to handle this very new thing that has suddenly come upon their lives. In fact, if it wasn’t such a wonderful thing, it would be an absolutely hilarious thing. In fact, it is hilarious. It is both. It is hilarious and it is wonderful, and John has a tremendous sense of humor in telling it.
Sadly, though, the very people who should have been able to make sense out of this, who could have explained it, and who ultimately could have arranged for a wonderful, community-wide celebration, refuse to accept a reality that is literally staring them in the face.
The religious authorities should have immediately recognized this healing as the triumphant work of God in their midst. Instead, they come off looking like a bunch of blind buffoons, unwilling and unable to recognize that God has come to them in a most amazing and wonderful way. They remind me of those three absurd looking little monkeys, only this time it is see nothing that is good, hear nothing that is good, and do nothing that is good, even when God’s glory is shining out all over the place.
But before we get too far afield in the very fun sport of bashing the religious leaders for their inappropriate response, let us ask ourselves, what would we do? How would we react to this sudden disruption of predictability and normalcy? How have we reacted? And let us be brutally honest with ourselves. A very difficult question that we must ask ourselves is this: in what ways do we expect God to be at work in this world? That’s a hard one to ponder honestly, because it really comes down to a question of our authority over God. That’s right, our authority over God. It really asks, what will we allow God to do in this world? In what ways do we believe that God can reasonably intrude into this world? And, even more difficult to ponder, when do we expect God to keep to himself? In what ways would we rather that God did not intrude?
There is not the time this morning for us to ponder these questions with the serious, soul-searching attention that they deserve. But our answers might help us to better understand the dilemma that the religious leaders in this passage faced. At first glance, it really does look like God has done something extraordinary. This is a local man, and nearly everybody knows him, and nearly everybody knows that yesterday he was quite blind, and always had been, and that today, he seems to be quite sighted, and walking around all by himself, where once he simply sat and panhandled. Something good has happened to this lad, and every body in the neighborhood knows it. Jesus said he was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.
But when the religious leaders become involved, and they have to become involved, because it is their job to authenticate the healing, a theological issue arises. It is sadly, and unfortunately, the Sabbath Day. And presumably, healings are not to occur on the Sabbath Day. Well, that’s not quite true; healings could occur on the Sabbath Day, but only if life itself was in peril. And specifically, blindness, and bone setting and leprosy don’t count. Those kinds of healings should take place on a different day, other than the Sabbath. Blind people with leprosy and broken bones can wait until tomorrow.
And maybe, just maybe, there’s another problem, too. Jesus made mud. Jesus spat on the ground, and made mud with his saliva, and spread the mud on the man’s eyes. And I’ll bet that very few of us this morning are thinking that Jesus is busy kneading dough and getting ready to bake some bread. But this act of making the mud to spread on the man’s eyes may very well be the very thing that has raised the ire of the religious leaders. Kneading dough was forbidden on the Sabbath. And making mud could be analogous to kneading dough, and therefore, what Jesus has done becomes a transgression of the rules of the Sabbath. This, of course, is not the first time that Jesus has been guilty of transgressing the rules of the Sabbath, and his behavior on the Sabbath is high on the list of criticism that the religious leaders keep on Jesus. It does not seem that Jesus respects the Sabbath in the way that he ought. A man who was truly holy would do much better than this. If we grew up in a more legalistic environment, we might actually find ourselves agreeing with the religious leaders when they say things in this passage like, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” and, “We know that this man is a sinner.” and, “We know God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” That’s a nice way of saying, O yes, we do, We know exactly where he comes from.
Where are we coming from this morning? This goes back to the question that I asked us to ponder earlier. What is it that our rational, practical and made up minds will allow or not allow God to do in our midst? The religious leaders are very clear about what God can and cannot do. Ultimately, they will not allow God to work on the Sabbath. They have already concluded that Jesus is a sinner, and so therefore he cannot be doing the work of God. This is all the more remarkable because this is an extraordinary healing. Quite comically, even though the evidence is obvious, the religious leaders work for a bit, trying to prove that it did not happen. Denying what Jesus has done solves the problem completely. At the end of this passage, Jesus condemns the religious leaders and accuses them of being the ones who have been blind since birth.
There’s something amazing in this passage that I have intentionally saved for last. Jesus is not guilty of mimicking the craft of breadmaking. He is, instead, guilty of the act of creation. So here’s mud in your eyes. I cannot think of a better, more profound way for Jesus to demonstrate the divine prerogative than to mix up some mud. On the day that humankind was created, God himself mixed up some mud, and he shaped it and he formed it and he crafted that mud into a human being. We are the mud of God. And on that day, on the Sabbath, Jesus took mud and he re-created the eyes of a man who had been blind from birth. The religious leaders said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” And they were wrong, and they were wrong because they were blind, and because they did not see this brilliant act of creation. It is in fact, not the Sabbath Day. Not yet, it isn’t. God is still at work.
At the very beginning of this passage Jesus justifies what he is about to do, by saying this: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work”. Do not miss Jesus’ emphasis on the word, “work”. Let us, then work the works of the one who has created us, and who has sent us into this world. And most importantly, let us never limit what we will allow God to do.
*Mahershalalhashbaz is presumed to have the longest name, in English, in the Bible. You can find him in Isaiah chapter eight.