A Glop of Mud to the Face: Thanks, Jesus
In the story of the man born blind in our gospel today, I have always pondered 1) what was the blind man’s reaction when some random person spouting religious jargon comes up and starts spreading mud all over his face, and 2) how awesome is it that Jesus actually went to look for this man when he heard that he had been cast out?
But first we begin with another question: what are the Pharisees and townspeople really asking with all these angry questions?
What do they really want?
They want the same thing that all of us want: certainty.
If there is one thing the human mind cannot bear, it is having our well-thought out categories challenged.
The only way we are able to walk around every day without flying off the edge of this chaotic world is because we have constructed an elaborate system of How Things Work and How Things Ought To Be Done.
Unfortunately, Jesus does not really care about the categories we have constructed.
He breaks every box we’ve ever built for others and for ourselves to live in, and he’s not very polite about doing it.
The Pharisees and the townspeople want certainty on their terms, and they can’t get it.
Another way of seeing that eternal human quest is calling it the longing of the human heart for peace.
We’re tired of fighting all the time—fighting our circumstances, fighting our own bad habits and sin, fighting each other, fighting ourselves.
The obstacles to any sort of real peace seem insurmountable.
How many of us carry with us now a heavy burden that we struggle to hide from the world?
How many of us wonder who would still love us if they knew our darkness?
How many of us try to turn inward for silence in prayer and find only a raging storm?
It seems as though war is our default environment. Help us, Jesus. We are blind to your will. We cannot see a way to your peace.
Be careful, though.
This is a dangerous prayer.
Jesus is liable to come up and start spreading mud all over our faces.
The blind man didn’t even ask for healing and it happened to him.
And maybe that is our answer.
We cannot find peace because we have not asked for healing.
And when healing comes, it does not come with a chorus of angels floating down a rainbow.
It comes with a handful of mud and spit in our eyes.
The blind man gets healed whether he wants to or not.
So it is for us.
Jesus is not going to wait around for us to figure out the right question to ask or the right prayer to lift up.
We remain blind beggars on the street, desperate for crumbs of affection and sustenance from sources that will never truly help us.
The blind man will never be healed by coins handed out by kind strangers.
We will never be healed by buying more things or getting a promotion or having more Facebook friends.
Mercifully, Jesus is not interested in what we think we want, and he is not the least bit hesitant about barging into our lives and slapping a handful of mud in our faces.
What are the ways in which Jesus has barged into your life before?
It can happen in everyday miracles like barely missing hitting someone in traffic or seeing the first daffodil of the season.
It can happen in great big miracles like a loved one recovering from cancer or finding the courage to answer a call to ministry.
But this mud business is still problematic.
It is not a comfortable way to be healed.
It is messy, dirty, publically embarrassing, and extremely intimate to have Jesus spread his own saliva on your eyes mixed with dirt.
Jesus frankly could not have found a better way to poke fun us.
This method of healing taps into every Episcopalian’s worst nightmare: messy, dirty, publically embarrassing, and extremely intimate.
Could there at least be some sherry afterwards or something?
So how has Jesus smeared mud on your face and how do you wish he would do it again today?
It’s happened to me.
It’s happened to me when I thought my own personal battles would kill me and they ended up showing me how to live at the foot of the Cross and listen for the suffering of others.
Maybe you’ve had mud and spit flung in your face in an almost literal sense.
Maybe you’ve felt abandoned and reviled for standing up for justice and truth.
Maybe you’ve wondered why a church full of people can seem so lonely.
Is there a gift of healing within some situation in your life that feels like mud in your eyes?
Right, so Jesus not only heals the man and then sends him off to wash, when he hears through the grapevine that the man now faces religious and social consequences for being healed, he strides right back into the mess.
He could have left town and left people asking, “Who was that masked man?” But, as per usual, Jesus has to get into the thick of things with the Pharisees.
This is why we love Our Lord.
If there are consequences to our being healed, he will be there with us.
He doesn’t just heal us and ride off into the sunset.
He helps us understand why we are healed, that we may be “Sent” to help others be healed and be closer to him. (Jesus sent the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam–Siloam means “sent”.)
Think of some times in your life when you have been healed, but things haven’t been a bed of roses afterwards.
Maybe a faltering friendship has been repaired, but there’s still a lot of work of reconciliation and forgiveness that has to happen.
Maybe a physical illness has been healed, but there are still medical bills and handling missed work.
Maybe a hurting faith has been healed but now there are real actions to take and sacrifices to make.
So let us take this as another gift of Jesus to us—this search for peace that may not end up in the place we think we want to be.
Jesus may not bring healing to us the way we think we want it.
Because peace does not mean perfection.
Peace means knowing that Jesus is looking for us, searching us out when being healed turns out to hurt.
Peace is having Jesus standing right there beside us, defending us against our own insecurities and sinful temptations as we discover that life goes on even after a miracle.
So what are we called to do in the face of this knowledge?
As ever, we are called to imitate Christ.
That means working for healing between each other and in the world even if it means getting down in the dirt and spitting on it, getting our hands dirty and then having the gall to smear it on someone else’s face.
Sometimes Christianity is not a very polite thing, and no matter how much we as Episcopalians may cringe, Jesus does not exactly ring the doorbell when he ushers in the Kingdom.
Note: This does not mean that we trample all over people with misplaced zeal, but it does mean that we pray with courage and love boldly, love loudly, love to the point that people start asking what all that ruckus is over at the church.
Because the place we will find peace is in the midst of a disastrous truth.
Peace never comes from running away and hiding from conflict.
Peace comes from tromping into the middle of the mess and following Jesus the Mudslinger into the thick of things, sloshing love out all over everything and tripping over each other in a chaotic celebration of God’s healing grace.
Where is peace? Peace is in the eye of the storm.
Peace is at the center of a conflict that we face boldly, heal messily, and then chase after each other to keep caring in the aftermath.
Peace is finding with joy that our healing does not look like we thought it would.
Peace is knowing that while things may seem dark to our understanding, Jesus is the light of the world and our constant companion.
In our beloved psalm today, we are told that the Lord will lead us to green pastures and still waters.
Just watch out for that glop of mud to the face.