Gifts We Don’t Ask For But Get Anyway
Ever get a gift that you didn’t ask for?
I did–it was a roasting pan.
Now the reason I got the gift was because my other roasting pan was too big for my new stove. So on the one hand, I’m glad I have it. But on the other hand, that means I have to find time to use it.
Sometimes, surprise gifts can cause problems…..(Please click “>>” to see the rest of the message)
The man with blindness on John 9:1-41 is given a gift for which he doesn’t ask. Go ahead, read the scripture. You’ll find he doesn’t ask to have his sight restored. In fact, -and it’s something I struggle with- the blind man is used as a teaching tool by Jesus. Jesus’ contact with the man rises as a result of the disciples’ question, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
Ok–I’m gonna digress for a moment and give a personal opinion: that’s a pretty awful question. But back in those days, there was a belief that physical challenges emerged as a result of sin. (We can’t change history–we can only acknowledge its difficulties).
Now, if you expect Jesus’ answer to be slightly more comforting, hang on to your hat because on the surface, it sounds anything BUT comforting:
3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
So….he was born that way so God could work in him. Well, that sounds pretty horrible too. Does God “inflict illness” on people so a miracle can happen through them? And we wonder why some people who suffer with pain or illness feel -to this day- that they have been cursed by God? Hmmm…..
So–setting my problems and questions with the text aside—let’s keep looking at this story.
Jesus goes to the blind man, takes some mud, spits in it, wipes it on the man’s eyes and says “Go wash in the pool of Siloam”. The man does what Jesus tells him and his vision is restored.
Now, I think it would be a MUCH better story if the writer of John talked about how this man was able to quit begging—how he was able to get a job and support himself—I want a testimony of how his life became perfect all after this glorious downpour of God’s transformative grace rained upon him.
But I don’t get that. And we don’t get that.
All we get is the trouble the gift causes.
Sometimes, we’re afraid to talk about gifts–because people could think we’re weird. Or maybe we just don’t know how to talk about amazing things we don’t understand.
Like the parents of the man who had been born blind…..they don’t fully understand what happened to their son. But they know some of the Pharisees (not all–remember Nicodemus earlier in the gospel–he alluded to some dissent in the body of Pharisees—he being one of those dissenters) think Jesus is not “of God”. Those Pharisees could have them thrown out of the temple-which would mean they lose their sense of community….which would ALSO mean they’d be estranged from God. So rather than talk with joy about the surprise gift their son received, they said “He’s old enough. Let him speak for himself.”
So he does. More than once.
Sometimes when you speak your truth to power, nobody believes you.
Sometimes, when you speak your truth to power it causes problems.
Sometimes when you speak your truth to power, it gets you interrogated, berated and castigated….especially if what you’re talking about seems totally impossible at worst or highly improbable at least.
Well, that sometime was the “now” for that man. He spoke about his gift–answered their questions and he got thrown out of his religious community. The thing his parents feared would happen to them, happened to him.
Ok…hang on to ALL of that…….
And jump back into some of the things we have learned over these past few weeks about the Johannine community (the community that created the Gospel of John).
They were -likely- at odds with their parent religious community. They saw themselves outside of that community—so to speak because of how they had viewed Jesus. That’s why there are some stories in John that don’t appear in other gospels—and why some of the stories the gospels share with John have different details. There’s probably little academic basis to this, but I like to think the Johannine community thought they had been given some special way of seeing Jesus–a way that was unique to their context but revealed their understanding of God through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. But that gift put them at odds with the established order and the community was fractured.
The surprise gift the man born blind had received from Jesus led to the man’s expulsion from his religious community.
And it was in that expulsion that he had his second encounter with Jesus–a personal encounter—an encounter that resulted in worship and praise. An encounter that led to Jesus’ further self-revealing. One who had once been blind, now sees.
I don’t know who Jesus is for you. But I know who He is for me–the Christ—fully God and fully human. As I read scripture, and pray and wonder, that remains my truth and my vision of him.
This Lent, do me a favour. Take a few minutes every day and figure out who Jesus is for you.
And if you don’t find Him in your sanctuary on a Sunday but see him visiting shut ins, follow Him.
And if you don’t hear his voice in the weekly message but hear it in the voice of the person who feeds the homeless….follow Him.
And if you don’t see him in the magazines and resources scattered around the Narthex of your church but see him the pages of the Bible your Grama gave you when you were seven and you’re feeling called to look at now, follow Him and read the stories about him for yourself.
Look for Jesus in the unexpected places and you just may see him outside of the box—a gift for us to unpack with all its implicit troubles and all his explicit graces–even the ones for which we don’t ask.
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