A Cycle – 4th Sunday of Lent 23
How many times have you seen a scene in a movie where someone spit in the face of someone they despise. Spitting on someone is never depicted as good thing and yet today we hear in the gospel how Jesus spits on the ground. Then he stirs it in the earth to makes a glob of dirt solid enough to smear on a man’s eyes. Disgusting enough you would cringe if someone attempted to throw it at you. Why did Jesus do it this way instead of just commanding his sight to be restored. That is the way he restored the sight of Bartimaeus (Mk.10:52). But he chose this strange method for a reason which certainly escapes the Pharisees who are outraged not because of how unsanitary that seems but because he cured this man on the Sabbath.
What can we learn from this passage to help us experience exactly what that man experienced on that Sabbath day. In last week’s gospel about the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at that well, you may note a parallel with this story. It is in the unexpected yet in the very ordinary contact with Jesus. He is always doing something challenging and invites us to go deeper to encounter God’s mercy and to open our eyes to his presence. Last week it was a drink of water, this week it is spit and dirt. Both stories reveal how opinions of others impact us and limit us, but God desires to erase those limitations which keep us separated from him.
Last week it is the townspeople who have labeled her a harlot. She was not worthy of their friendship for she is a sinner. Today the townspeople believe this man is blind because of sins committed. That belief was popular in the Old Testament where sickness was viewed as the result of evil in the lives of sinners. Jesus in the New Testament treats disease and infirmities as the work of evil forces which could be overcome by relying on the power of God. In both gospels we see Jesus confront those Old Testament beliefs and we see how blind we can be because we like the Pharisees cannot get past what we have been taught to believe.
It is the disciples who set the stage for Jesus to show us how blind we have been. Why is this man blind they ask; is it because of his sin or that of his parents? Jesus answers, neither it is so for the works of God to be made visible through him. But why spit and make a mud cake with the clay? I believe it is because we hesitate to embrace the grace of forgiveness given to us by Jesus. We are like the woman at the well would rather discuss theology with Him rather than allow him into that deepest wound caused by sin. We do not trust God’s mercy because our sin tells us we are not worthy to be in His presence.
This blind man did not even acknowledge Jesus as Bartimaeus did. He was just there by the road begging for alms. He became the topic of a theological discussion started by the disciples. The woman at the well did not know Jesus and his growing reputation. Yet, these two individuals become the key to us understanding how Jesus desires to open each of us to His transforming power. The first challenge is for them and us to listen, to hear His voice, to feel His presence and to allow Him the freedom to touch us where we need it the most. He offers the woman a life changing transformation from harlot to evangelist because Jesus shows her how her sin is not a barrier to who she is in His eyes. The blind man was offered more than a few alms by his encounter with Jesus. He was offered a new life, because he like the woman saw how God desires to change each of us from beggars into witnesses.
The spitting and making mud simply shows us how surprising God can be and how we want to confine God to the divine realm decor and distance. We seem to forget how Jesus’s ministry was far from the normal acceptable reverent behavior. He touched lepers. He dined with sinners. Amid a mass of people, He allows them to touch Him. In his own words He came to show us the Father. Yet, the people of his home town wanted to throw him off a cliff. While the Pharisees were constantly appalled at his words and behavior.
How often did Jesus use ordinary things to show us his extra ordinary love and mercy. Why would spit and mud seem disgusting when He tells us we are to drink His blood and eat his flesh? We need to pay attention to how present God is to us in the ordinary things in our lives. We need our own eyes opened so that we might say, “where is this Son of God” so that I may worship Him. We should be attentive to the way He will come to us if we would only begin to seek Him. He will speak to us if only we would listen and ask. He will embrace us if only we would invite Him into our presence.
Allow Jesus to give each of us sight right now as you reflect on this gospel. Or allow Jesus to be beside you during mass this Sunday. During your prayer time invite Jesus to smear our eyes with His spittle and mix it with the dirt of our lives. Pray to have eyes opened to see Him with a new vision of who it was that touched us. Invite us to anoint us so we can become the individuals who tell everyone our God is among us and He desires to give us a vision of how deeply we are loved and cherished by God.