Conversion can be dirty business. It has been for many people. It certainly is in the gospel reading for this coming Sunday — John 9:1-41. For a man born without normal eyesight, Jesus’ disciples did what most of us do when we don’t understand things — they began talking about the implications of his circumstances rather than trying to understand them.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
“Neither . . . ,” Jesus answered. This is where the dirty business starts. Jesus spat on the ground, mixed his spittle with the dirt to make mud, then rubbed the spit and dirt in the eyes of the man who had initially been an object of theological discussion.
Using clichés and issue-dodging conversation about things we don’t understand (or things we think we understand but really don’t) is far more comfortable than trying to understand the blindness — in others and ourselves. That’s what those who witnessed the change of the blind man did. For forty-one verses their evasive conversations and actions continued. Don’t worry, we won’t read all of them.
Out of this story came the hymn that is most identified today with the Christian faith:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.
For John Newton, who wrote the hymn, the blindness was his country’s (England’s) stance toward slavery and slave trading. Newton was instrumental in persuading William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, to campaign for twenty-six years against the British slave trade until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.
What are the states of blindness we live in today? I want to talk about some of these Sunday —issues that have dogged the Church and our society for years. As I heard the late Phyllis Tickle say about seven years ago, “Until we come to an understanding of what it means to be human, we will continue to wrestle with this stranger in the dark.”
Horse-racing jockeys have their own kinship with Sunday’s text. It’s in the form of a toast to fellow jockeys: “Here’s mud in your eye.” Its meaning is simple — may the winning horse kick mud into the eyes of those who follow.
We could even say that blindness is in the eyes of the beholder. I’ll let you decide. See you Sunday as we watch Jesus heal a blind man.