Last week we reflected on how we are often called to wait for the Lord to act, and can sometimes fail to be aware that He is standing before us, ready to perform a miracle in our lives, because we have a predetermined view of how we expect the Lord to act for us. I believe that there are a variety of equally useful lessons for us to learn from this miracle.
We see first of all that the man had been born blind. And each one of us, as we consider spiritual things, is born blind. When God created Adam and Eve he gave them all that was required to live a life of holiness and obedience with Him forever. The Holy Spirit had been breathed into them and they were truly alive, both in terms of their human existence, but more importantly, in terms of their relationship with God, who is our true life.
But because they turned from a life directed towards God, and sought to fulfil their own desires apart from God, they found that the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from them, and they were left to their own natural mortality. Not only were they dying in a human sense, but they had entered into a greater death by losing the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The whole of the history of salvation is directed towards the renewal of the life of the Holy Spirit in mankind. In our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, the life-giving relationship of man with God has been restored, and for those who are in Christ, there is a new way of living, and new way of seeing, and indeed a renewed way of being human.
This man was born blind, and we are each of us born blind in regard to God. According to our human ancestry we are in Adam, separated from God and trapped in a mortality from which we cannot escape by ourselves. Now the disciples ask, ‘Who sinned, so that this man was born blind?’ And in one very real sense we can ask the same question. ‘What happened so that we find ourselves in this state?’ It would be easy to blame our fore-fathers, Adam and Eve. Yet we are not the people we know ourselves to be because of them. We are born mortal of mortal parents, as St Cyril says. But we are not born sinners. We become sinners through our own choice.
In our own lives we could perhaps blame many people for the way we have turned out, but the teaching of our Lord directs us to look at our own situation and our own need as an opportunity to see God at work in us and for us. It is though he says to us, do not worry about how you got to where you are. Do not look to blame others for your weaknesses, hurts, failings and sins. Now is the opportunity to meet with God, so that His works may be made manifest in our lives for His glory.
What does our Lord do? On this occasion we do not find that He asks the man who was born blind what he wants. Rather our Lord acts for his salvation even without him being fully aware of what is going on. He spits on the ground and mixes some mud, and then wipes it on the eyes of the blind man. Perhaps this seems a little gross, but in fact it is weighty with spiritual meaning. Adam was made from the dust of the earth in the beginning, and we see here that the Lord is taking the matter from which Adam was formed and is recreating the eyes of this man. More than that, we may take this as an example of that which is done for and in each of us who seek God. The very matter of our human lives is used to bring us to spiritual sight. It is not usually through some special and spiritual revelation that we find our way back to God, but it is through the ordinary things of our human lives which are used and transformed by God.
It is through relationships with godly people that we find Christ. It is in the midst of difficult circumstances that we call out to him. It is in the context of family, friends, work, school and home that he stands before us and anoints our eyes with the ordinary material of our human existence, ordinary material which becomes transforming and life-giving because it is mixed with His own being and presence in our lives.
How did each one of us find ourselves here in this Church, on this morning? Our journey began in an ordinary human way. We read something that made us question, we saw the example of a life lived for Christ, we found an aching emptiness in our lives that nothing could fill. It is in our human lives that God begins his work, and it is with the opportunities our lives present that he leads us towards him.
We should never think that if only the circumstances of our lives were different then we would be such better people, or that we would achieve so much more for God. Here was a man blind from birth, yet God met with him, and took the very dust on which he sat and begged and turned it into a means of light and life. All of this took place without the blind man being fully aware of what God was doing. And in our own lives much of what God is doing for our salvation remains hidden from us while it is happening.
Nevertheless, God does not save us without our consent. In the end God’s work for us must be responded to with faith and obedience. The blind man is instructed to go to the pool of Siloam and wash himself, and he comes back with his sight. Did he expect such a miracle? It is not clear. All we can say is that he was obedient to the word of God, and being obedient he received his sight. Did he know what the Lord had done? He heard something happening around him, and felt the touch of gentle hands on his face spreading something over his eyes. Then he heard the voice saying, ‘Go and wash’, and he felt moved to obey.
Of course there is a reference here to baptism. Baptism is often called ‘illumination’, and there is a real sense in which the grace given there is the giving of spiritual sight. The Lord is always working something out in our lives and calls us to be obedient to his voice, and in being obedient we suddenly understand what God is doing. Let us all consider what God is doing in our hearts and lives, those lessons he is teaching us, and let us be careful to be obedient when he calls us to take some action. Each time we hear his voice is an opportunity we will not want to miss. The blind man had waited all his life. The man who could not walk had waited thirty-eight years.
May the Lord find us ready to be obedient in all those things which he is asking of us, so that we might find our spiritual sight restored. And seeing more clearly that we might serve him more completely. To his glory. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.