In our Gospel this morning a man is put on trial for becoming well. This is classic Jesus. Jesus seems to have this penchant for taking people on the outskirts of a place and setting them on a course right for the center. We saw it last week with the woman at the well, someone who drew her water in the heat of the day for the sake of a little peace and quiet who ends up evangelizing her whole home town about a man who told her everything she’d ever done, and then that he was the Messiah. It worked out well for her, but maybe she had a talent for galvanizing people, or maybe she simply needed a reason to start speaking to them again. For the man born blind we hear about today, when he receives his sight, things do not go smoothly. Everyone is used to him being the blind beggar. You can hear how even just describing him that way we’re not dignifying him with a name but only a description of what was wrong with him and the subeconomic place he had to take because of it. His community does not even recognize him anymore when he becomes a well person. They’re so used to having him crouched down in a corner of the street, happy to receive anything no matter how small, not walking around proud like a poster boy for miracles. They can’t stand it. They take him to the elders to explain himself and the elders get in a tiff about whether or not the sacred day of rest was broken for this miracle to occur. “This man who gave you sight must be a sinner,” they say,”because he sidestepped our laws to heal you.” And the man born blind is having none of it. “I don’t know if he’s a sinner or not but I know that I can see. Why are you asking so many questions? Do you want to be his disciples?”
I love how saucy the man who had been blind can be. But see, that can happen when someone who’s been relegated to the shadows of the world gets a chance to stand up in the light. They start asking for things. They start to talk back. They start to get this crazy idea in their head that they themselves are worthy of respect and love. We have a whole lot of people standing up in the light these days and a whole lot of others who get mad about it. We have sick folks who claim they are worthy of medical care regardless of their ability to pay. We have immigrants and refugees who say that they are worthy of the safety and asylum we can give them regardless of where they’ve come from. We have black folk who say they are worthy to be treated the same by the prison industrial complex as their white counterparts. We have trans folk who say they are worthy to use the bathroom of their choice. I wonder where they get this idea of worthiness from? I’m afraid it might not be the Church. See, at least with Jesus, Jesus extends a hand to the man born blind and says, here, stand, see. Jesus extends that hand, full of spit and mud, right past any ideas the people around him have about sin. Jesus extends that hand, full of spit and mud, right past all the laws his people have about what you can and cannot do on a day when you’re supposed to rest. And when that man gets driven back out, pushed back down again, Jesus shows up to be beside him. Does the Church do the same? I’m afraid that most folks these days don’t stand up in the light because they’ve been invited, they stand up in the light because there’s no room in the darkness left. Does a sick person advocate for better health care because she knows herself as loved or because she can’t afford to pay the bills anymore? Does a refugee ask for help because the Church has taught him that he is worthy to ask or because there’s a gun at his back and nowhere else to turn? And when we see the world push them out and put them down do we show up beside them? Do we have the right to say, “hey, they kicked me out, too”?
This week I was invited by our Rapid Response Team to attend the federal immigration hearing of the son of a member of our community. Bev called me and asked me if I’d come and wear my collar and so I did. I had questions about what good it’d do, or maybe they were more like questions about how I’d fit it in during an already busy week. But when I showed up in that sterile waiting room and saw it full of St. Michael’s, I knew what was good. At one point our group was so boisterous that we had to keep it down, but how much better of a problem is that to have than to be waiting in silence alone? Was there power in our accompaniment? Did it matter to our friend when she had to offer excruciating testimony before an unknown judge to know that she had a room of people behind her who were there for her support? I’m going to be bold and say that yes, it did make a difference, at least that’s what I intuited from her gratitude. And it’s something we need more of. It’s a risk we can afford to take. I will even say it’s necessary to God, who desires his incarnate presence, as fleshy as a hand of spit and mud, to reach out to wherever there is need for solidarity. Wherever there is a need to know that one is not alone.
The man born blind meets Jesus, and knows him as the Christ. And for this story that means he knows God as someone who desires him to be well, who reaches through thorny issues like sin and worthiness and law and says I am here to be with you, and you are worthy of the light. You are worthy of the light, my friends. Stand tall. Let it shine. Find a stranger and make them your friend and bring them along to bask in it, too. Because God is setting all of us on a course straight for the center, where we will be able to stand tall and shine out for the whole world to see.