Summary: Jesus used something common, dirty, even insulting to transform the world of the blind man and to give him the gift of sight for the first time.
Many of you know the joys of keeping that most unruly, unpredictable, but absolutely crucial-to-life “pet” known as . . . a septic tank.
There are some unbendable rules for septic tanks.
1) They will always back up the day your daughter’s wedding reception is being held in your back yard.
2) They will overflow and need to be re-dug immediately after you’ve just completed re-landscaping.
3) The septic tank alarm always goes off between 1-5 a.m.
4) Your neighbor’s septic tank alarm goes off when they have gone on vacation.
But the most important thing about a septic tank? Like any living thing, you must “feed” them regularly. Every month or so you must flush down a new packet of lovely little bacteria, a new infusion of the little critters that digest waste and keep the septic tank an organic, living system. Without a fresh batch of “germs,” your “system” is doomed to fail. For a septic tank “germs” are good.
We live in an increasingly “sealed” set of systems. Some of you may have worked or lived in a building where the windows do not open? We have to install carbon monoxide monitors in our homes because there is no way for fresh air to enter unless we intentionally invite it in by opening a door or window. A furnace malfunction can mean death.
And as we seal out wind and weather we stamp out germs. I dare you to find a soap that is NOT marketed as “anti-bacterial.” We keep hand sanitizers in our cars, on our desks, in our pockets. Ten years ago “Mr. Monk’s” fussy demands for a “wipe, wipe” after shaking hands with someone was totally funny. Today it is SOP, “standard operating procedure.”
Germs ARE scary: AIDS, Avian Flu, Cholera, TB. Yet with the very huge exception of AIDS/HIV, there are fewer incidents of immune system diseases — illnesses that attack and compromise or destroy our body’s immune defense system in the so-called “third world” countries than in the most technologically advanced countries. In other words, people who live in the cleanest, most sanitized conditions bear a greater risk of developing a condition that makes them MORE susceptible to “bad bugs” than those who live in what we would call “filth.”
Maybe, like a septic tank system, we need to encourage a few good germs to keep us healthy and alive.
It is not just the twenty-first century that has been obsessed with “dirt” and “uncleanness.” In Judaism the laws for “ritual purity” were developed over centuries, rooted in Torah prohibitions and expanded by countless meanings or interpretations. There were rules “for” and rules “against” every aspect of life. All cultures have social fences that make some things “acceptable” or “clean” while other things are “unacceptable” or “dirty.”
Blow your nose in a tissue — perfectly acceptable.
Blow your nose on your sleeve — unbelievably gross!
Spit in the sink — with the water running please! — while brushing your teeth, acceptable.
Spit on the sidewalk — it used to be you could get arrested!
Spit in someone’s face, and that ultimate sign of contempt will almost certainly get you punched!
Jesus had a strange sense of what was “dirty” and what was ‘clean.” He did not accept the boundaries that had been drawn by tradition and authority. He ate meals with the “unacceptable” — tax collectors, Samaritans, outcasts. He actually touched lepers, bleeding women, mad men, and Gentiles.
And in today’s gospel text, he used his own spit and plain old dirt to make a mud-pie poultice of “polluted” stuff that he smeared over the face of an unsuspecting, unprepared blind beggar. Under John’s story you can hear Jesus saying, “Here’s spit in your eye — now go wash it out.”
Gross. Disgusting. Dirty. Unsanitary.
Healing. Miraculous. Restorative. Powerful.
Jesus used something common, dirty, even insulting to transform the world of the blind man and to give him the gift of sight for the first time. Jesus wasn’t just spreading saliva and dirt around. He was spreading around God’s miraculous love and the divine power of deliverance.
The Pharisees in today’s gospel text took extra exception to Jesus’ mud-pie miracle because it occurred on the Sabbath. Without even breaking a sweat, the Pharisees could find three obvious Sabbath infractions — healing, kneading, and washing. They could have easily found more without even trying.
The fact that the healed man had been blind from birth suggested some congenital sinfulness on his part. The whole episode — with spit, sinners, and Sabbath-breaking — was cause for accusations and censure. Not one person thought to celebrate sightedness. Not one person congratulated the healed man. Not one person took him to gaze at the Temple, or feast on the sight of his parents, or even to look at his own face in a mirror. Not one person told him “This is blue,” or “This a goat,” or “This is your mother.” All the healed man got from his community was an inquisition. Then an excommunication.