I have had glasses since I got my first pair of readers senior year of high school. I started wearing glasses all the time in my early twenties and I have never worn or tried to wear contacts. When I was in high school, I tried to put a lens in for some reason which I can’t now remember, and it didn’t go well. I don’t remember the details other than I never could get my eye to stay open while I put the contact against it. Every time I got close, my eyelid would close, even when I tried to hold it open.
Fast forward about thirty years or so to a week or so ago when my wife and I were standing in the bathroom getting ready to go somewhere and she starts talking about contacts with Avery. Thanks to the wonderful genetics we have¾or maybe, probably it has more to do with the computer revolution of the later twentieth century¾everyone in our family wears corrective lenses. So, after a bit of conversation and slight bit of cajoling, I tried to put a contact lens in my eye.
I thought to myself, I can do this. It’s been years since I tried it and I was kid. I’m older, more mature. No problem. Besides, if I can learn to wear contacts, I can wear whatever sunglasses I like. A few other positive thoughts about the idea of contacts passed through my mind and I decided this was going to be the start of something new for me.
I stood in front of the mirror with a lens in one hand, prying my eyelid apart and pushing the lens toward my eye. I blinked and pulled it back. I tried again, intent on keeping my eye open this time, fighting against my impulse to protect my eye from this intrusion. And yet, I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried to put that flimsy piece of plastic against my eyeball, it was a lost cause. Despite me trying to get a death grip on my eyelid, it closed.
Every. Single. Time.
I tried for about five minutes before I got tired of pulling out eyelashes and getting them stuck in the corner of my eyes. Finally, I gave up. I think I’ll just stick with glasses.
Blindness, as I understand it, affects somewhere between 35 and 40 million people in the world are considered blind, either completely without sight or only able to distinguish light and darkness. In our day and age, we have medical advancements and surgeries that may offer some relief, some aid, and even independence to those who deal with the loss of sight. In our story today, we find a man who is not having to struggle with the issue of contacts or glasses or any other form of corrective measures. He is simply blind, a condition that the narrative says had existed from birth.
In the ancient world, blindness reduced you to be being completely dependent on family, friends, or the kindness of strangers. Blindness, like most other illnesses, was considered a sign that the person had sinned and was out of favor with the divine or was an unfortunate soul born to someone else who had sinned. As our story begins, the disciples are trying to figure this out and they ask Jesus, why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins? The assumption was that someone had offended God, and this was the punishment for their offense.
Jesus says neither of these is true.
This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.
This blind man exists to show that Jesus has come to illuminate the world, to bring light and understanding of who God is and why we are here. As an example of this, Jesus spits on the ground, makes some mud eyes, and covers the man’s eyes. He sends the blind man to wash the mud off and after the mud is gone, the man is no longer blind.
In many ways, this encounter is a way of showing us what happens when we realize our need to follow Jesus, our awakening. Some people call this awakening to the presence of God ‘getting saved’ or ‘being justified’. The simple truth is, it is a personal, spiritual reorientation, a turning of ourselves toward the direction of God that we find in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This turning or reorientation is not a one time for all thing but a daily task that requires us to maintain our focus on the way of Jesus. We do not so this alone, however. Jesus promised in John 14 that he would, ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The Holy Spirit is there to guide us, direct us, and help us to find and see our footing as we walk.
Back to our scripture, when Jesus had applied the mud to the man’s eyes, he sent the man to wash off. Similarly, we too learn to clean out our lives so to speak. We learn to purge ourselves of things like blatant acts of brokenness and willful disobedience. We become aware of sin of omission, things we should have done but did not. Along with these things, we learn to see how we developed the bad habits and attitudes we had as we learn to trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Once the man had washed the mud off, he could see. Imagine the strange visions before his eyes as he saw the people and things of the world, he once was only able to hear and touch. In a similar way, when we grow in our faith and continue our journey, we come to a place of illumination where we too see more clearly. We begin to love God and neighbor in the agape, self-denying way that God intends us to do. We begin to see more clearly the Holy Spirit working in and through and around us and begin to understand how we can work with the Spirit in these endeavors.
For those who continue beyond this¾and honestly few of us may get here¾we will come to a place of union with God. At this place in the journey, we come to see as God sees, love as God loves. We become totally given to grace and our very being is changed to mimic completely that of Jesus, our example of what it means to truly live in godliness.
This understanding of the pilgrimage¾one of awakening, purging our brokenness, being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and finding union with God¾is an ancient practice that goes back to some of the earliest understandings of what it means to follow Jesus. We are all somewhere on this journey. Some of us are just waking up. Others, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are cleaning out their souls. Still some are seeing more clearly for the first time their physical and spiritual world and in the process of that coming to union with God.
Two questions come from this: where are you and where is the next step for you? We can’t move forward without knowing where we are, or we may miss a step that we need to take or not learn something that we need to know for our journey. So, first things first, you need to know where you are. Once we know this, we can look to the second question, finding the next step. Are you in need of being awakened? Are you ready to work with the spirit to do a little house cleaning? Are you moving on to a clearer vision of God and the work of God, finding union with God?
Find your place. Take the next step. Continue the pilgrimage.