Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Isiah 43: 18-21, John 9
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”[e] 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord,[g] I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
- John 9:4 Other ancient authorities read I
- John 9:4 Other ancient authorities read us
- John 9:22 Gk him
- John 9:22 Or the Christ
- John 9:35 Other ancient authorities read the Son of God
- John 9:36 Sir and Lord translate the same Greek word
- John 9:38 Sir and Lord translate the same Greek word
Most of you gathered here this morning know that I have a son on the Autism spectrum.
He was diagnosed when he was 2 ½. I heard from specialists and therapists that the key to his greatest chances for a “successful life” was to get him into programs and therapies as soon as possible.
So, we started him off when he was not yet quite three years old in the Early Childhood class in our local school district.
We spent 2 ½ years with him in that Early Childhood classroom. Then it was time to transition to Kindergarten. After 3 weeks, the school principal called me.
I’ll never forget what he said: “Mrs. Vaupel, I need to schedule a time for you to come in and discuss your son. He just doesn’t fit in here. He doesn’t belong and we don’t have the resources to help him. We are recommending sending him out of district to an Autism classroom.”
They had already set up a tour. We (my beloved and I) reluctantly made the 25-minute drive, and met with the classroom teacher, the aides, and the Director of the Special Services program for St. Clair County.
We toured the building and watched children interact with each other in the Autism classrooms, as well as on the playground and lunchroom with the mainstream “typically-abled” students.
The people, the teachers, the students…the building…that was where I found God’s kingdom. A place built to fit my son…for the first time in his life…instead of a place my son had to fit into.
One of the best parts of this WHOLE thing were the other students there, the students in mainstream classrooms. They journeyed with the children in the Autism classrooms, together.
They shared in their successes and rejoiced with them. They shared in the tough times, the hurtful and painful times, offering encouragement and support.
This “new thing” was my first life-giving drink in the wilderness. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed the word from God loudly. “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?”
The wilderness of not-belonging is a life-taking place of darkness. It’s 2000+ years of widespread ableism, ableism that has kept God’s beloved “little ones” from the embrace of a loving, accepting community of faith.
Ableism believes people with disabilities need to “fixed,” and can’t find their place as a full member of society or, sad to say, of the church.
Ableism creeps into our lives and congregations without our realizing it. Being “accessible,” for example, means far more than just building a wheelchair ramp.
Real accessibility can include everything from provision for service dogs to braille resources to easy to grip tools and easy to navigate workplaces—and sanctuaries.
People thoughtlessly and routinely use Ableist language—words like “crazy,” “insane,” or “retarded,”—never realizing that, beyond the words, they’re speaking to their own feelings about the people those words so cruelly label.
Ableism means taking privilege for granted, using handicapped parking places and restroom stalls, taking up space in crowded elevators instead of taking the stairs and leaving room for people with disabilities who don’t have other options.
Ableism is assuming that people with disabilities need help without asking them if they do, denying them their independence and autonomy.
Ableism is feeling entitled to know how people became disabled, demanding explanation and justification from everyone whom we see as “different.”
“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”
Ableism is assuming that we can see all disabilities, denying help and resources to those with mental illness, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and chronic illness.
Ableism, bottom line, is seeing disabilities of all sorts as defects, rather than differences, and treating the differently abled as less than human, something “other.”
For that very reason, Jesus’ healings can be troubling and hurtful to persons with disabilities. Most of the time these miracles of Jesus’ ministry are just “done” to people as if they have no voice and no choice.
We try to explain it away. Why wouldn’t a person that isn’t able to walk on their own want to rise from their mat and walk?
Why wouldn’t a person covered with bloody, scaly skin diseases want to have flawless human flesh?
Why wouldn’t a person born without the ability of sight want to see?
The story from John’s gospel today offers a few “new things” or “new ways” that SHOULD turn communities on their heads:
1- When questioned about “who” sinned and caused the man to be born blind, Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents.”
Of course, the “majority” of us in the modern age would agree, but in Biblical times many blamed things like this on the sins of the person or her/his parents.
2- When the parents were questioned about whether or not their son was born blind, they answered, “We know he’s our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.”
John says they were afraid that religious leaders would exclude them from the synagogue, their spiritual home.
I see them giving their son the power to speak for himself, while at the same time urging the authorities to LISTEN to him—to his voice and his experience.
3- The healed man’s self-assured sass hilariously turns the tables on the authorities. He’s now questioning them. “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
The man stood his sacred ground, rejected power and tradition, and told them, “I’m free. You have no power over me. God is doing a ‘new thing,’ and that ‘new thing’ has given me a place where I belong.”
This man’s parents stood their sacred ground and said, “Hear him, see him. He has a voice and can speak for himself.”
Human built walls that separate and divide came down. A way opened in the wilderness for this man through Jesus’ healing touch.
At the end of this story, the priests expel the newly healed man from the synagogue…but was he ever really a part of it, anyway?
Wasn’t he always kept at further than arms-length and on the outside, standing alone in the wilderness so others could keep themselves safe from him?
Is that who God calls us to be, people cowering behind the walls of our all-too-the-same communities of faith, leaving those who don’t fit into our boxes and molds outside?
Our place, Jesus tells us, is outside the walls, in the wilderness with the “little ones” who are a beautiful part of creation. We’re to walk at their side, helping them meet God where they are.
Wheelchair ramps are just the start. Once folks make it inside one of our churches, what waits for them there?
Is it a community of tolerance that pretends? Or a community that will reach out in love as people of God….who will sometimes get it wrong…who will say and do the wrong things with the best of intentions…but will keep working and trying and clinging to the hope of creating a space and an intentional community…where that person with a visible or invisible disability belongs and feels and encounters that love of God?
My God of accessibility colors outside the lines and calls us to do the same. God calls us to make a way in the wilderness where there was none before, a way that sees every child of God as valued in their embodied diversity and worthy of love.
Working to create those communities and spaces is the song and the call that God has placed on my heart, and gives me the strength and encouragement to do the work that I do. The journey is open and accessible to all. And I thank God for that. Amen.