Nothing Left to Lose
by Michele McDevitt
Fourth Sunday in Lent
John 9 - blind man healed
Today’s Gospel lesson speaks of a situation that some of us may have been in before. It is a situation where a tremendous and unexpected gift caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, sort of like those stories when, for example, people hit the lottery. Or, an unexpected pregnancy, the award of an inheritance, landing a job you didn’t think you had a shot at.
Sometimes, a wonderful gift shows up in our lives, and frankly, we don’t know what to do with or about it. We didn’t expect it, and we’re not all that sure that it’s going to fit in, no matter how wonderful it is.
Unexpectedly, without warning, and using methods that we might find a little repulsive, Jesus heals a blind beggar who never asked Jesus to be healed. This man never asked for healing from anyone; in fact, we don’t hear the blind beggar speak until after he is no longer blind.
Essentially, Jesus heals this man to make a point to his disciples: that there is no cause and effect connection between sin and disability or disease as the popular religion of the time purported. In any case, this man who Jesus healed must have had some faith. He follows Jesus’ directions to go to the pool of Siloam and wash.
He walks at least from one area of Jerusalem to another, with dirt from the very road they walked on stuck to his eyes, made wet by Jesus’ saliva. Being blind from birth, he may have been able to move around the city independently, but he could have suffered stares or other sorts of humiliation as he likely hobbled through the city with mud on his eyes.
But, being a beggar, probably no one paid him much attention. He was completely dependent on the compassion of society for his livelihood, even his life. His situation is like so many others of our society who are unable to care for themselves.
A saying “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” was made famous in a Janis Joplin song. This is a man we assume has nothing left to lose; no family of his own, no possessions, no job, nowhere to go, and so he follows Jesus’ directions.
Of course, the story doesn’t really begin until this man has his sight. From the moment he returns to his own neighborhood able to see for the first time in his life, people start to talk. Not to him, but about him, even while he is standing right there – which is again, so typical of the way we treat people with disabilities or debilitating illness; I am guilty of doing it myself.
Our society has not come far beyond Jewish tradition. Our societal behavior towards ill, infirm and disabled people still silently communicates, one, that they are to blame for their lack of wholeness as we perceive it, and two, that they cannot take full responsibility for their lives.
Even in the Gospel lesson, this man is referred to as the blind man or the man who was blind, even after he has been healed. Although he testifies of God’s great gift to him to those who ask, unassisted, people still don’t know what to say to him, what to call him, what to do with him, or even how to think of him now that he seems to have miraculously become someone just like them.
This Gospel lesson focuses more on how the man’s healing affects people around him than how it affected him. People are forced to react; they cannot ignore him anymore. As far as his neighbors are concerned, the gift of the beggar’s healing is an unexpected, reckless surprise, given to seemingly an undeserving man. And like other unexpected wonderful gifts, no one knows what to do with it.
So they take the man to the people who they believe are the holders of knowledge, the subject matter experts: the Pharisees. The Pharisees ask the man to explain his healing, and with a sense of proclamation, the man explains how he was healed.
But is the gift given from God and proclaimed by the man enough for the Pharisees to believe? Well, the Pharisees have an entire legal, judicial and spiritual system to uphold. And in their system, it is believed that those who have an illness or disability have it because they have sinned against God; this is the same belief about which the disciples asked Jesus.
So the Pharisees are required to test the validity of this gift of healing, because it undermines their claim to knowledge. They must interrogate the one to whom this great gift is given.
Has the man lost everything? Is he really one who has nothing left to lose? Not yet. In fact, while still blind, he had membership in the Jewish community. Even though he was relegated to the margins of this society, he still had his faith as one born as a Jew.
In the society that rejected him, he knew his place. Now, because he has proclaimed freely the great gift of his sight, his place in the community is undermined. He used to know what was important, a priority. He was not a priority in the old society.
Now, the Pharisees themselves, the holders of knowledge, have made him a priority, which in itself must have been troubling to him. They are determined to figure out the validity of his testimony, his healing, HIM. They want to know if he is a believer of Jesus rather than a Jew.
Can he call himself that and leave behind all he has known as a Jew? What shall he call himself now, when the society that named him “the blind beggar” now does not know what to call him since he has been healed?
The Gospel lesson, shockingly enough, goes on to state that the man’s own parents require him to testify of his own healing independent of their support. The man’s parents in essence wash their hands of their own son rather than make any statement that would jeopardize their membership in Jewish community.
So here is another possible loss: if the man had his parents while he was still blind, it seems that now that he has his sight, his parents are added to his short list of somethings left to lose.
So by merely having faith in Jesus – walking through town to wash in the pool of Siloam, and coming back healed-- this man, who seemingly had nothing left to lose, lost the few things he had securely. He had a place in society as a beggar and a nobody, which may have been uncomfortable but was at least secure.
This he has lost. His parents chose to disavow him rather than attest to a prophet they don’t know, so he has lost support there. Now, he faces the Pharisees himself, with only one thing left to lose: his faith, the community into which he was born.
The Pharisees, bound and determined to uphold their interpretation of the story, seek to have the man disavow Jesus just as his parents did. But this marginalized member of Jewish society understands that to the Pharisees, his testimony of his healing threatens their position as spiritual experts.
So when he is questioned again, he turns the tables on them, accurately tracing their suspicion of his healing to their fear that Jesus could be a true prophet, even the Messiah. When the man reveals their distrust, the Pharisees know that either they lose everything – all their knowledge, position, and power over the Jews – or this man does.
The Pharisees drive him out of the synagogue and officially out of the faith into which he was born. He is now completely free, with nothing left to lose.
It is the newly sighted man’s testimony that Jesus is from God that forces him to leave behind everything he once knew. In the end of the story, we can see the man as either completely free, or with nothing. Remember that Janis Joplin song I mentioned? Another line in the chorus says “I don’t want nothin’ if it ain’t free.”
The sighted man is now free to worship Jesus as the Messiah, but does he really have any other choice, now that he has nothing left?
When God offers us a wonderful, unexpected, unrequested gift that threatens to turn upside down everything that we know and hold dear in our lives, do we receive the gift with an open heart?
Or critically inspect it and wonder how it’s going to “fit into” our lives, not realizing that God intends to break –even explode-- the framework we’ve set around our lives?
If we were threatened with losing everything in which we find security, would we still testify to Jesus?
Finally: Do we only come to God when we feel we have nothing left to lose? Do we finally believe when we have nothing else to believe in?
Jesus wants us to depend on Him as if we had nothing else. In our walk with Jesus, let us always seek to come to him as if we had nothing left to lose, with open, waiting, sometimes desperate hearts.
Let us come as the newly sighted man, shocked by the depth of God’s recklessly bestowed mercy, not clinging to any paradigm or person, but solely dependent on His grace.
Like the sighted man, let us, at the end of the story, be able to place Jesus above all those things we hold dear. Let us see, hear, touch, and experience the bounty of gifts that Jesus is giving us right now, and wait with open hearts. Let us have nothing left to lose but Jesus, the only One we cannot lose, for it is in dependence on Him alone we are free.