Fourth Sunday in Lent March 18-19, 2023
“The God Who Spits” John 9:1-41
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The question they asked is as old as the world. There was a man who was blind from the very moment his mother brought him into this world. He never saw her face, the beauty of a tulip, the smile of a friend or the frown of an enemy. He didn’t know the difference between red and blue, green or gold. This curse that this man had wasn’t just some accident. It just didn’t happen. There must be a reason for it. So His disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Job, the guy from the Old Testament, ran into the same question to all the misfortune he faced. One by one, everything that made him a prominent man in his time was gone. He had great wealth, tons of possessions, but in an instant it was all gone. (Sort of like some folks who had funds at Silicon Valley Bank.) Then his servants were taken or killed. And the worst – his children all died. The man who had everything had nothing.
Initially, he had some friends who stayed with him. 3 dear friends were by his side for 7 days and nights. But soon they wanted to find out an answer. “Who sinned?” Such things don’t happen without a reason. One of his friends, Bildad couldn’t take Job’s talk about his piety anymore. He says, “How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (Job 8:2-4) Another buddy, Zophar, also had had enough!! “You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you.” (Job 11:4-5)
Do you know what karma is? It’s the idea what goes around comes around. It is the belief that there is a kind of justice that drives the inner workings of the universe. A few years ago there was a video on the Internet that went viral. In it a man in a pickup truck tailgates a woman, then speeds up and passes her, while displaying his middle finger. Just after that, his truck spins out, and he crashes into a ditch. That’s karma for you. He got what was coming to him. Right?
You see, we are actually comfortable with the question that was asked of Jesus. “Who sinned? This guy? His parents?” That type of question tries to put some sense into this world. A man has lung cancer? He smoked like a chimney for over twenty years. We could see it coming. Liver disease? Drank like a fish. Heart attack? Too many Big-Macs, not enough exercise. Car accident? Going too fast. Probably texting. A pastor who lost his call in his church? Probably a bull in a china shop. Couldn’t get along with people. Lost their hair? Must be a reason.
People even can try to reverse this bad karma. Pay it forward, right? Pick up the Starbucks for the car behind you. Pick up the tab for the folks next to you in the restaurant. Somehow that is good karma – even though it is quite expensive to live that way. But it will set the motions of the universe in your favor, right?
Jesus looked at the question of why this man suffered from blindness in a whole different way. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)
Bono, the famous voice of the rock band U2, is a Christian. In fact, he is a well-spoken Christian. He said of this whole thing of karma determining our future, “If karma was finally going to be my judge, then I’d be in deep _______. (You can fill in the blank.) Then he adds, “I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”
Can you imagine that if you believed in karma, the thought of what goes around eventually comes around, what a horrid existence you would have? Every time the washing machine breaks, your car won’t start, your dentist says, “I think it’s time for a root canal”, you know that God is catching up with you for some bad thing you did. God is ever the judge just waiting to remind you of what you did when you were 18 years old. I’m with Bono, “If karma was finally going to be my judge, then I’d be in deep _______. I’m holding out for grace.”
I’m with Jesus. I’m with grace and forgiveness and miracles of His choosing in our lives. Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5) Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
In our account the oddest thing happens. He spits. Jesus spits. Baseball players spit but Jesus wasn’t playing ball. This is what we read, “Having said this, he spits on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go’, he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’…So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” (John 9:6-7) Chuck Mielke mentioned to our Wednesday evening Bible Class that in Papua New Guinea one of the names for Jesus is “The Great Spitter.” One of the teachers at Immanuel Lutheran School in Colorado Springs, Jack Hauschild, grew up in New Guinea with his folks who were Bible translators. That tribe was so amazed with how Jesus healed that man that they called Jesus, “The Great Spitter.”
This wasn’t the only time that Jesus spit to work His miracles. In Mark 7 there was a man who “was deaf and could hardly talk.” (Mark 7:32) And this is what Jesus did about that, “After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.” (Verse 33) His ears were opened and he spoke plainly. In Mark 8, a blind man, a different one from our guy in John 9, comes to Jesus and we read that Jesus “spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him.” (Mark 8:23)
We have a God who spits. We have a God who does miracles in odd ways. Then and now. Christians believe in grace and we believe in miracles and we believe Jesus works His grace in odd ways.
Consider that we say that the death of Jesus brings new life to the world. What? Death is death. How can it bring life? But Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32-33) Death, especially one that is by the brutality of crucifixion, was seen as weakness and a curse from God. But God says that event was the strength of Jesus. It tells us that this is the manor of our salvation. It is like making mud from spit and the result is that this man saw the brilliance of light.
How about the ridiculous thought of Baptismal water making a new creation? Religious hocus-pocus, right? Yet, Paul tells Titus, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ, our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6) And the meal at the Lord’s Table? Just bread and wine, right? Nothing different than having a meal at Olive Garden? No, these common elements are divine food. “This is my body. This is my blood. This – for the forgiveness of sins.” (See I Corinthians 11:23-26)
We have a Savior – Jesus Christ – who is happy to get dirty to bring the fullness of life to us. His hands were caked with mud that day and that man was made well. Later His hands would be caked with blood and our lives are made whole and well. He uses the cross, His blessed water, bread and wine to bring about pure grace in our lives. When this man was asked over and over again how he was made well, he didn’t have an answer about how it happened but he did say this, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:24) He knew who made him see.
Do you know what all this was? It wasn’t karma. It was amazing grace. That is always what we need. That is always what God gives us.
Amazing grace – how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now as found, was blind but now I see! Amen!!
“I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”