Emrys has kindly asked me to contribute something to this edition of the church magazine, and as it is only a few days until my installation as associate vicar, my thoughts are very much on who I am, and what I can bring in our shared service of God’s Kingdom in Battersea. The gospel reading for daily prayer this morning, which concerns Jesus healing of a blind man, has inspired me. So let’s have a look at the text.
The story is preceded an account of one of those very common occasions in which the disciples just don’t get what Jesus is really all about. He spells it out very clearly for them, saying that he will be handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spat upon, flogged and killed, but on the third day will rise again. But they don’t understand – they can’t ‘see’ what he means.
It seems to me that Luke goes on to explain their not-getting-it in the story he then tells about the blind man. The man becomes a stand-in for the blind disciples, and his journey to seeing – both with the eyes in his head, and the eyes of his heart – tells us something about how we too might be given the grace to understand God’s purposes, and find ourselves members of the beloved community of those forgiven and restored, through the coming of the Kingdom which Jesus is building, a community which naturally brings the Good News of salt, light, and leavening yeast to the wider world.
The first thing to note about the blind man – other than his blindness – is that he is poor. He is a humble beggar, who sits on the roadside day in day out, year in year out, asking for help, dependent on the kindness of his community in order to survive. He has come to rock bottom, and is humbly open to receiving good gifts.
The second thing we see is that, when he discovers that Jesus is passing, he boldly – desperately, even – cries out to Jesus for mercy. His humility allows him to cry out from the depths of his being for mercy from God. And he doesn’t hold back. He makes a real nuisance of himself, and gets a proper scolding from those around him. I can imagine that “Sit down and shut up!” was among the more polite things he heard; but he only cries out more loudly and boldly than before, so that Jesus hears him.
The third significant thing the blind man models for us who also want to ‘see’, is that he knew what he needed and wasn’t afraid – was bold enough – to simply say what his heart longed for. He didn’t hedge around his desire in the typical British way, dropping hints and allusions. Nor did he allow doubts and fears to creep in and reduce his request to something more manageable for Jesus – “another pair of shoes please”, or “more money for food please”. No, went straight to the heart of his desire, and spoke his truth.
And so, Jesus heals the man. He restores his sight. But not only does he now see the physical world around him; he started following Jesus that day, giving glory to God! But not all on his own; no, we are told that when others saw him and heard his story, they too praised God.
Following Jesus, and glorifying God, and so attracting others to do the same. That is the vocation of all Christians, and yet too often our lives – my life – is not characterised by the singleness of purpose, or by the joy and celebration of the man who had his sight restored. Nor are many churches noted for growing numbers of joyful people who have been ‘restored’ – in whatever way.
And I think at the heart of that conundrum, for me, is the unwillingness, or inability, to follow the example of the blind man, and acknowledge my own deep poverty of spirit, my own deep need for God, so that my heart is truly, widely (and wildly) open to God’s grace. I say inability, but really its more that the ability to know my need of God gets buried beneath the many superficial distractions I allow to dominate my life, so that my true need for God is soothed out of mind.
I’m also often reluctant to make a nuisance of myself before God and truly cry out from the depths of our being for his grace, because to do so would involve effort and energy that I am already using to keep myself thoroughly distracted. “I can’t be bothered! What’s on TV?”
More to the point, would I even know what I want from God if I got around to crying out from the buried depths of my eternal soul?
What is the thing you most need from God?
What is it that would most satisfy the deep desires of your heart?
If there is one thing I know I can bring to the table at St Mary’s it is to simply share my still-unfolding life with you, which so far is a story about how God met me in my brokenness, and has restored me to myself. That is the priest I would like to be for you. Not the finished article, not the one with all the answers, not an omnicompetent mega-priest, but simply a man restored by the grace of God, who desires to journey joyfully together with others in Jesus trail, giving glory to God.
I look forward to our time together!