Over the years for Christians, even those on the fringe of Christianity, Lent has often been seen as a time of intense self-reflection. But self-reflection without understanding the power that God holds to make something beautiful of our clay vessels, our little lives, is to defy the power of the God of Love. According to the psalmist, in Psalm 23 set for this week, the valley of the shadow of death is where God is. It is in the presence of our enemies that a table is set, and, deep in our own muck, we are led beside the still waters.
According to the book of Samuel, again one of the scriptures for this week in our lectionary, God picks David, a young child, to fight Goliath and to be king of all Israel. And through that kingship, which has its times of horror and times of victory, God makes David the king Israel needed for the moment. In addition, in the Gospel of John, the blind man suffers consistently throughout his life because people look at him as deficient, as sinful, as someone not worthy. Self-reflection in all these cases would bring us to a place of despair, but in the hands of a good and merciful God? Something beautiful happens.
As human beings, we look at vulnerabilities as weaknesses, as those places that need to be thrown out or erased, denied, or refused. But it’s in our weakness and vulnerabilities that God reveals God’s self. It was in the choice of the smallest and youngest son that God revealed the king. It was in the valley of the shadow of death and in the presence of enemies that the poet knew that his God anointed him with the most fragrant oil and his cup ran over. And it was in the man’s blindness that the Holy One’s spit and a little mud helped him see in John 9.
But we live in a world where the expectation is that we are always and forever at the top of our game or we are punished. We live in a world where admitting our weakness is to admit defeat and to encourage harassment. We are in a world where we hide our hurt or we will be further damaged. We live in a world where panic and greed control which we have seen in the hoarding as people panic about the Covid-19 sickness the world is facing. And yet our God says, “It’s in our vulnerabilities that we find the grace” and that finding grace and mercy is the ultimate goal of human existence within the Christian faith.
John Wesley hoped we would become perfected but being perfected meant perfected in receiving and showing mercy, not in our perfection in a particular moral code or a sense of our own “doing it right.” That is the transformative power of the Christian faith. The ability to receive and swim through the muddy and spit-filled complexity of life with a merciful, loving creator.
And now a comment on the reading from John 9. The blind man could have been a “seeing” man—it is not the healing of the man’s blindness that is the ultimate experience Jesus hoped to address. The ultimate experience is God making us whole; God’s work is in making us whole. The one who was blind from birth was surprised by grace (there’s that word again), surprised by Jesus, shockingly loved and chosen, and his vulnerability became the place where the good news that he, too, was deeply loved was made manifest. To God, we are all the beloved. Each one of us is both beloved by God and the beloved to each other. It’s just sometimes we don’t recognise this or choose not to recognise this.
The real injury in the blind man’s life was the criticism from society, the damning from the religious leaders, and the selling out of his parents. The ultimate holy experience, and one that is throughout scripture, is to experience God as one who does not see as mortals see—who does not see us in all the ways others have judged us, raced us, held us down, and been aggressively jealous or arrogant toward us. Yet it is facing those judgments, oppressions, imprisonments, jealousies, and arrogances, and reflecting and focusing on God’s love, grace, and mercy that will heal us.
The ultimate is that we are all yet beautiful, full, alive, living this life with the Spirit of God deep in our hearts. The ultimate is that God chose to birth us from love and mercy, continues to love and give us mercy every day of our lives, and, at the end of our life, will receive us into arms of love and mercy. The love of God is the grace given to us as we are created before we were born and continues with us throughout our lives.