Jesus, Man of Joy – a Sermon for Lent 4


Reading: John 9:1-41

A blind man wanders into an all-girls biker bar by mistake. He finds his way to a bar stool and orders some coffee. After sitting there for a while, he yells to the waiter, “Hey, you wanna hear a blonde joke?” The bar immediately falls silent. In a very deep, husky voice, the woman next to him says, “Before you tell that joke, sir, I think it is only fair–given that you are blind–that you should know five things: The bartender is a blonde girl with a baseball bat. The bouncer is a blonde girl. I am a 6 foot tall, 175 lb blonde woman with a black belt in karate. The woman sitting next to me is blonde and a professional weightlifter. The lady to your right is blonde and a professional wrestler. Now, think about it seriously, Mister. Do you still wanna tell that joke?” The blind man thinks for a second, shakes his head, and mutters, “No…not if I’m going to have to explain it five times.”

There are traditions that treat the fourth of Lent ‘Laetare Sunday’ after the first Latin word in the traditional collect of the day, translated, “Rejoice”.  It is a day where the austerity of Lent is lessened, and the people of God are reminded to look for God’s joy-infused presence all around.  When life gets stressful it’s important we take opportunities to stop and find reasons to smile and laugh and celebrate.

Jesus, Man of Sorrows?

In anxious times we may take comfort in our Lord who is called ‘Man of Sorrows’.  The bold gospel claim is that in Jesus our God suffers with us – he shares in our pains and endured great hardship and so in our own pains we may find solidarity with Christ.  But I’ll never forget a book I read several years ago that emphasized another aspect of Jesus that often gets overlooked.  The author was the actor who portrayed Jesus in the Matthew movie.  He talks of how he came across a book called, Jesus, Man of Joy that revolutionized the way he came to know Jesus and greatly shaped his portrayal of Christ in the film.  The basic premise of the book is that the author came to believe that much of Jesus’ life and ministry was bursting with love and joy.  While there were certainly times where Jesus was broken with grief and flaming with righteous anger, there were many other times where the wonder of his miracles and magnetism of his teaching must have elicited great joy from all participants. 

The actor, Bruce Marchiano, had a very moving depiction of a gospel story much like the one we read this morning. It’s a very familiar miracle account and a fine piece of ancient literature.  Technically speaking it resembles an Ancient Greek play – in this genre each scene has no more than two actors speaking.  We find encounters between Jesus and the disciples (trying to assign blame for the blind man’s condition); the blind man and Jesus (where Jesus applies mud made with saliva over his eyes and instructs him to go wash in the pool of Siloam; the blind man and his neighbours (who aren’t sure if this is the same blind man they’ve always known); the blind man and the Pharisees; the Pharisees and the blind man’s parents; the Pharisees and the blind man again, and finally Jesus and the Pharisees.

Jesus Heals a Blind Man

It’s an amazing story, and I really appreciated the way Bruce Marchiano portrayed Jesus, particularly in his interaction with the blind man.  Try to imagine this scene with me: Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple where they have just celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles.  This Feast was to recall the provisions of Yawheh for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.  It also was to celebrate God’s continued provision through the harvest each fall season.  Moments after this celebration Jesus encounters a man in need of God’s miraculous provision.  Can you picture his face, moved with compassion? Can you see him carefully approach this poor man, forced to beg for scraps of food? 

He mixes his own saliva with the dust of the ground – a gesture meaningful in a few ways.  In the ancient world saliva was believed to possess healing properties; it was also believed that if one could heal in this way than it was a supernatural revelation of God that the healer was the legitimate firstborn heir of his Father.  Since the question of Jesus’ fraternal identity would have followed Jesus around his whole life, a miracle in this matter would leave no doubt as to his legitimacy.  The mixing of the saliva with the dust of the earth also recalls God’s creation of humanity – and now the Creator was at work again to restore and rejuvenate God’s beloved Creation.

The Joy of Healing

These are theological considerations for us to ponder, but they should in no way distract from what that moment must have meant for the blind man.  Blind from birth he would have suffered incredibly from a society that treated his infirmity as a result of bad human behavior.  He was classed a ‘sinner’ and prevented from worshiping in the Temple.  He would have no means of providing for himself, save for begging.  But as he washed that mud from his eyes, his eyes opened to a whole new reality, to a whole new way of life.  Can you imagine what he must have felt? Can you see him racing back to find the man who had changed his life? Can you imagine Jesus, filled with the deepest kind of love for this man, watching as this excited man came running up to him? In Matthew the healed man bolls over Jesus, hugging and crying and laughing with Jesus.  This Jesus, this Man of Joy, was a Jewish man and no stranger to emotions.  We so often think of Jesus as being rather stoic and almost other-worldly, somewhat removed from the brokenness all around him.  But I think Bruce Marchiano was on to something, I think he had his eyes opened to a Jesus who walked with people in their sorrow, and transformed their lives into lives of great love and contagious joy.

The tragedy of this gospel story is that the religious folk, those waiting and longing for the Messiah, were the ones who were truly blind.  They could not accept that Jesus was the Messiah because he didn’t fit into their religious categories.  They were divided on whether or not this healed man really was the blind man that they walked past on a daily basis.  And their cynicism, skepticism, and negative attitude spread like an infectious disease in their hearts and kept them from receiving the miracle of joy that comes from being in God’s presence.

Choosing to Find Joy

Today let us ask for Christ to open our eyes to the light of his joyful presence.  I don’t know if you’re stressed or anxious today, or just sick and tired of this drawn-out winter. When times are stressful it is quite natural for us to become negative and cynical.  But it is in difficult times that it becomes all the more crucial that are eyes are opened to God’s presence all around us.  Because God is with us.  This is the claim of Scripture, this is the truth I cling to:  God is with the person who has just received a devastating diagnosis.  God is with the one who just had a needed employment opportunity disappear.  God is with those who mourn a loved one.  God is with the people of the Ukraine, the poor and captive, the atheist and the believer. 

We must choose to look for joy in these times, joy, as Einstein said, “in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” All around us are reasons to be joyful – hints of a coming spring, the blessings of this great country, the sense that we as a church are trying our best to move forward. If you’re struggling under the weight of pain and grief, can you find one thing to be thankful for? If you’re under a lot of stress, can you take just a few moments before bed and think of three things you were thankful for in your day?  Can you take time to tell (or hear) a joke today?

I give thanks for this family of St. George’s, a family that so often experiences joy through our fellowship together.  Let us grow in our sense of community, in the light of God’s joyful presence, and may that make us ever stronger in our God. 

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” ~ Richard Bach