Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jesus told him, "Do not go back into the village."

When last we saw Noah, he, his wife, his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, had boarded the ark, together with seven pairs of all of the clean animals, and two pairs of all the unclean animals. They stood on deck and watched the rain, until the waters on the earth were high enough to life the ark, and then they went a-sailing.
We now join Noah, his crew and freight, forty days later. The rain has stopped, and there is no land in sight throughout the earth. Noah opens a hatch and lets a raven fly out, to see if the waters were subsiding. The raven flew back and forth around the ark, but found no place to land. Seven days later, he sent out a dove, but the dove found no place to land, and returned to the ark. Another seven days passed, and he sent the dove out again, and this time, it returned with a twig in its beak, an olive branch with a green leaf on it. Noah waited another week, sent the dove out again, and this time it did not return. Noah and his family, together with all of the animals, left the ark and returned to the earth.

When last we saw Jesus, he was warning his disciples against “the leaven of the Pharisees”, and “the leaven of Herod”, that is, the tendency on the one hand to become so bogged down in rules and regulations that the supreme law of God is ignored: Love God with all your heart and mind and might and your neighbor as yourself.

Now Jesus and the disciples have gone to Bethesda, another town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is approached by people who are leading a blind man, and who beg Jesus to touch him, and heal him. Usually, Jesus performed these healings on the spot, but this time, he takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out into the countryside beyond the village. Jesus moistens his fingers with his tongue, touches the man’s eyes and asks, “What do you see?” The man answers, “I see people moving about; they look like trees walking.” Then Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes one more time, and he sees clearly. Jesus tells the man to go home, and not even go into the village.

At first glance, both of today’s readings tell us of the power and the goodness of God. He cleansed the world from sinfulness by the flood, yet did not destroy the human race completely, but gave us another chance. Jesus cured the man from his blindness, but gave him a warning what not to do next.

I am reminded of a saying I first heard long ago, about the dangers we encounter on our way toward the Kingdom: the world, the flesh, and the devil. About five thousand years ago, the world was in such turmoil that God inspired the writer of Genesis to warn the people of Israel by reminding them that, if God became angry enough, he could destroy the world once again. Not by water, but “by fire next time.” In the gospel Jesus cured the man’s blindness, and told him to stay out of the city. The devil doesn’t really need to act on his own behalf, you know. Our desire for pleasure, for profit, and for power – for the world and the flesh – will do the devil’s work for him, unless we heed Jesus’ warning to look both ways before crossing, if we’re down street, and to stay clear of the edge of the path, lest we fall into a ditch – or off a cliff – if we are strolling down a country lane.

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