When I say the name, Jesus, what images come to mind? Maybe we imagine a great teacher. Maybe what comes to mind is a man who showed people how to love each other, and showed great compassion to people. Sometimes nice people try to make Jesus nice, because they think if Jesus is nice then they are already in heaven. If you don’t have an image of Jesus yet, then you’re in luck, because you are about to meet one of the most interesting, troubling, out-of-the-box people who ever lived. Jesus was crazy good at offending people. In fact, this whole sermon series we are going to learn about all the bad habits of Jesus, to see that Jesus came not to call people to be nice but to live a life of radical compassion, servanthood and sacrifice. Today we are going to start with one of Jesus’ grosser habits.
John 9:1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
Have you ever noticed how generous little children are? They’ll be eating Cheerios or goldfish, and they will offer you one. That’s very sweet. But the real test of a parent is when the child offers you the one she or he just took out of their mouths. Will the parent eat it? I might do that, but one of our children—who will remain nameless to protect the innocent—loved offering us their cup. Which was very generous of them, but we were not fooled, and we would tell them how kind they were to offer, but we knew that it was full of backwash. I drew the line there! Why does spitting gross us out? Is it the germs? Or is there just an ewww factor? It’s not just us. Did you know that in 5 states, it’s still illegal to spit in public? For years, China has been waging a campaign against spitting. Even in our time—like in Jesus’—to spit at someone was not just rude but a way of showing your utter contempt for them. In fact, when Jesus is being prepared for death, don’t people mock and spit on him? So when Jesus used spit to heal people—and he does it three times that we know of—of course it offended and grossed people out. But Jesus’ bad habit could change our lives.
First, Jesus turns rudeness into blessing. In Jesus’ time, if you were blind, you must have done something to deserve it. Seeing this guy, the disciples are busy thinking about who is to blame for his blindness, and Jesus is busy helping him see. Leonard Sweet, who wrote The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us How to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong, says,
Imagine the shock—or perhaps not—when Jesus faced the man and spat upon the ground. Perhaps everyone around him was nodding in approval, thinking that Jesus was obviously showing his contempt for the outcast Jew. But then Jesus did the unthinkable. He reached down, gathered up the spittle and some dirt, made a poultice of mud and then applied the clay to the man’s eyes. From a gesture of insult, Jesus created a magnificent and powerful blessing. And isn’t that how God works anyway?
One of my friends, Janet (not her name), was bullied a lot as a kid. She was kind of scrawny, and had been taught to be kind to people—perfect target for bullying. The cruelty of those bullies might have beaten some people down or whipped up inner anger, but in Janet, God grew compassion for people who are mistreated or left out. People seemed to be drawn to Janet, and Janet always has time to listen. Jesus can turn rudeness into blessing.
Second, Jesus shows us God is not afraid to get dirty. When I was a kid, and mom or grandma were sweeping the kitchen floor, I’d be running around and I’d get to the doorway, and they would stop me. “Don’t walk through my pile of dirt!” But Jesus walks through my dirt all the time. I used to think that I had to be good to come to Jesus, but Jesus is just happy to see me coming his way. I used to think that I had to have my life in order, but Jesus is happy to come into my disorder and love in the midst of all my chaos. I used to think those things, but then I realized that it was my pride getting in the way. Before coming to Jesus, I wanted to be good enough that I could deserve Jesus’ love and attention. Before coming to Jesus, I wanted to have my act together so that Jesus wouldn’t have to change me so much. In my pride, I was embarrassed and ashamed at the dark places, the dirty habits I had, the messiness of my life. And I gave up. Jesus was happy to walk through my dirt to fold me in his arms and say, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Jesus is not afraid to get dirty.
That Jesus spits and makes mud with it and puts on someone’s eyes is gross. Leonard Sweet writes, “It’s easy to love Jesus when it’s tidy, hip, and clean. It’s easier to donate money than to put our hand in the hand of a man or a woman who looks dirty, down, and drowned with mud. Yet the church of Jesus is not meant to be a hideaway but a hostel for all of God’s dirtiest who need restoration and healing.” God is waiting for us to invite God into the mess of our lives, and find we are loved. God is waiting for us to invite God to look at all the darkest, rudest, cruelest, most painful corners of our life, and find God’s tenderness and power can turn the dark, rude, cruel pains into fountains of healing—and not just for ourselves. God is calling us—in our messy, busy lives—to be willing to get down and dirty out of kindness and mercy. When we do, we are building a habit that will unleash the power of God to change our relationships and our world.
Leonard Sweet, The Bad Habits of Jesus (2016), pp. 3–4.
Sweet (2016), p. 4
My memory, but inspired by a quote in Sweet p. 6.
Sweet, p. 9.