For me, at least, there is no more appealing image of John the Baptist than the one before us now. The John we meet preaching in the wilderness always strikes me as almost abrasive in his certainty. And while I could probably stand to be more like John in that way, I have to say that I can more easily identify with the John we meet in prison now.
Not that I’ve ever spent time in prison — at least not the sort that we are led to believe John experiences now. But I have known doubt and fear. I have known what it is to yearn for the sort of understanding John yearns for now. And yes, along with John, I have asked the hard questions — Oh yes, Sometimes I simply find that I, too, simply need someone else to tell me what they know for sure.
And apparently that’s OK. For Jesus’ response to John’s question carries no judgment, no surprise, not even a small measure of wondering that John would wonder. It’s as though it’s to be expected that all of us — every single one of us — would need the witness of one another to bear us up. I know that I do. Today was one of those days when I received precisely this gift. And while the witness I was privileged to hear did not, perhaps, offer quite the same sorts of miraculous signs that surely point to the identity of Jesus as ‘the one who is to come,’ the story I offer now is every bit as miraculous in its own way.
At the congregation I serve on this Sunday in December we share in a “Love Auction” for our companion congregation: the Ketumbeine Lutheran Parish in Tanzania. Folks bring platters of holiday cookies to be auctioned off and we join in the fun of trying to outbid one another for a good cause. It seemed like a good Sunday to invite Mike to preach — for he and his wife, Sharon, travel every year to Tanzania to assist in equipping teachers to better reach their students through the Mwangaza Centre in Arusha. And today Mike told the story of a miracle where, in fact, the ‘blind’ are seeing in new ways.
This is how it was. Twenty microscopes were about to be discarded from a school here. They were, by now, at least twenty years old and it was time for them to be replaced. But one with an imagination and a connection to another part of the world where such riches are almost unimaginable, called Mike and wondered with him about whether something useful might be done with these.
They had them checked out and it was decided they were in good shape. The challenge is, however, that electrical systems differ greatly from one part of the world to another and these microscopes which have served well here would have been rendered useless there. So pretty soon, physicists and inventors and students got in on the project and all twenty of those microscopes were retrofitted with rechargeable batteries and solar units and I can’t begin to understand what else. And last spring and summer they made their way to Tanzania safely packaged in bubble wrap in the extra suitcases of others who were traveling there. Mike said that more than fifty people had their hands on those microscopes in one way or another between their first lives in a high school classroom to their final destination half way around the world. He also said that many of those fifty people can’t wait to do it again.
And today? People are seeing in new ways: teachers and students and medical folks are seeing things they have not seen before. Who knows how the world might just change because of that?
This wonderful story was precisely what I needed to hear today, for while I do not now and have not ever known the darkness of John’s prison, I have found myself a little weary of late. Indeed, as I listened this morning I heard once more of how God uses ordinary folks in extraordinary ways to do amazing things. I heard of how the gifts of all people are needed in order to accomplish what God would have us do. Quite simply, as Mike walked us through the unfolding of this ‘miracle’ I was filled with joy and wonder at what Jesus does through all of us.
It is so that some people far away are seeing in a new way because of the gifted, hard-working efforts of more than fifty people. It is also so that I expect Jesus first opened the eyes of a handful — bringing sight and insight — so that the possibility of such as this might even be imagined. And isn’t that something? Oh yes, along with John’s disciples so long ago, you and I can join in as we point to the evidence of Jesus among us: for the blind do, in fact, see!
- Have you ever found yourself asking John’s difficult, important question? Where did you hear or see your answer?
- What do you make of Jesus’ response? Why do you think there is no judgment, surprise or wonder in his answer?
- Where do you see the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, etc.? What evidence do you point to in response to John’s question when it is posed by another?