I am the Man

March 26, 2017

Summary

I was seventeen the first time that I crossed into Mexico. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and I was part of a short-term missions team from my home church that was going to work at an orphanage outside of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas. We had arrived in El Paso the day before we were to drive to the orphanage and so that afternoon we decided to walk across the bridge at the border to have a first look at Mexico. Up to this point in my life I had only been to Canada, which besides Tim Horton’s doughnut shops, and there being different money and systems of measurement there was not much different about Canada then Minnesota, so my first couple of hours in Mexico were a shocker to me. Of course immediately by listening to people speak you understand that you’re in a different country, because all you hear is Spanish, but then there is the immediate reality all around you that the wealth of the U.S. does not exist in the society right across the border. And this difference is most pronounced in the border region, because of so many people who have nothing to lose have made their way to the border in the hope that they can make it across to America and find work. What this means though, is that there are many people who have never made it across and cannot find their way home and so eke out a living by begging tourists for a few pesos or pennies.

It was my first contact with these beggars that shocked me the most that afternoon in 1987. I was not sure what to do. I came across person-after-person who was squatting, sitting or even lying down on the sidewalk with a hand, a can, or simply a piece of cardboard waiting to receive a penny or peso. Some of the beggars you could tell were simply down on their luck, but others evidently were sick or starving, and some even disfigured either by accident or birth.

I felt torn between giving them all the money I had and running away so that I didn’t have to see, smell and hear what it is to live on the edges of society, to be cut-off from community, to be thought of as only partially human.

I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you adults will understand what I mean, when I say that beggars, or anyone eking out a bit of life on the edges of society are too often thought of, or treated as if they are not a full person. They are considered simply as a nameless member of a designated sub-category by everyone else in society who has been able to keep it together and live, work and play in the accepted manner.

Since that day, I have, walked past, been confronted by, interacted with and talked to beggars and folks who are perceived as an unwanted category to the rest of humanity. Especially as a pastor, I have too often talked with and tried to help, the modern versions of the blind beggar from today’s story. I say too often, because no one should have to live like that, teetering on the edge of life, but many people still live that way around the world, and even on our own streets.

In this morning’s scripture Jesus and his disciples are walking the streets of Jerusalem. In their desire to learn more about sin, the disciples decided to use one of the unclean of society, a random blind beggar, as an example to Jesus, to try and better understand the nature of sin.

And so, as we read, they asked who had sinned to make the beggar blind, assuming someone must have. Now, I do want to point out that this was an accepted belief at that time, and still is in many places in the world. Many believe that any sort of misfortune is the result of sinful action of either that person or someone close to them, and so, the disciples were simply using the man as the subject of their learning. Jesus gave them an answer, but he also did so much more.

Now there‘s a point I want you to understand, when the disciples asked Jesus about the beggar, they did so in such a way that we can see that they did not really think of him as a person, much less than as a man. For we can assume by what we are told in the story that the disciples were not standing down the street out of earshot, pointing him out to Jesus, but rather we must assume they and Jesus are standing right in front of the man. The disciples, by talking about him in his immediate presence either assume he cannot hear, which is not the case, since he’s blind not deaf, or that he is not smart enough to comprehend their conversation or deserving enough to talk to like any other person. In other words they are not treating him with the common courtesy you would treat any other human being, but rather, by ignoring him, they are not even acknowledging that he is a man.

But Jesus, sees him as a man, and by giving him the gift of sight, Jesus forces everyone else, including the beggar, to acknowledge that he is truly a man, a man created by God, and with a purpose.

We can see this transformation take place both within the society and within the man throughout the story. We can especially see the changes within the man himself when we read of the reactions of his neighbors once they realize that the blind beggar can see. As the beggar makes his way home seeing, people all of the sudden recognize him, kind of, but they continue to treat him as they always have, by talking about him to each other within his hearing, like he’s not even there. But this time he talks back, and the first words that we hear come from his mouth, are words that we can read on two levels, the first as an answer to the people’s question, but the deeper level as a proclamation of his God-given humanity. For the first words we hear the beggar utter are, “I am the man.”

“I. Am. The man.”

He is not just something, be it; blind, a beggar squatting on the side of the street, a nothing to be talked about, No! Now, because Jesus loved him enough to take action in his life, and gave him sight, he can declare he is someone, he can shout out for all to hear, “I am the man!”

It is Jesus who gives him life, who gives him the chance to declare, “I am.”

And, it is Jesus who gives each of us life, new life every day in his forgiveness and love. It is Jesus who gives each of us the chance to declare for ourselves, and to the world, “I am.”

None of us should ever feel that our place in life is on the edge, or on the margins. Neither in our families or at work, in school, or amongst our friends, or out there in the world should we have to live our lives on the edge. God did not create us and give us life, so as to be treated or forced to live as incomplete people, yet too often the sins of the world, the words or actions of other people, or our own sins, insecurities, or the circumstances of life, force us into a partial life. You know what I mean. We have all seen this in the world, and some of us have experienced this in our lives, but it does not need to be this way, it should not be this way. This is why Jesus has come. Jesus has come to seek us out, to find us, like he did the blind beggar. Jesus has come to give us what we need, which is life, which is wholeness, which is, our own self-worth as children of God.

Jesus loves us, as his own. In Christ, we realize that we are beloved. Jesus gives us salvation. Jesus Christ makes us whole. In him we find our all in all.

Yet so much of the world does not know that Jesus loves them too, that Jesus sees them as the children, the women and the men that they are. Too many people, some of the very people amongst whom we live, do not see themselves as anything more than a bother to others, or as failures, or as “less-than’s”, or as the butt of jokes, or the unseen and uncomprehending whom are pointed at and bypassed. Too many people cannot proclaim for themselves that simple phrase, “I am.”

Jesus wants to open the eyes of all who are blind to who they really are, children of God, people of worth, the beloved of Jesus. Jesus wants us, you and me, to be the ones to point out the reality of Jesus’ for each person of the world.

How do we do this? We do it, by looking at each individual that we meet as a person, a true person no matter their circumstances. We relate to each person we meet as the wonderful, God-created person that they are, and then we show them Jesus’ love by treating them with respect, caring for their needs, and letting them know they are worthy, because God made them, and Jesus has saved them, Jesus loves them, Jesus loves us; so we all may proclaim together, as children of God and people saved by Christ, “I am.”   Amen.

Bible References

  • Ephesians 5:8 - 14
  • John 9:1 - 41

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