March 26, 2017
Refreshment Sunday (Fourth Sunday in Lent)
Today, as everyone most likely noticed, we had a long Gospel reading again – similar to last Sunday. And after such a long Gospel, I gave an even longer sermon last week. Well, you can relax. Although, today’s first paragraph from the Gospel in itself provokes a great deal of thought in me, I decided to save for a later time for my series of sermons I plan to do on the topic of suffering and the like. So, unless I get carried away, you’re getting a tiny break today.
Each one of us decides with what kind of spirit we will go through life: critical, complaining, condemnatory, or celebrating. We are all either the glass is half full or the glass is half empty type category of people.
John's story of the healed blind man's reception among his friends, family and the Pharisees suggests that there are four different ways to respond to life. We can be nit-pickers, wound-lickers, goodness-sakers or arm-wavers. Out of the same situation, considering the same circumstances, there can be four entirely different reactions.
Let’s start with Nit-Pickers: Anyone who has ever had a child come home from school with a note proclaiming that the notorious head louse has once again made an appearance knows all about the phrase "nit-picking." Each "nit," or tiny egg of the louse, must be meticulously combed, picked or pulled from the single strand of hair it is attached to. The fact that this procedure must be carried out on a squealing, enraged, probably embarrassed six-year-old only makes the task that much more unpleasant.
Unfortunately, many people have perfected the art of nit-picking so competently that they feel compelled to demonstrate their skill on every situation in their lives. Nit-pickers are always noting what is wrong with something and someone rather than what is right. They can't enjoy anything, especially anything that has a flaw in it. With little sense of humor these pickiness-people are always looking for spiritual or theological or moral "gotchas" to flaunt at others. The nit-pickers in John's story of the blind man's healing are the Pharisees at the first inquisition. Instead of rejoicing with the man at the miracle of regained sight, they can only focus on the possible Torah infringements that might have made it possible.
An accomplished nit-picker can burst any celebratory balloon. "The wedding was so beautiful; such a shame the groom couldn't have lost a few pounds for the occasion." "Congratulations on your new promotion. But you've still got an awful lot of the ladder to climb, don't you?" "The new sanctuary looks wonderful. Of course, we'll probably never grow enough to fill it or pay for it!" Deflating joy, tarnishing triumphs - that's what nit-pickers do best. Many of us fall into this category, and we may not even realize it until we make an intended effort to be sure we don’t.
Now Wound-Lickers: Remember getting a mosquito bite or a small scratch when you were a kid and then having to listen to your parents' repeated, "now don't pick at it." Of course, they had to keep telling you because there is something self-destructively fascinating about an open wound. We are drawn to it, we want to mess with it, re-examine it, and pull off the scab a little at a time to see how it is healing. But this fixation can easily lead to infection - even to death.
Veterinarians must go to ridiculous-looking extremes to discourage this self-destructive instinct in their patients. In dogs and cats, repetitive, damaging wound-licking can undo in a matter of minutes all the work a vet has put in on a patient for days. The last surgery Bene had, I insisted on wire stiches instead of staples or thread, just for this reason. Although, the incision was on his back this last time and he thus could not reach it, I was well aware of how Mickey would take matters in his own hands – err, paws. Good thing to, because he tried, or at least until his tongue did not like the wire. Sometimes we try to help where is not needed or even could be unnecessarily dangerous.
When the Pharisees call the healed man's parents as possible witnesses against his previous condition of blindness, they are being wound-lickers. They cannot leave the situation alone, but return to it, trying to expose some imagined wrongfulness. These Pharisees do not even realize that the wound they are re-opening is the gaping hole of their own ignorance and spiritual bankruptcy.
As for Goodness-sakers: Remember the old story about the mother who had to leave her two young children alone in the house for a few minutes? Before leaving, she sternly ordered the children, "Now don't put beans up your noses while I'm gone!" Left to their own devices it probably would have taken an eternity before those kids would have come up with such a bizarre idea, but since their mother had singled it out as an especially obnoxious act, the children were inspired. Of course, when their mother returned home, she found two children rolling around in pain with beans firmly stuffed up their noses.
There is a distinct category of people who inspire similar kinds of contrary behavior in most of us. These are the "goodness-sakers" - those self-appointed crusaders for the promotion of righteousness. They consider themselves - and let all the rest of us know it - to be super-spiritual. Historian H. G. Wells complained about people he called "the goodness-sakers." These were people who stood around saying, "For goodness sake, why doesn't somebody do something." Or "For goodness sake, look at what they're doing."
Few people can be as infuriating and sin-provoking as goodness-sakers. Smart-aleck remarks and visions of dirty tricks seem to float to the top of our minds all by themselves as we listen to the platitudes and puffed-up piety goodness-sakers blow at us. The Pharisees in John's story haughtily invoke their relationship to Moses as a sign of their spiritual superiority. The healed man, who had shown great self-control up to this point, is at last driven to jab back at these upright, up-tight self-appointed guardians of do-gooding. As usual with goodness-sakers, however, they don't even get the point of the sarcasm directed their way.
And finally Arm-Wavers: Thank heaven that besides the nit-pickers, wound-lickers and goodness-sakers there are also arm-wavers. These are the people that celebrate victories and lend support in times of defeat. Arm-wavers hoot and holler when their child's Little League team wins the big game - but they also give great hugs and "it's O.K." looks when the team loses 10 in a row. It's not that arm-wavers don't see all the imperfections in that hand-knit size 98 sweater or in life. It's just that they focus on all the beauty that surrounds the flaws instead of the flaws themselves.
It is amazing how arm-wavers are absent for so long from John's story of the healed blind man. Here is a stunning miracle - a man blind since birth suddenly given sight - and no one celebrates. His neighbors are doubtful; his parents are worried about the religious and legal ramifications, while the Pharisees find the whole episode threatening and foreboding. Not until the healed man himself finally realizes who Jesus is and what his presence means do we get the first sign of arm-waving. Indeed, when Jesus' identity finally sinks in, the man offers a full body-wave - he falls on his knees and worships the "Lord".
We can all fall into one or more of these categories. It is up to us to accept the real good in the world and not expect perfection in others. It is up to us to accept the blessings and good that happens without finding something wrong with it. Accept life’s graces as they come and be grateful for the little things in life, that when accepted, can be far greater than the hurts and failures we might have.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often have miracles, graces and little blessings in life, but we allow them to be over shadowed by what we can find wrong. Help us to look at life as You would have us to.
Father, we all fall into a category of “Nit-Pickers”, “Wound-Lickers”, “Goodness-Sakers” or “Arm-Wavers.” In and of themselves, none of us who fall into this category may think of ourselves as negative Nancy’s party crashers, but we often do this with mostly good intention. However, Father Your Son wanted us to learn that this is not how it should be. We should find happiness and goodness in big and small things.
We all make mistakes and we are all flawed. Helps us, dear Lord, to accept this, but to also try to find good in everything just as You did upon creation of the world. Healing on the Sabbath may seem bad, because it is perceived work. However, Your Son showed that not all should be considered work, and even if it might be work, we must be practical and realize some work has to be done for the betterment of mankind. If this were not so, then the miracle of the Eucharist would not be here for us each Sunday. However, You commanded it, so it is not work, but grace, goodness and blessing in its purest form. Through Christ our Lord, Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.