Here’s Mud in Your Eye! – Emily Meyer reflects on tutorials in Divine vision, the Vernal Equinox, and healing individual and collective sight to see God’s reign in the dirt and dust of the here and now.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023, 2026)
1 Samuel 16:1-13
“Here’s mud in your eye!” was one of my dad’s favorite toasts. As a kid, I thought it was one of the many nonsensical, funny sayings he’d made up.
Turns out, other people do, actually, use this phrase – though no one really knows where it comes from. Some people reckon it stems from today’s Gospel reading: Jesus uses mud to heal, so “mud in your eye” is a toast to good health.
What if we could toast everyone’s health, or maybe even put some mud in every eye (including our own), so that we could all, collectively, simultaneously, see clearly the glorious gift of creation – and life – God has entrusted to our care?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, God teaches Samuel how to see: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for YHWH does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but YHWH looks on the heart.”
Ironically, the narrator of the story is not convinced by God’s tutorial – nor does the narrator believe the audience is convinced – because despite repeating the lesson with all of Jesse’s seven sons, once David is singled out as God’s chosen, the future king, the one Samuel was called to Bethlehem to anoint, the narrator assures – who? Samuel? The narrator? Us, the readers/audience? – that David was, “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome”.
We rely so very much on what we see to verify our assumptions, particularly with regard to other human beings – and on God’s favor, expectations, plans, and/or action.
Jesus turns these assumptions on their heads in another Divine-vision tutorial from John’s Gospel. Osvaldo Vena, in Working Preacher’s Commentary on John 9:1-41, 2017, writes, “…the text seems to reject… all kinds of determinisms, that is, the idea that one’s race, culture, social status, education, among other things, determine one’s moral standing”.
The length of this story underscores the extraordinary challenge of correcting human vision/assumptions. It also underscores how reluctant humans are to participate in changing social or cultural norms: no one wants to be a party to this healing: not the passersby, not the parents of the person born blind, certainly not the comfortable Pharisees who are so desperate to hold onto their vision of reality and the future, that they unequivocally reject the testimony of the person born blind – kicking him out for being a sinner. The disciples articulate this belief at the story’s beginning: blind people were believed to be blind because either they or their parents/forebears had sinned – blindness was punishment for iniquity. And according to the Pharisee’s world view, that reality cannot change: once a sinner, condemned by God, left out on the margins of society, always a sinner, condemned by God, on the margins. Once broken, always broken. (See again Vena, Working Preacher Commentary on John 9:1-41.)
If blindness is punishment for sin, those reading this story must ask about the sinfulness of the Pharisees who are blind to the miracle of renewed sight sitting right in front of them – and therefore, blind to the Sent and Anointed One for whom they had been watching for centuries. As Vena writes, “The man [born blind] is a foil for the blindness of the Pharisees, a poignant example of the irony of the Fourth Gospel and the humor of the region: a blind man who sees what the religious authorities do not (cf. 39-41).”
We might also wonder about the sinfulness of all who are unable to see the reign of God in the here and now, that is, those blind to the extraordinary gift we have in creation, the life it supports, and the Spirit actively renewing, restoring, and reigning throughout the cosmos. Theology of Work’s Commentary on John 9 reminds us that,
“Christ’s unusual method of healing and the subsequent actions of the no-longer-blind man, again show that the world of flesh-and-bone — and mud — is the place of God’s [reign]. Jesus’ method — mixing spit with dirt and putting it on the man’s eyes — is not madness, but a calculated echo of the creation of [hu]mankind (Genesis 2:7). In both biblical and Greek tradition, mud (pēlos) is used to describe what people are made of. Note, for example, Job 10:9, ‘Remember that you fashioned me like clay; will you turn me to dust again?'”
But rather than wallow in perceived sinfulness, perhaps we can hear Jesus speaking to us with the promise of John 9:3: As Vena writes, “…the text seems to combat the idea that sickness [/blindness] is related to sin”. Vena also claims that a more accurate punctuation placement would render the text, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me … ”
Okay: we aren’t terrible sinners. Instead, maybe this is a time and we are a people through whom God’s works might be revealed. Maybe, just as no one had ever heard of a blind person having their sight restored, we might discover that nature, too, can be restored – against all odds and without historical precedent (until very recently, thanks be to God!).
Today’s readings are clearly an exhortation to open our eyes to new and seemingly impossible ideas. For starters, what if climate care became a norm, rather than a daily concern and global crisis?
Writing from the perspective of cultural organizing, Puerto Rico-born, Minneapolis-based protest artist and activist, Ricardo Levins Morales offers us eight tips for Tending the Soil: Lessons for Organizing, reminding us that, “the soil is more important than the seeds; it’s hard to get anything to grow if the soil is barren, toxic and won’t hold moisture.” Reflecting on recent climate losses and reversals, Levins Morales observes that climate-deniers have, “for forty years… devoted themselves largely to preparing the soil,” with toxic messages, including, “stuff that sounds ridiculous, fighting for things that aren’t winnable yet, because they’re investing in the future and ten years later it won’t sound ridiculous and they’ll win”. He wonders,
“What stories, what narratives, what beliefs – if they were widely disseminated in the soil of our communities – would make it easy to win? …What would make victories easy if everyone believed it? We’re the only ones who can plant the seed of the tree that one day we want to live under. We need to [prepare] the soil in which that tree can grow.”
We are called, today, to open our eyes to new and seemingly impossible ideas. If we can see those impossible visions, we can share them; if we can share them, we can fertilize new soil: we can create the soil from which God’s desired future will root and grow.
Before God’s works can be revealed in or through us, first, we need to see.
If what we see is not New Life for all of God’s beloved creation, including humanity – let’s check that the mud we’re wiping from our eyes contains Jesus’ spit and not something toxic from someone else. Then, let’s look with renewed sight toward God’s preferred future, join Jesus and others in disseminating stories affirming and preparing for that future, and see if we can’t mix up some mud and spread it around: things may get messy, but messy is better than toxic.
And the spring / vernal equinox is the time.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, ‘Vernal translates to “new” and “fresh,” and equinox [derives] from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night)… [O]ur hours of daylight… have been growing slightly longer each day since the winter solstice… The vernal equinox marks the turning point when daylight begins to win out over darkness.’
It’s time to wake up, to open our eyes.
For our pagan, druidic, and many Indigenous siblings, the spring equinox is a celebration of the return of spring: a time for planting – both literally in gardens and for the soul’s well-being; it’s a time of, “raw possibility (when Oestra’s egg of pure potential cracks open)”, a time to set new intentions; in some cultures it marks the New Year. The spring equinox is also a time of “holy equality”, when dark and light/night and day are equal in length; a time of extraordinary balance, out of which many find courage, joy, and renewal – even as “the winds of change and uncertainty gust” – because it is also a time of synergy with all creation and intimacy with “kindreds – human and non-human”. (We’Moon: Spring Equinox Rituals and Traditions)
Without further appropriating Earth-centered spiritualities’ spring equinox celebrations (see: See Baring, Anne, & Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image; London, Arkana: 1991; 566.), the Season of Lent – as so many of our Lenten texts reveal – is the perfect time to take off the blinders, reconsider our perspective, and cast a new vision so we can, “prepare the soil” to receive seeds of hope and flourishing for creation and all humanity.
What might God be urging us to see or experience in this spring equinox? Where is God’s new life already springing into being as we move through these three days of balance and regeneration?
Today’s Gospel reading is a primer on the multiple and varied forms of human blindness – and the extraordinary lengths we’ll go to to remain blind, while perennially, generationally stigmatizing, shaming, and blaming those we see as blind. (See Ash Wednesday, Isaiah 58:9 for God’s opinion of, “the pointing of the finger”.)
Here’s an intergenerational “game:” set John 9 side-by-side with Dr. Tema Okun’s 15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and see who can find the most connections the most quickly. The lines will be a tangle, as so many characteristics intersect, but in John’s narrative, every character exhibits or avoids one or a multitude of Okun’s 15 behaviors.
Okun’s apologetics for divorcing white supremacy culture sound much like Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel:
“[W]e have been hoodwinked, all of us, about what is really important… any attempt to be perfect is in fact a fool’s errand (not that we are fools) because learning from our mistakes is how we grow and learn and lean into our glorious and flawed humanity. We can never be perfect when perfection is defined by others, particularly by institutions and cultures that do not care about or for us. We are, in fact, already perfect. We were born perfect. No striving necessary.”
All of this is to say, supremacy culture lies at the heart of immense damage – to our individual selves, our human neighbors, our neighborhoods, communities, society and culture; and to the planet as a whole. All this accepted blindness leads to generational traumas and catastrophic climactic distress.
The spring equinox is a cosmic moment of balance: an opportunity – embraced by our pagan, Indigenous, and druidic ancestors and contemporaries – to have our eyes opened.
And here’s Jesus with some mud in his hands.
And the waters of baptism lie always at the ready to wash the mud away.
For there is no room to assume that our vision is already clear – that smacks of defensiveness/denial intersecting with power hoarding and perfectionism with a heavy dose of a belief in “one” right way mixed in for good measure.
It’s also exactly what the Pharisees assumed. And we all know what happens when we assume anything: Jesus turns us into a donkey…
Pearl #2 of Ricardo Levins Morales’ 8 pearls of wisdom for Tending the Soil (#5 is summarized above) regards Moon Spaces – where power is “reflected”, i.e., negotiating tables, court rooms, legislatures: “where contending forces …come up with a decision”; Sun Spaces – where power is generated, i.e., “where the people are”: on the streets, in the movement; and Community Power – increasing our “leverage” by creating more alliances and broader networks, to build up power in the Sun Spaces, so we have “more energy at our back” entering the Moon Spaces.
What if we could get mud into everyone’s eyes, all at the same time? Could we all begin to see the way God sees? Could we all recognize the extraordinary abundance with which God provides us every day? Might narratives of abundance, healing, and joyful collegiality make for more fertile soil, where the seeds of renewal, reparations, restoration, i.e., New Life, might take root and grow?
The Spring Equinox seems a good time to assess – in whatever justice efforts we may endeavor – how to disseminate the Christian (but not unique) narrative of resurrection to broader and broader recipients. Where might we “generate more power”? What new alliances might we forge? With what other organizations or individuals might we partner to “give us more energy at our back” so we enter Moon Spaces with a full tank?
In this three-day Equinox Season (that isn’t a coincidence!) when the sun passes Earth’s celestial equator, moving northward to bring spring to the Northern Hemisphere and fall to the Southern, we see all sorts of promise (up here in the Northwoods it may take a little longer, but we’ll appreciate it all the more!): birds follow the sun and return North, buds and shoots begin to appear, the snow is melting as the earth and air are warming. Our bleary, snow-glare eyes are newly opened and dazzled by the splendor of New Life. Take your pick of metaphors: birds nesting and dropping eggs, butterflies returning, bunnies, squirrels, chippies and bears coming out of hibernation: the North is waking.
The past few years, it seems, Jesus has been busy mixing up mud and smearing it on our eyes. This vernal equinox, let’s let the spring rains wash it away.
Resurrection must be just around the corner – if we can open our eyes to see it.
Here’s mud in your eye!
Hymn suggestion: As the Sun with Longer Journey, ELW #329
Song suggestion: Somewhere to Begin, Sara Thomsen
Originally written by Rev. Emily P.L. Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) in 2023; adapted from commentary originally appearing in Green Blades Rising Preacher’s Roundtable.
Find more from Emily Meyer at www.theministrylab.org.
 Footnote from Theology of Work Commentary: “This verse is especially interesting because the mud is in synonymous parallelism with dust, using the same Hebrew word for dust as in the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7. For other associations of humanity and mud in the Bible, see e.g. Isaiah 29:16, 45:9; Jeremiah 18:6; Sirach 33:18; Romans 9:21; cf. Job 10:9, 33:6; outside the Bible, see e.g. Aristophanes, Birds 686; Herodes Odes 2.29.
 See: Rebuilding the ozone layer: how the world came together for the ultimate repair job and Ozone layer recovers, limiting global warming by 0.5 Celsius
 Wanting to see “like God” but instead descending into dualism (Gen. 3:5); lifting our eyes to the hills for help (Psalm 121); seeing God’s reign in anew (John 3/Matthew 17; Exodus 17:6) – or not (Psalm 95:9); being fully seen and inviting others to see (John 4); learning to see as God sees (1 Sam. 16:7); being led through shadow and illumination (Psalm 23; Ephesians 5); healing blindness (John 9); prophetic vision (Ezekiel 37); seeing new life (John 11:34ff).