Lent 4A (March 26, 2017)

The Pool of Siloam is a feat of engineering without which we might not be here. Ancient Jerusalem was built by the spring of Gihon, which supplied the city with water. The spring was at the foot of the hill, the city on the hill, which was more easily defended. This left the water vulnerable. When the Assyrians under Sennacherib marched on Judah, King Hezekiah had a tunnel dug and the water rerouted inside the fortifications. The waterway ends in the Pool of Siloam. The Assyrians could surround Jerusalem but could not cut off the water. Jerusalem survived the siege. Had the Assyrians gained control of the water, our history would be very different. The pool is still there 730 years later when Jesus heals the man born blind. It figures in the healing: “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.”

Jesus quickly sees what needs doing, and does it. He anoints the guy’s eyes without wasting time, and sends him to the Pool of Siloam. It all embodies Jesus’ attitude: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Basically, “Let’s do God’s work now, while we can.” The opportunity has presented itself; let’s take it! It’s a mindset we should want, yet it does not come naturally to us.

The disciples express our default mindset when they ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Hopefully, we know that’s not how that works. We are still tempted to ask the same basic question—whose fault is it—for everything. Everything that happens that we don’t like, we ask, “How can this be a problem, and who can we blame for it?” And we are so eager to find problems and blame them on someone that we don’t even notice the opportunities to do God’s work. We don’t have a Pool of Siloam here in Valparaiso, but we do have a water distribution system, and we have a rather big problem with the water system just up the road in East Chicago. If we take note of this (and, granted, that’s a big “if”) we probably move quickly to assign blame for it. It’s the companies that dumped the waste, or it’s the old pipes, or it’s the mayor not handling it properly, or it’s the former governor not asking for help, or it’s even somehow the fault of the residents for being there and trying to drink water. It’s all our version of asking, “Who sinned?”

While that question seems legit, and fits our notions of retributive justice, it is not on the same wavelength as Jesus. Jesus sees the man born blind and instead of trying to blame someone says, “I am going to give him his eyesight, because I have the opportunity to do God’s work and I want to take it.” Likewise, we can see an city with a poisoned water supply, and can almost hear Jesus say, “I’ve got an idea: Let’s give them clean water!” We want to say, “It’s not that simple,” and we’re right, because we make it so damn complicated. We can’t just do the obvious thing—no, that would make too much sense—can’t even think of the obvious thing on our own, because sin has such a grip on us. Many of us choose not even to think about the crisis in East Chicago because it is such a mess, and because we know that trying to fix it will rankle someone. Someone benefits from the water being poisonous and no one fixing that. The blame game creates right and wrong, powerful and powerless. God’s solutions make trouble because they destroy this, and refuse to replace it—the most powerful and righteous person in the Bible is dead on a cross, and unable to do much because of that—so even those who are all about fighting the power often give up on God’s work when they realize they aren’t going to be in charge when the work is done. So, we become like the blind man’s parents before the Council. “Look, this is our son, and he doesn’t lie, but ask him to tell his story and please leave us out of it. We don’t want any trouble.” That’s the way we act without God. That’s the way we are, and we cannot act otherwise than what we are.

In Jesus, God writes God into our history. When God is in our history, we can do God’s work. The Pool of Siloam is God writing God into our history. Without the Pool, without Hezekiah’s hidden waterway, we don’t have the subsequent generations of Israelites, we don’t have our faith tradition as we know it. (Now, God can do anything and can work with anything, and would’ve done God’s work one way or another. The point is, God did write God into our history in this particular way.) God wrote God into the history of the Man Born Blind, again using the Pool of Siloam. That man’s life is different because God changed his history. And it’s not just the gift of eyesight. This guy goes from being a beggar whose neighbors have trouble identifying him to being able to hold his own before a hostile court. God is such a part of this guy’s history that he even gets to use the Divine Name, the I AM. It’s easy to miss, but while his neighbors are disputing, “Could this be that blind guy?”, he keeps saying, “I AM! I AM! I AM!” In Jesus, God writes God into the man’s history.

God writes God into our history through our own Pool of Siloam, our Baptism. We enact this every time we baptize. When sponsors present a candidate they present a Timothy Andrew, for example. When the pastor dunks or splashes the candidate, they pronounce them Timothy Andrew Child of God. God has changed your history. God is now always a part of it. That forever influences how you act. I’m conditioned by my history. The way I grew up, the way my family related, the things that happened to us and through us—those things are set; I cannot escape them. I cannot act otherwise than what I am. But now that God has written God into my history, that changes what I am.

God in my history changes us. Just look at the Man Born Blind. His baptism, as it were, comes at the beginning of today’s story. The rest of the story is him living with this new history. From the moment he is baptized he can utter the divine I AM, and he can point to “the man they call Jesus” as the one who healed him. The Pharisees—people who believe that Temple regulations regulate daily life—try to determine what happened, and while they are divided, the baptized man declares, “Jesus is a prophet.” The leaders try to use him to build a case against Jesus: “This Jesus person is a sinner. Tell the jury how he worked on the Sabbath.” And he comes back with, “You seem to enjoy stories about Jesus. Do you want to join his movement?” He winds up thrown out of the synagogue for this. And suddenly here is Jesus again, and the baptized man can call Jesus the Son of Man, the rightful judge of all things and the one who is lifted up to save the world. This is a somewhat compressed faith journey (and one heck of a day for the baptized guy). Yet his story tells how our lives also change when God writes God into our history, and changes who we are.

Our default mindset meets its match. Sin makes us say, “How can this be a problem and who can I blame for it?” God written into our history makes us say, “I see an opportunity to do God’s work.” Sin keeps us from seeing the obvious, and when we do see the obvious, Sin scares us off. God written into our history makes us say, “I’m pretty sure the obvious would work if we wanted it to, and I would like to give it a shot.” Sin says, “This is going to upset somebody. I mean, that whole faultfinding system of ours creates a hierarchy, where the ones at the bottom are at fault and the ones at the top are in the right. And no one ever thinks’ they’re the ones at the bottom, at fault. A lot of people are going to be mad if you fix this and don’t have at least one person bear the blame in a spectacular manner.” God written into our history says, “Having seen the obvious, and having seen through what Sin is telling us, I think we have to go ahead and do God’s work. We’ll treat the complaints as opportunities to explain what we’re doing.”

What we’re doing is writing God into the world’s history, by putting God before the world, by setting the Pool of Siloam in everyone’s lives, and, yes, by making sure potable water is part of life today as it was for Jerusalem when Hezekiah dug his hidden tunnel. It’s all part of doing God’s work as the opportunities arise, working while there is light. It’s obvious. It’s not necessarily simple or easy. It’s living as the baptized. Luther says in his Large Catechism, “In baptism, every Christian has enough to study and practice all of his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings—victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts.” It’s a baptized life’s work. We are practicing forgiveness of sins. We are practicing God’s grace. We’re practicing victory over death. Water for the living now, and living water for life eternal.