Ever seen a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes? Or how about a lion-like beast sporting six wings, and covered with eyes inside and out?
Yeah, me neither.
But yesterday I did encounter a man whose sight had been restored after 45 years or so of blindness.
On balance, it seemed no less miraculous to me than the bizarre creatures of the Apocalypse that we’ve been hearing about at Mass all this past week. The man’s cure provided ample proof that inexplicable things are still happening today, through the power of the Risen One.
The healed man is a friend of mine, a member of the faith-sharing group with whom I meet just about every Saturday morning. We were discussing today’s first reading from Ezekiel, in which the Lord promises to rescue his scattered sheep – ‘rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark.’
My friend recounted the story of his own spiritual rescue: how his heart had been touched, quite unexpectedly, during a retreat team formation meeting a couple of years ago. ‘I realized this was for me,’ he said. ‘I thought I was there to do something for the participants, but the Lord meant this gift for me. And I didn’t even know I needed it.’
Next, a couple others of us in the group told our tales – how we remembered an occasion when we were similarly touched with an unmistakable (and quite personal) experience of our individual belovedness. For some, the experience had come early on in adulthood. For others, it was well into middle-age. As for my friend, he’d ‘been blind’ (as he put it) until he was well into his 60s.
So why, we wondered, does the Good Shepherd work that way? Why not just gather up the whole flock at once, and celebrate with a big-time victory dance?
The questions are natural enough, especially for a group of task-oriented men. ‘Let’s just git ‘er done.’ What struck me, though, were all those bizarre images I’d been hearing from Revelation all week – a vivid reminder that salvation won’t necessarily play out in the way(s) I expect.
I recalled, too, the legend of the cracked jug – a story that goes something like this:
There was a woman who carried water up a steep hill to her village every day…in two large clay jugs tied to the ends of a wooden pole which she balanced across her neck.
One of the jars was older than the other, and had some cracks – and so by the time the woman reached the village, two-thirds of the water in it was lost. Day after day, she made the journey..day after day, a significant portion of the life-giving liquid never making it to the top of the hill.
Understandably, the newer jug took great pride in its highly efficient performance, while the older one was filled with shame at not being able to honor the woman’s hard work. And so one day, the older jug spoke to the woman. ‘I want to apologize,’ it said, ‘that because of my imperfections, you are only able to deliver a third of my intended load.’
The woman replied with a smile, ‘When we return to the stream, I want you to look at the path.’ And so it did: And the old cracked jug noticed that one side of the path was rocky and barren, while the other side – its side – bloomed with a marvelous array of plants and wildflowers.
‘I have always known you were cracked,’ the woman told the old jug. ‘What you see as imperfection, I see as an opportunity to nurture all this beauty and abundance along the way.’
As I marveled at my friend’s story – of a spiritual blindness, cured late in life – I gave thanks for the often inscrutable ways in which God works. There are definitely surprises in store. And to my heart at least, they offer a blessed assurance that the promise of Revelation will be realized: Christ does reign in the end.
Ultimately, the Lamb is victorious…even if it’s in a way we never see coming.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.