Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Lent, one of the two Sundays of the year that the priest may wear rose-colored vestments. On this day, we read about Jesus’ healing ministry for the blind (John 9: 1-41).
In this passage, Jesus cured the blindness of a man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees learned Jesus had done this healing on the Sabbath, they said that Jesus must not be of God, for he healed the man on the Sabbath. In those days, Jews were not to do any work. Other Jews took a different approach and wondered how Jesus could do a miracle if he were not from God. Thus, the Jews began arguing among themselves.
Now, sometimes, people hear such miracle stories of Jesus and come to the conclusion that they don’t apply today. They say, “Well, that was a nice thing for Jesus to do, but I’m not blind. It doesn’t apply to me.”
Before automatically dismissing such a story, however, it would be good to remember that many people are spiritually blind. They are so busy looking for the faults of others, that they cannot see the ones in their own lives. Others are addicted to things that can hurt them. Some addicts simply live in denial; they are truly spiritually blind to the disease. Others know they are addicted but give up; they don’t believe in miracles.
In the following story, we encounter a woman who knew she was playing with danger that could kill her. She denied, however, that she had a problem. She held onto the delusion that she could give up her dangerous behavior any time she wanted. Here is her story.
Burt Hunter was a newspaper reporter and photographer in Long Beach, California, and he had a very interesting assignment. He was scheduled to interview and photograph a woman snake charmer in her home.
Before Burt visited the woman’s home, he expected everything about her – her looks, behavior, house, etc. – to be weird. He was quite surprised, therefore, to discover that she lived in a very nice upper-class neighborhood. She definitely didn’t look like someone who played with snakes.
Burt could not help mentioning his preconceived ideas to her. He said, “I don’t understand why a wealthy, attractive woman such as yourself is engaging in this kind of business. It seems awfully dangerous to me.”
The woman smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t do it because I have to do it. It’s just a fascinating hobby. I really like the element of danger involved. Someday, soon, I plan to give it up and spend more time with my flowers. I can quit this anytime I want to.”
While Burt got his camera and recording equipment set up, the woman brought in baskets that contained deadly, poisonous cobras. She then confidently lifted some of the deadly snakes as he snapped pictures of her handling them.
After placing the snakes back into their baskets, the woman said to Burt, “Please be especially quiet now and don’t make any sudden moves. I’m going to take out my newest snake. It isn’t completely used to me yet.”
The woman picked up the new snake. Suddenly, she stiffened and whispered, “Something’s wrong. I’m going to put the snake back into the basket.” She opened the lid of the basket and began to slowly return the snake.
Suddenly, with lightening-fast speed, the cobra buried its fangs into the woman’s wrist. The woman forced the snake into the basket and closed the lid.
The woman then spoke calmly to Burt, “Go quickly into my medicine chest and bring the snake serum. Hurry!” Burt, trembling, ran to the bathroom and returned with the precious vial.
The woman instructed him how to take out the syringe and fit the needle on. She then told him how to withdraw the serum. Burt followed her directions, but because his hands were shaking so badly, he dropped the tiny bottle. The bottle shattered on the floor, the serum splattered everywhere.
“Tell me,” Burt said, “Where I can get another vial.”
In a quiet voice, the woman said, “That was my last one.”
The woman’s agony ended a few hours later when she died.
Burt never forgot that woman. He often recalled what the woman had said to him that day: “I can quit anytime I want to.”
This story of a snake charmer who thought she could quit her dangerous behavior anytime she wanted, is a very vivid reminder that when we keep playing with fire, we are likely to get burned.
This story also reminds us that we can never count on the future. People who believe they will quit their dangerous behaviors – behaviors such as overdrinking, smoking, overeating, engaging in an affair, stealing, or whatever – in the future, may find themselves just like the woman in today’s story. Her death came before her “quitting time,” and that could happen to us.
The moral of the story is that we should examine our lives for spiritual blindness, identify any behaviors we need to extinguish, and then get busy overcoming the problems. And though we should use all the resources available to us in our struggles, we should always, in addition, ask God to help us on our healing journeys.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2017.
Story source: Anonymous, “I Can Quit,” in Wayne Rice (Ed.), Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks
4, Grand Rapids, MI: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2001, pp. 82-83.