Sunday, April 3, 2011

When People Don't Listen: A Dialogue with the Blind Man

I was really surprised and delighted this past week to see such an uptick in visits to this blog. I couldn't imagine what suddenly caught everyone's attention. But upon further examination, there was a run on people looking at the entry, "Here's Mud In Your Eye!" That makes sense given that the Gospel lesson for Sunday is from John 9 which is the story of the blind man given his sight after Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, rubs it on his eyes and tells him to wash in the water of Siloam.

In my previous entry, I talked a lot about the disabled, and the whole notion of seeing a disabled person as a sinner, or a person who is being punished by God. This time around, when reading the story, I was struck by the way this guy who has experienced the touch of God tries to tell people about it and his audience ignores him, or worse.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Silo'am and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

It is not unusual for people to talk about the disabled, but not bother to talk to them. Such is the case here. And when they asked him, and he told the story of what Jesus did, they didn't accept the explanation. Instead, they wanted to know, "Where is he?" The man tells them the truth: "I don't know." And this is not good enough...

They brought to the Phar'isees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Phar'isees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." Some of the Phar'isees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

OK... this should suffice. But here, again, the Pharisees are obsessing over the idea that Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath. And they know that you aren't supposed to do anything on the Sabbath. And what type of guy does this sort of thing on the Sabbath. Meanwhile, our formerly blind man is sitting in the corner wondering "Do you still need me, or can I go now?" No, he can't because now the Pharisees and the neighbors want proof that this man was really blind... even though they'd seen him as a blind beggar for years:

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

So, now we can't trust the guy to tell his own story: we have to ask his parents. One of the things I note in this passage is the mention of "anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue." This is the major thrust of John's gospel every time he says, "The Jews". John's gospel was written at a time and for a people who were being cast out from their synagogue's for professing "The Way". They were the minority inside a minority religion in the Roman world. In some ways, the relationship of "the Jews" to "the Way" is a little like some of the tensions one sees in the gay community. There are those who are anxious for us to be accepted and think the way to achieve that is by having us behave and dress in ways that are more staid and conservative. But there are many of us who shun that idea, and like to express our differences from the heterosexual world through our clothing and hairstyles. This leads to tension... and much drama.

Something similar happens to our formerly blind man. He now is such a non-entity and not trustworthy that we have to ask his parents if he had really been blind. "Yes, he was blind. No, we don't know who did it. Ask him!" With nowhere else to turn, the crowd looks again at the formerly blind man.

"Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Again, remembering who John is writing for here, it is not a surprise that the formerly blind man gets identified with Jesus... and is driven out of the synagogue. That's what was happening. It still happens today. Again, looking at the gay community, how many have risked revealing their sexual orientation only to find themselves put out by their faith communities? Sexual orientation, whatever it is, is a gift from God. And if it is of God, then it's good. If it is not exploitative or abusive, it is good. And if it results in companionship, it is good. Gender does not matter in love.

This is not the message many have heard from their churches or other faith communities, and it is a shame. They should hear this message, even if their priest or pastor is incapable of communicating it because this is the message that is throughout Scripture. If "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all should not perish but have everlasting life," then that means he came to redeem gay people, too... and not until they have completed some bogus re-education program that leaves them more messed up and self-loathing. So, to any of you still on the outs with your faith community, I invite you to read closely this next section of John's story about the blind man:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.

Two things I notice here. One, and this is a big one, when Jesus hears that the man had been kicked out of his community, he found him. This is really "the way" of Jesus. He has touched this man's life and led him to the place of having new eyes to see the world for the first time. And his community has responded poorly to that and kicked him out. But Jesus sought him out again. If you take the idea that sexual orientation is a gift of God, it would seem that when one 'discovers' his or her orientation, this is a bit like having had mud stuck in the eye and washing it out. If your orientation makes you "different" and results in you getting kicked out of your church community, I'm convinced by this scene, that Jesus WILL seek you out. Do you believe in this? That's the question you have to answer for yourself.

Another thing strikes me is the statement, "And he worshipped him." Some might see this as, "him" meaning "Jesus". But I am not so sure that "him" is referring to "Jesus" the flesh and blood human being. Jesus is very carefully directing the attention to the "Father who sent me." I've always thought this is because Jesus is on a mission to bring the people of Israel back to the God who delivered them from Egypt; not the God who gets them the winning lottery numbers. The John passage ends on a curious exchange with Jesus and the Pharisees:

Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Phar'isees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains.

I read this as Jesus saying, "This blind man, who you were happy to ignore, is the very sheep that I have been looking for. But once he had his sight, you turned on him because you are unable to see him as the blessed sheep I know him to be. For shame!" Let that be a message for those who would turn away and cast out any of God's gay children. We are some of the very sheep that the good shepherd is searching for and bringing back into the flock. See us as the sheep we are and quit asking us who invited us inside the gate. Isn't it obvious?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Terrific comment on this passage.

Love it!