Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, our current situation amplifies our need to blame, require airtight explanations, and develop rules to protect our understanding of how life works. Remind us today that these habits in no way make life better. They often plunge us into a too familiar blinding darkness. Give us the Good News again that Jesus is the Light of the world whose faithfulness enables us to see your love for us all. Amen.
When at 17 I first sensed God might be calling me into Christian vocational ministry, I never thought I would make the turn to TV preacher. But, here we are.
One of these days, when I am gone, my grandchildren might talk about the time they watched Doc on their SmartTv or iPad. Looking with a great deal of earnestness, I suspect one of them would ask why. What did Doc do to deserve that?
The story of the 2019 Pandemic will be retold as history just like we are re-learning about the Spanish Flu. One question that may come up, “What got it all started?” “Where did it come from?” My future great-grandchildren and their children will learn the history of our current events. It will include the work of different researchers that will take their turn pointing out the social, economic and civil consequences.
And, I would suspect, just like every other troubling event some will either scapegoat religion or the religious will use the event to blame this group or that for our difficulty. Tornados, hurricanes, horrific mass killings and more have been explained by blaming, scapegoating, one group or another from the bully pulpits of our Country.
The response is not new. In fact, it seems to be wired into our way of explaining the arbitrariness of life to ask with the disciples,
Rabbi, teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Some might recognize this sort of thinking with a reference to Karma. Think of the now sober Earl Hickey who would pull out his handwritten note working to make amends for past mistakes so that he might receive some good karma. Listen to conversations over coffee and it does not take long before the connection between what is described as a life of blessing and reward is connected to right living. It only takes a pandemic, or a man born blind at birth, to challenge that human notion. Yet, we still find a way to revert to blaming when attempting to cover our own lack of explanation.
Blaming others illustrates how our human tendency is toward a walk in darkness. And, that is my first point.
John, the Gospel writer, weaves the story of the man born blind with such skill. He begins his gospel with the metaphor of light describing Jesus,
in him was life, and the life was the light of all people . . . The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He points out that John the Baptizer is not the light but a voice that calls attention to the Light. John, the Gospel writer, goes on to tell the story of the religious leader, Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night and the story of the Samaritan women with whom Jesus talked in broad daylight. He includes Jesus’ own words in the previous chapter,
I am the light of the world.
To some today the grandiose claim smacks of narcissism at worst and self-importance at least. But missing from those observations is that Jesus played down the common conceptions of power and strength and instead used what was available to him to serve the good of others – the blind, the lame, the sick, the nobodies, and the dead. He often left them with, “Don’t tell anyone.” This is hardly the habit of a narcissistic Jesus. And, here, right here in this long story, Jesus blows up blaming others with a little mud and water.
He tells the disciples, whom we have not heard from since chapter six and the feeding of the 5000 and more,
Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
Blaming does not work. It is not an explanation. Shifting focus from what the man or his parents might have done and placing all the emphasis upon how God might be revealed in the unfolding events is a sign. God’s activity in the world brings light. Blaming others is to walk into darkness and away from the light of our own needs.
And if our group, any group, can’t place enough blame to satisfy our need to call out some other person or group, you may be sure that we will look for explanations that confirm our bias. And that is my second point.
When the religious leaders learned, even saw, what had happened, that the blind man was now seeing, they wanted an explanation. Doesn’t that sound just like the way we are human? Rather than celebrate the good that came to another, we would rather interrogate. And that is just what happened. However, unlike future students who will read about the events that began unfolding in our world at the end of last year with a view to understanding, those who listened to the man’s story did not like the details. It did not fit what they had already decided.
If blaming others is a walk into darkness, looking for answers that only fit what you have already concluded is to keep walking into the darkness that eventually blinds and is a choice against your own self-interest. The group interrogating Jesus would benefit from the freedom he would bring them. The false hope vested in their privileged position blinded them to the realities under which they were living, even oppressed. Think about it. They were big wigs in a captive state overseen by a man knowing that any minute he could lose his job if the occupied got out of hand.
Worse, food insecurity and an overall lack of freedom to self-govern were regular reminders that the narrative of chosen-ness ran up against reality every single day. Obsessing over a blind man now seeing characterizes the darkness that blinds. When they interrogated the blind man, his explanation about a man he did not know, Jesus, did not fit what they had already concluded about God’s Messiah. Jesus did not fit their answers.
In quit the rhetorical twist, the blind man is asked where Jesus is and by the time the second interrogation concludes, the blind man is astonished that those who should know where Jesus is from don’t. The one made to see is now informing those who think they can see they are instead very blind. Classic!
The blind man gradually learns the value of his own liberation by Jesus’ use of mud and water. Jesus flaunted the interrogators’ rules. And while lurking in the background, Jesus’ challenge to the powers came through the man now changed by God’s grace. Notice, this is what human beings do. When we choose against our own best self-interest, we create rules to protect our way. And that is my third point.
John, the Gospel writer, demonstrates this initially in the first accusation against Jesus. Jesus broke the sabbath. Some suggest that Jesus’ actions that resulted in the healing of the blind man broke at least 4 of some 30 plus rules surrounding sabbath keeping.
Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
From that one law, a host of rules developed that had to be kept in order to maintain righteousness. This hasn’t gone away. This too is all too human. We Christians must admit to the rules we create to maintain the purity of our various groups. Every human-constructed group includes the reality that others are left out. When there are others to omit, rules must be made to keep those others out. In this case, as in most, the very people that might liberate the group are kept out by the rules made to keep the group identity pure.
Maybe that is what prompted the blind man to refer to Jesus as a prophet. Prophets were often dismissed as noisy outsiders. Their message of impending judgment dismissed as the ranting of an aloof wanderer eating honey and locust.
Jesus could not be considered part of the group for he broke the rules of the interrogators’ group. The blind man could not become part of the group for in his newfound sight, he could clearly see that the rules Jesus broke were oppressive to the degree that had Jesus kept their rules he would still be blind.
The parallels to the story John gives us here in his Gospel gets played out in all human groups. We blame, we only allow what confirms the answers we have already decided are true, and we make rules to keep our group intact.
I am sure we could discover more. But these are clearly in play in the antagonisms at work between the blind man and his interrogators and Jesus and his detractors. And these are characteristic actions of humanity that John, the Gospel writer describes as darkness.
Rather than leave the world to reckless blaming, a settled world view and rules to govern our darkness, God came into the concrete reality of our darkness in Jesus, the Christ. Choosing against his own self-interest, Jesus, the Light of the world, walks the dark road of our own making, calls out too we who are blind and by his word makes us see.
When we come to the Scriptures, made alive by the Spirit of God, we are hearing the words of God as revealing the Living Word of God that has indeed taken away our darkness by his life, suffered death at the human refusal to see, and was raised from the dead to establish an open invitation to all to see as von Balthasar said,
“Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.”
The blind man learned that Love is Jesus.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen or watch here.