Looking for a City Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2011 It’s Palm Sunday on this day we imagine Jesus riding into the Holy City, being greeted with shouts of Hosanna! And with palm branches. Jesus, a rural, peasant, itinerant preacher and healer, a prophet calling for justice, challenging the powerful and offering hope to […]
Looking for a City
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2011
It’s Palm Sunday on this day we imagine Jesus riding into the Holy City, being greeted with shouts of Hosanna! And with palm branches.
Jesus, a rural, peasant, itinerant preacher and healer, a prophet calling for justice, challenging the powerful and offering hope to the down-trodden, has come to the big city following a dream.
He’s looking for a city that is dedicated to God, that serves God by serving others, that is a little slice of paradise right here on earth. What he finds is something a little different.
Matthew’s Jesus shows us today what the kingdom of God looks like.
The kingdom of God is ironic. The kingdom of God is opposite to worldly power systems. The kingdom of God is a realm without a monarch, without a dictator, without an elite class, without people being privileged because of their gender or their sexual orientation or their ethnicity or their race or their economic status. There are no haves and have nots in the kingdom of God. In the divine realm, God shows no partiality (Acts 10.34) and the first are last and the last are first (Matthew 19.30). God’s kingdom is not like the power structures of this world, and this story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem shows that very dramatically.
What Matthew takes for granted is that his original audience will know that while Jesus is parading on a silly little donkey through a back gate of the city followed by illiterate peasants, on the other side of the city Pontius Pilate is parading on a war horse surrounded by a squadron of Roman soldiers. The contrast is explicit to Matthew’s intended audience.
The kingdoms and empires of the world honor and privilege wealth, military might, and social standing. But the kingdom of God is a realm with a preferential option for the poor, the meek, the lowly, the oppressed, the marginalized, the queer, the forgotten, the different, the suffering, the lonely, and the fearful. Empires rule by instilling fear; God’s realm offers love powerful enough to overcome fear (1 John 4.18). In the empire there is crucifixion; in God’s realm there is resurrection.
You see, the Greek word that is used for God’s kingdom would better be translated “empire” and it is used over against the Roman imperial rule; in other words, God’s realm is an anti-empire, an anti-kingdom. God’s realm isn’t about a potentate on a throne deciding the fate of fearful subjects, but is about community, sharing, helping, healing, seeing great potential in the “least of these” (Matthew 25.40), and helping people find hope and joy in their lives. God’s realm is a kin-dom where we are all sisters and brothers, where everyone has sacred value, and where the greatest among us might not be on a grand war horse surrounded by Roman guards, but instead be entering through the back gate riding on a ridiculous little donkey.
Jesus is shown not as taking over the position of a king or emperor, but replacing such a system with the counter-kingdom of God, the anti-empire of God, the community of God, the family of God, the kin-dom of God.
Matthew has made this point throughout this gospel.
From the beginning, when he shows us Jesus’ lineage in chapter one with all those boring begats, he lifts up those who the keepers of power would put down. He names some women in Jesus’ lineage, which in his patriarchal culture was cutting edge in itself, but he goes even further. The women he names are all, well, not rubbing elbows with the upper crust.
Matthew names as Jesus’ ancestors Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law after she has been widowed and left childless. Another ancestor of Jesus that Matthew names is Rahab, a prostitute. Another ancestor of Jesus, according to Matthew, is Ruth the Moabite…a member of a community that Jesus’ ancestors would have despised. Another ancestor was Bathsheba, the wife of the general Uriah, who had an affair with David, and whose husband was sent into battle to die once she became pregnant with David’s child. This isn’t a soap opera, this is the bible! And of course, Jesus’ own mother conceives him out of wedlock, and instead of being a scandal, it’s called a miracle! God’s realm just isn’t like the kingdoms of this world!
In chapter 2, Matthew has Magi coming from Persia, but they come to honor the son of a peasant girl. The least and the lowly is who is honored. The son of an unwed mother is who is called the son of God. It would seem odd in the circles of power of the Empire, but God’s realm is unlike such circles of power. In God’s realm, the chosen one comes riding on a donkey though the back gate of the city.
Matthew also shows that crowds can be fickle. When others applaud, we applaud too. When others laugh, we laugh too. When others heckle, gossip, and speak hateful untruths, we listen and all too often chime in. You see, as Jesus enters the back gate of the city on his pitiful little donkey, the crowds shout, “Hosanna” which means, “Help us!” Save us from imperial oppression. But on Good Friday, when Jesus is being victimized by that very imperial oppression, no one offers to help him. The crowds are now shouting, “crucify him.” The crowds that begged Jesus for help did not help him in his hour of need; even though the reason he was in trouble was for doing what he had been asked to do.
They cried, “Hosanna”…help us! And he did. He confronted the imperial powers. He marched into the temple and saw that it had become a place that privileged the rich rather than empowering the poor, and he caused a scene right there in the Temple as he confronted the moneychangers. Very shortly thereafter, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed. They cried “help us”…save us from the empire. And Jesus did confront the empire. And when the empire responded with humiliation, torture, and cruelty, the people who asked for help abandoned the one who tried to give it.
The kin-dom of God is ridiculous by worldly standards. In the kin-dom of God, the descendant of prostitutes and murderers can be chosen to liberate people from their despair, hopelessness, shame, and fear. In the kin-dom of God a savior can be executed as a criminal and still be revered and honored. In the kin-dom of God one can be slain and still somehow remain alive in people’s memories, hearts, literature and rituals. In the kin-dom of God death doesn’t get the last word and by the power of sacred memory the dead rise again! In the kin-dom of God, Pilate can ride a war horse, but the peasant on the donkey is who the story is really about. One writer commented, “The entrance into Jerusalem has all the elements of the theatre of the absurd: the poor king…riding on a donkey…even parading without a permit” (David Kirk).
Jesus subverts the systems of power and privilege. In God’s realm, the so-called scum are the disciples, the prophets, the saints, the children of God! Hated tax collectors (like Matthew himself), people who fish for a living or who tend sheep, prostitutes, lepers, the poor, children, women, Samaritans…God shows no partiality. In God’s realm the last are first and the first are last. In the story of God’s realm, the star rides a donkey.
My dear friends, on Friday we will gather and hear the story about how Jesus went looking for a city of God, and found that even in such a city, there was work to be done. He tried to confront injustice, and injustice tried to silence him with the cruelty of a cross. We will then return next Sunday to remember and celebrate that evil, selfishness, and cruelty did not and cannot have the last word. But for now, it’s enough to know that if you have felt beaten down, sold out, left out, or forgotten…there is hope. Even if things get worse, beyond the difficulties, there is Easter. And if you feel like a nobody, be of good cheer; the kin-dom of God is made up of nobodies; if Jesus is any indication, nobodies are some of God’s favorite people. In fact, even a nobody riding a jack ass is exactly what a child of God ushering in the kin-dom of God looks like. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
I am a child of God.
I am a person of sacred value.
Even when things are difficult, I remain hopeful.
I believe in miracles.
And my miracle is surely at hand!
And so it is.
“They say that nobody is perfect. They say that practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their mind.” Winston Churchill
The Empire Strikes Back Rev. Dr. Robyn Provis, Palm Sunday, Sunday, April 17, 2011 Good morning. It is good to be back with you. I’m wondering if any of you can identify with the following problem. IF there is a choice to be made among, say, three lines (at a grocery store, at the bank, […]
The Empire Strikes Back
Rev. Dr. Robyn Provis, Palm Sunday, Sunday, April 17, 2011
Good morning. It is good to be back with you. I’m wondering if any of you can identify with the following problem. IF there is a choice to be made among, say, three lines (at a grocery store, at the bank, a movie theater, you name it) will you, like me, manage to choose the wrong line every time! It’s uncanny! You think you’ve picked the shorter line but she can’t find her coupons or he’s got stuff that needs a price check! Because of this all too often phenomenon I never pick a line without serious analysis. You too? You look to see how many are in the line, who’s in the line, how many groceries are in their cart, do they have a deposit slip or a commercial bag—no matter what, the line will surprise us. I thought of this immediately as I studied the text for today’s message.
Palm Sunday draws a different kind of line into view. It asks us to take an inventory of what line we’re in (not at the bank, not at the store) but with our lives. The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the day Christians call Palm Sunday is a narrative we revisit year after year and still… it holds surprises.
Likely most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus’ “triumphant” entry. Triumphant is probably not the word I would have picked. How you and I respond to the story will determine how triumphantly we carry Christ’s example into the world. Clearly the writer of Matthew’s gospel bends over backwards to present Jesus as triumphant and as the fulfillment of prophecy from the book of Zechariah (9:9)
For the next few minutes I’m going to ask you to hang on to your hosannas. Even the meaning of the word “Hosanna” holds surprise. It did not start out to mean, “Yay Jesus. Praise Jesus!” Hoshiya na is found in one solitary place in the Older Testament ( Psalm 118:25) where it means, “Save, please!” It is a cry for help. Over the centuries hoshiya na stopped being a cry for help and instead became a shout of hope and exultation. On the day depicted we could say that there were several lines to pick from because not everyone who got in line to catch a glimpse of Jesus was a fan or a follower. Those that were yelled “hosanna” out of exultation AND a cry for rescue from the imperial reign of Rome.
But others were in the anti-Jesus mob line and they were yelling “Hosanna” in the same way bullies and skeptics would shout. Their hosannas were taunts. “Save US Jesus! Yeah right. You’re still just Joseph’s son and a big old nobody!” I’m convinced that none of this would have been lost on Jesus.
According to bible scholar Marcus Borg, we’ve overlooked the fact that Jesus carefully planned his entry in advance. As a subversive, he left no rock unturned. We’re told he tells the disciples “Go into the village, there you will find a donkey. If the owner asks why you are taking it, tell them that the master has need of it. Jesus rides on purpose into Jerusalem on the back of a trade and pack animal in direct contrast to the different processional line; a line coming in from the opposite direction. It’s Passover! The streets are packed with the movement of people and so of course the empire would strike back!
“On that day, a Roman imperial procession would have entered Jerusalem from the west. It happened every year for Passover. The roman governor (in this case Pontius Pilate) would ride in from Caesarea Phillipi , some sixty miles away, just ahead of the Roman troops being brought in to reinforce the garrison already present in the city.” Do you see the tension being presented here between empire and a new world order? Are you smellin’ what I’m cookin?
“From the west we have a procession full of all the pomp and power of empire, the roman elite, cavalry, foot soldiers, roman banners, standards, drums.” And from the other side of the city we have a peasant procession, Jesus riding in on a donkey, symbolic of the Jewish scriptures that speak of a messiah destined to “banish to war horse, the battle bow and the chariot.” And he will speak peace to the nations! In these two simultaneous processions we have the ultimate contrast between the way of Jesus and the way of empire! “And the question this poses to us is what procession are we in, as a country, as a church, or as individuals?” Our lives speak volumes…by the way we live, the people we associate with, the ways we spend our money, the degree to which we insist on our own privilege even if it oppresses another!
ARE we part the imperial procession or the anti-imperial procession of Jesus? Are we part of Jesus’ path of nonviolence, justice, and peace? Which line do we consciously choose? Or the scarier question: which line have we unconsciously chosen?
Don’t anybody panic yet. Even St. Francis of Assisi knew that having powerful friends could be a strategic alliance. It’s been said that he could not have accomplished all that he did without having friends in high places—even a female benefactor named Jacopa dei Settesoli. It comes down to whether our alliances represent our selling out to the sin of greed or for strategic alliance on behalf of God’s purposes.
In 1978 there was a light hearted film with a powerful message. It was called “Same time next year.” Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn have an annual affair. They agree to meet on the same weekend each year. The two are seen changing, years apart, always in the same room in different scenes. From weekend to weekend their individual politics change, they evolve and devolve. One year Alda becomes a stuffed shirt capitalist and Burstyn becomes a Berkeley college student hippy socialist. The next year, she’s a conservative caterer and he’s lost his capitalist zeal. It’s an annual inventory of how our lives switch lines as we change and grow. Can you identify? When the frames we use to look at our world change, we are changed.
Way of Justice? Way of Empire? Way of greed? Way of conscience? I got mine, now you get yours? Or I’ve got mine, let me help you also succeed.
These are the ways we draw the lines of our lives. Jesus presents an example of full harmony with source. His ministry was one of awaking us to our divine nature. Only we can answer the question of how awake we are and whether we choose our lines consciously or by following the loudest voices around us.
As a church and as a denomination we have consciously chosen the way of hope, justice, anti-racism, and anti-oppression. We choose to stand with those Jesus called the least of these and we will answer when our brothers and sisters shout “Hosanna, save me.”
When the empire strikes back, we will lend our help in Moldava, in Uganda, in Jamaica and beyond. When we self-select the way of Jesus over the way of empire, it picks us back. It cracks us open. We become more connected to the solution because we are now part of that solution, amen?
I add my blessing to yours. You and I are in the right line. May it always be so. (…and may the force be with you!)
Followers of Jesus: Come Out! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sunshine Cathedral, April 10th, 2011 Ez. 37.1-14; John 11.32-44 Today’s bible stories are about somehow escaping death, but the death in the stories is a metaphor for living people who have started to feel lifeless or hopeless. Until we see today’s stories as allegories which can […]
Followers of Jesus: Come Out!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral, April 10th, 2011
Ez. 37.1-14; John 11.32-44
Today’s bible stories are about somehow escaping death, but the death in the stories is a metaphor for living people who have started to feel lifeless or hopeless.
Until we see today’s stories as allegories which can be applied to our lives, then they might just seem like strange stories about bones and corpses being magically reanimated. We half expect Dr. Frankenstein to shout in the background, “It’s alive!” But these aren’t old horror movies we’re studying, these are stories of hope and healing which are meant not only to encourage the original hearers of the stories, but also all communities who experience fatigue, despair, injustice, or fear.
These stories offer a message of healing to people who suffer from compassion fatigue, who struggle with illness, who are recovering from the heart break of failed relationships, who are trying to heal their financial situation, who are trying to put the pain of abuse behind them, who are working to obtain and maintain sobriety…whoever needs an infusion of new life can find a word of hope in today’s readings.
(Ez) Valley of Dry Bones: an imaginative vision…Ezekiel’s people are tired, overwhelmed, feeling drained and lifeless, like dry bones. Can they be restored? Can they be renewed? Can the joy of life be returned to them?
The prophet learns that if he will encourage them and remind them that they can stand and move forward again, the spirit of hope and joy will be renewed within them.
(Jn) Lazarus: the raising of Lazarus is unique to John’s gospel. There is a very similar and even erotic story found in an ancient text called The Secret Gospel of Mark, but that isn’t part of our canon. In John’s story, Lazarus is a companion of Jesus who has fallen ill and died. He is buried in a dark tomb, bound by grave clothes and trapped behind heavy rock.
The Gospel of John is written about 96 CE, at the end of the first century.
The author is writing almost 70 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
He is writing almost 30 years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.
His community is exhausted; these friends and followers of the way of Christ are tired, feeling bound, trapped, closeted, entombed. They’ve lost so much and the future seems so uncertain. Can they live with hope and joy and vitality again? Will their movement survive in such trying times? The author is using the word of encouragement to assure them as he places the phrase on Jesus’ lips, “Lazarus, come out!”
The Johannine community can come out of fear, out of its exhaustion, out its despair. Friends and followers of Jesus, come out!
Thomas earlier in this 11th chapter of John, shows the courage to follow Jesus, even when to do so means loss of privilege, comfort, even safety. When Jesus hears that Lazarus is gravely ill, he of course wants to visit the family. Most of his disciples tried to dissuade him from making the trip. They said, “Rabbi, a short time ago religious authorities there wanted to stone you. Are you really thinking of going there?” (John 11.8). But Thomas says, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him” (John 11.16).
Thomas means “twin” and some scholars suggest that Thomas is the example of how we can be Jesus’ twin, that is, how we can follow Jesus’ example and be more like him. And one of the ways to follow Jesus’ example is to care more about including and affirming others than protecting our own comfort or privilege. When justice becomes more important than maintaining the status quo, we have come out as followers of Jesus.
Ezekiel sees that his community is so tired from the weight of oppression. He wonders if the spirit of hope and joy can be renewed in them, and he learns that if he both encourages and challenges them, that is, if he will speak prophetically to them, they can experience renewal and live powerfully, optimistically, and joyously even in the midst of challenges.
John shows us that even when others want to give up, or take the easy way, or think of themselves rather than how to include, empower, and offer hope and healing to others, there may be a Thomas among us who will say, “Let’s courageously follow the example of Jesus, even if it costs us something.”
John then goes on to symbolize his tired, fearful community with the character of Lazarus. But as lifeless as Lazarus seems to be, there is more for Lazarus to do. There is still life for Lazarus to experience and still gifts that he has to contribute, and so Jesus says to Lazarus, and John is saying to his own community, “Come out!” Rejoin the process of life with its changes and its challenges and it unpredictability, come out and get back to work moving always forward. Dare to live in such a way that others have their lives renewed. Come out! Come out.
Now, how do these stories speak to our lives today?
Of course, if we have survived an illness, an accident, or a difficult time, the metaphors for having a second chance speak powerfully to us. And, the phrase “come out” means something to LBGT people and our wonderful allies. To come out as same gender loving people or as gender variant people or as friends and supports of Queer people is a powerful act, some would say absolutely sacramental in the way that it connects us with divine grace, but more than identifying as Friends of Dorothy or as the friends of the Friends of Dorothy, we are being called to go even beyond such self-labeling.
We are being called to be the Church of Jesus Christ, that is, we are called to be the out-reaching, radically inclusive assembly of seekers who gather in Jesus’ name to follow his example of proclaiming the divine Presence in every human heart and then challenging people to trust and express that Presence more fully.
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we offer support to our friends in Jamaica fighting for survival in the most homophobic country in the western hemisphere. Followers of Jesus, come out!
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we speak out against legislated violence in Uganda. Followers of Jesus, come out!
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we stand for marriage equality in the United States. Followers of Jesus, come out!
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we resist racism, when we name and stand up to misogyny, when we boldly declare that same-gender love is not a sin but using God’s name in vain to oppress same-gender loving people is! Followers of Jesus, come out!
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we commit to letting church be more than it has been, allowing it to grow, evolve, and change as the world changes so as to remain relevant to the world, to include more kinds of people, and to engage heart and mind in the spiritual quest. Followers of Jesus, come out!
We are coming out as followers of Jesus when we work for justice rather than Just Us, for peace rather than power, and when integrity, honesty, and diversity are more important to us that preserving the status quo. Followers of Jesus, come out!
And as we come out of the staleness or the pain of the past and into the light of new possibilities, as we give more of ourselves to make sure that bullied teens know that life gets better, to make sure that victims of religious abuse know that divine love is all-inclusive and unconditional, to make sure that every person – regardless of who they are or what they believe or what their past has looked like – will hear that they are each persons of sacred value…as we come out and commit to moving forward, we are following the way of Jesus and we are truly then the body of Christ offering hope and healing to a hurting world. Followers of Jesus, come out!
Whenever and wherever there is despair, hopelessness, and lifelessness, we must ask “can these dry bones live again?” And the answer is “Yes” if we will be the prophetic voice calling for new life and encouraging all people to embrace it fully. And so, we hear today, “Followers of Jesus, come out!” And as we answer that call, we will have our lives renewed and we will be the voice of Jesus calling others into new and joy-filled life. This is the Christ Way, and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
I embrace the newness of life.
I am filled with the power of hope.
I am enlivened by the presence of joy.
I am healed and I am a healer.
In Jesus’ name
And in the name of all helpers of humanity,
I declare this to be my truth.
And so it is!
“To succeed in life you need three things: a wishbone, a back bone, and a funny bone.” Reba McEntire
Seeing is Believing Rev. Dr. Mona West John 9:1-41 ~ Lent 2011 Three people arrived at the Pearly Gates at the same time. St. Peter came out to meet them but said he had some pressing business and would they please wait? He was gone a long time, but finally he came back and called […]
Seeing is Believing
Rev. Dr. Mona West
John 9:1-41 ~ Lent 2011
Three people arrived at the Pearly Gates at the same time. St. Peter came out to meet them but said he had some pressing business and would they please wait? He was gone a long time, but finally he came back and called one of the new arrivals in and asked if she had minded waiting.
“No,” she said, “I’ve looked forward to this for so long. I love God and I can’t wait to meet Jesus. I don’t mind at all.”
St. Peter then said, “Well, I have one more question. How do you spell ‘God’?”
She said, “Capital-G-o-d.”
St. Peter said, “Go right on in.”
He went outside and got another new arrival, told him to come on inside, and said, “Did you mind waiting?”
The man said, “Oh, no. I have been a Christian for fifty years, and I’ll spend eternity here. I didn’t mind at all.”
So St. Peter said, “Just one more thing. How do you spell ‘God’?”
He said, “G-o-d. No, I mean capital-G.”
St. Peter said that was good and sent him into heaven.
St. Peter went back out and invited the third person in and asked her if she had minded waiting.
“As a matter of fact, I did,” she replied. “I’ve had to stand in line all my life – at the supermarket, when I went to school, when I registered my children for school, when I went to the movies – everywhere – and I resent having to wait in line for heaven now!”
St. Peter said, “Well, that’s all right for you to feel that way. It won’t be held against you, but there is just one more question. How do you spell ‘Czechoslovakia’?”
Well, it is the fourth Sunday/week of Lent and I imagine some of us are trying to figure out how to spell ‘Czechoslovakia”! When we began this journey of self-examination and introspection it seemed like a good idea. But here we are smack dab in the middle of Lent, the resolve of Ash Wednesday has ‘worn off’ and the empty tomb of Easter seems ‘a long way off.’ Like the woman at the pearly gates, we are impatient! Where is the transformation that was promised when I started this journey. I haven’t had chocolate in 25/28 days, surely I would have at least had a vision by now!
In our gospel lesson for today we hear about a man who had his physical sight restored immediately, but it takes some time, and several arguments with his parents, neighbors and the religious authorities before he receives spiritual sight. This is one of the funniest and the saddest stories in all of scripture. Imagine yourself as the man born blind in chapter 9 of John’s gospel. You have experienced this wonderful healing and no one will believe you! The irony of this whole episode is that the man who can now see literally becomes invisible as people discuss whether or not he is the one who has been healed!
Like the other stories we have heard from John’s gospel in this season of Lent—the story of Nicodemus, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well–this story of the healing of the man blind from birth operates on two levels: the physical and the spiritual. Blindness is used as a metaphor for a deeper knowing or ‘seeing’ of Jesus as the one sent from God as the light of the world.
As I read this story more closely I want to ask , “What keeps us from being healed? What keeps us from a deeper knowing of Jesus the light of the world?” The man in the story from John doesn’t resist his healing, but his neighbors, parents, and religious leaders do. I believe we may find some clues to the ways we resist healing in their responses.
After receiving his sight the man returns to his home town and immediately encounters his neighbors. The man’s healing creates an argument among them: “Isn’t this the blind guy who used to beg?” “Yeah, that’s him.” “No way! That can’t be him, it’s someone who looks like him.”
All the time the man keeps saying, “It’s me! It’s me!” And the neighbors want to know how—how did the man called Jesus heal you.
Sometimes we miss an opportunity for healing because we get caught up in ‘the how.’ If we can’t explain how it happened, we fail to recognize healing in our midst. Sometimes even if we know how the healing happened and the explanation doesn’t suit us we won’t acknowledge that healing is possible. I mean what would you do if someone came up to you and said, “a man spit in the dirt, made some mud and smeared it on my eyes, then told me to go and wash it off in the pool of Siloam and now I can see for the first time in my life!”
The neighbors bring the man who had been formerly blind to the Pharisees, who begin their interrogation. The Pharisees are aghast! This activity was done on the Sabbath!!?? “This man is not from God, he does not observe the Sabbath. How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”
Sometimes our theology keeps us from healing. If our experience doesn’t fit the tradition, or established theological categories—if our healing breaks the rules—it is often denied. The invitation is to trust our experience more than the rules. I think LGBT people know this more than anybody. The rules tell us we can’t be gay and Christian, but our experience of ourselves and God tell us something different. The embrace of our sexuality and spirituality breaks the rules and there are some people whose rigid theology will not allow that. But just because this man’s healing didn’t fit the religious rules, doesn’t mean he wasn’t healed!
I am just floored by what happens next in the story. The way they denied the man’s experience to keep their rules intact was to claim that he had never been blind in the first place! There are times we will do anything to keep the rules in place. So they call the parents in and ask them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
“He is our son, and he was born blind…but we don’t know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Let him tell you, because we are afraid you will punish us if you think we are followers of Jesus.”
Sometimes our fear keeps us from healing. We are afraid of how our healing may change us. We get so accustomed to our lives the way they are. Healing may mean giving up some habits, being reconciled to someone or letting go of an identity that has gotten us some attention over the years.
So for the second time they call the man who had been blind and reluctantly they say, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”
And the man born blind proclaims, “I don’t know if he is a sinner, but one thing I do know: once I was blind and now I can see.”
The man speaks from his experience not the rules. When I get to this point in the story I think, “finally, someone has recognized this man’s healing. Finally someone has offered praise.” How odd that celebration of the man’s healing has been withheld. And even when it is given, it is reluctant rejoicing.
The Pharisees, like the neighbors, are still stuck on the how of the healing. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
The healed man can’t stand it any more. “I’ve told you already and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”
Well, this made the Pharisees go ballistic. “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses—as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
All bets are off now. The man who had been born blind speaks with authority from his experience: “This is amazing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but God does listen to one who worships and obeys God’s 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.”
The Pharisees retort, “How dare you! You were born entirely in sins, and you are trying to teach us!” And they drove him out.
Sometimes our defenses keep us from healing. Look at how defensive the Pharisees get when they can’t deny that the man has been healed. Reluctantly they admit it but they still want to discredit Jesus as a sinner. And when the man gets too close with the truth of who Jesus is the Pharisees invoke their pedigree—we are followers of Moses. And finally they just throw him out!
Sometimes a person, or a truth, or a situation hits just too close to home and our defenses go up before we can experience them as a pathway to our healing.
The climax of the whole story happens in the last six verses of chapter 9. Jesus finds the man after the Pharisees have thrown him out. He says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“And who is he sir? Tell me 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 worshipped him.
All along the way people resisted his healing and all along the way there has been a gradual recognition by the man of who Jesus is. The man’s responses about Jesus throughout the story move him deeper and deeper into faith:“I do not know,” “He is a prophet,” “one thing I do know,” “This man is from God,” “Lord I believe.”
After all his encounters with his neighbors, his family, and the Pharisees, the man finally sees Jesus as the One Sent from God.
Healing comes in a variety of ways: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. What keeps us from our healing? Resistance when we can’t explain the how? Rules of tradition that drown out our experience? Fear that we might have to change? Defensiveness when the truth gets too close? In this Lenten season we are being invited deeper and deeper into a journey of transformation that leads to clear-eyed discipleship.