Removing the Blinders Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 4 (2014) The man born blind. It’s a fairly well known story, though we tend to overly literalize the symbols in the story and thereby miss the point of the story. Today, we will avoid that temptation and let ourselves “see” more than we might otherwise. If […]
Removing the Blinders
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 4 (2014)
The man born blind. It’s a fairly well known story, though we tend to overly literalize the symbols in the story and thereby miss the point of the story. Today, we will avoid that temptation and let ourselves “see” more than we might otherwise.
If I thought this story was about a visually impaired person who was literally healed, I would feel compelled to revisit the story of Job. Regarding the question of blame, whose fault is it that this person is impaired, I would remember that Job was a good person who suffered.
Job doesn’t deserve to suffer. He hasn’t been irresponsible, cruel, or selfish. In fact, the story says that Job is a very good person, but situations beyond his control bring him heartache. He loses his life’s savings, his family, and his friends turn out to be anything but comforting.
Eventually, things turn around, but the point is that even though Job proved to be resilient and the tough times didn’t out last him, he didn’t deserve the tough times to begin with.
Sometimes, we just step in it and it takes a lot of time and effort to get the carpet clean afterwards.
But the story isn’t about a visually impaired person. The blind guy is a character, a symbol. He represents the hyper-religious types who try to lock life down in dogma and tradition, even in narrowly interpreted verses of scripture lifted out of their cultural, historic, literary and linguistic contexts.
Instead of faith, which is trusting the unmapped journey, the hyper-religious types with their onerous and burdensome fundamentals pretend to have all the answers. They have creeds and catechisms and anyone who doesn’t accept their pre-packaged answers to pre-approved questions are dismissed as heretics. Instead of exploring the mysteries of life and supporting one another in community as they tackle the big questions, they try to lock life down with their fundamentals.
In other words, hyper-religious zealotry can blind us to the wonder, the beauty, the infinite possibilities that life has to offer.
How many of us were blind from birth, that is, there was very little light beyond a small world of prejudices and fears that we were taught from the start?
The blinders are still being put on people. More and more people are rejecting them, they are being healed and are experiencing new vision, but there are still efforts to keep people from seeing beyond the rage posing as religion,
the hatred presented as holiness, the fear that is mislabeled faith, and the venom that is hailed as virtue.
Four days ago, Pat Robertson said on his television program that if Jesus had a business he would not serve openly gay customers. He said that in Jesus’ day any such couple would have been stoned to death so there would have been no such customers for him to deal with…Aaaccckkk! Wrong answer, thank you for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
Actually, in scripture, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion who asked Jesus for help because his same-sex companion was ill. The Greek word in the text used for his companion would have meant lover, or more specifically, body slave. He would not have been stoned; in fact, such arrangements were very common in the Roman empire of Jesus’ day. The arrangement usually amounted to a high ranking military officer or nobleman taking a slave as a lover. It was not the model of mutuality that we would insist upon today, but it was a common practice and not viewed in its culture and context as unethical.
Now, when we see the story, we take issue with the fact that the lover was a slave; we don’t care about his gender but about his liberty being robbed, even if his so-called owner did care deeply about him.
But dominance is the ethical violation, not the genders making up the relationship. In the story, Jesus praises the faith of the Roman who comes to him for help and then the servant-lover is said to be healed. Not only Jesus not condemn the same-gender couple, he came to their aid and praised one of them for having such faith. PS, the Roman aristocrat would have been a pagan, so there is a universalist, pluralistic case to be made too, but that is beyond the scope of today’s focus.
Homophobic diatribes are meant to blind people to the sacred value and innate dignity of same-gender loving people (and other marginalized people for that matter), but we spiritual progressives can help remove the blinders and help people see more than they ever had before.
Also this week another far right Christian reportedly told an American Family Association leader that Satan is the reason that a growing number of practicing Christians are renouncing their homophobia. He told the AFA leader that Satan was deceiving people and that’s why there is less hatred toward gays and lesbians.
Now, I don’t believe in a literal Satan, because, you know, it’s the 21st century but if I did believe in Satan I don’t think I would try to give him credit for making people nicer, friendlier and more tolerant. But like the religious extremists Jesus was confronting in today’s gospel, contemporary extremists still can’t see all the good that is around them. They refuse to see that what makes love sacred isn’t the gender identities of the people in love. They refuse to see that not everyone who disagrees with them is a tool of malevolence, that not every opinion that differs from theirs is manufactured from a spooky factory in an unseen hell dimension.
Also this week, it was a busy week in Fundy Land, Franklin Graham said that God is going to punish America because of the growing acceptance of marriage equality and gay rights. Meanwhile, England and Wales just joined the growing number of nations that are upholding full equality for all citizens, gay and straight. But the son of Billy Graham thinks that the US, which has not gone as far as the UK yet, is going to be punished for trying to honor its pledge to concepts of liberty and justice for all.
I wouldn’t even bother arguing with Graham about it…if Graham’s version of God is the truth then that God is a petty tyrant and should be resisted at all costs as all tyrants should be. I would have no use for a deity that would deny me the joy of spending my life with the person I love most. And these messages of hate and shame and exclusion are being exported around the world, and in some places they are taking root and lives are being destroyed as a result. There is too much blindness when it comes to justice and equality and we need to be the healers helping more and more people experience a bit more light.
Isn’t it time that we simply stand united and say that people are more important that doctrine, that love trumps dogma, that justice, love and mutuality are signs of spiritual health, that bigotry is not holy and any god that cannot bless genuine love is simply not god enough! The hyper-religious types with their blinders on are who Jesus confronts in the gospel today.
Who’s to blame? Why is the blind person the way he is? Has he chosen ignorance, or is he the victim of a dysfunctional family, an abusive church, a tyrannical political system. Who’s to blame for why the bigot, the hatemonger has turned out this way? Jesus says why bother assigning blame? This isn’t a time for blaming; this is a time for healing. Let’s not get bogged down in analysis paralysis, let’s offer a better vision and let more light in for anyone who is ready to lift those blinders.
And you know what? The healing message may seem counter intuitive. If you’ve heard your whole life that God created women as second class occupants of this planet, that children should be seen and not heard, that only our religious group has access to God, that same-gender love is somehow a demonic curse, and that human behavior rather than being about mutuality and integrity is simply meant to appease a deity with anger management issues, and if we fall short then that deity may unleash unimaginable suffering to force us into submission, if that’s the message that’s been drummed into you then your view of reality might be a little skewed.
To hear that love is divine, that hope is holy, that compassion is angelic, that life is meant to be enjoyed, that bodies are good and mutually shared genuine affection is never wrong…that might seem too odd to digest all at once. It might seem uncomfortable, even disgusting, like a salve made of dirt and spit rubbed in your eye, but it’s the odd, the unlikely, the new, the queer remedy that shakes loose the blinders and allows new vision of infinite possibilities to be embraced.
The gospel passage concludes today with Jesus saying, “Those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.” The peddlers of blame and shame, guilt and guile are being exposed…not as bad people, but as people who have lived in the darkness of illusion, a world of fantasy, a realm of mischievous demons and angry deities, a landscape where love can be called sin and oppression can be called love…and that world just isn’t going to be good enough for a lot of people any more.
Spiritual work is about removing blinders. So let’s do all we can to let more light in, and the more the light shines, the more the insanity will be exposed, and the more it is exposed, the more people will choose to see the ways of hope and healing, joy and justice; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
The light of love shines on my path.
The light of hope shines in my life.
The guiding light of life leads me to health and happiness.
I see and share the light!