Filed under: Sermons | Tags: adolescence, blind, classism, growing up, Jesus, naming, Pharisees, racism
1 Samuel 16:1-13
One of my college majors was Family Studies. It was a small department, only one professor, who was also the chair. We called him “George”. He had been a pastor, parole officer, and now a professor. He’s toss us a thesis, and suddenly a simple statement would give us the key to understanding our relationships. Regarding parenting he said, “It’s about letting go. From that first moment you hold your infant in your arms, you begin a process of letting go, of detaching.”
When I went off to college, my brother was 12 years old. I came home for short breaks, but the longest period of time I lived at home was the summer of 2006, when he was 17. Somehow, my brother wasn’t the 12 year old any more. I’d call him my little brother, and he’d shuffle up next to me, look down at me, and say, “little?”.
He used to let me drag him around in my pink wagon. He used to wait for me by his locker after school. This fall, he packed up and headed off to college. When we were home together for Christmas, he was up late with visiting friends, long after Jeff and I went to sleep. The whole struggle adolescents go through is to assert their emerging identity over those who want to see them as if they are still children. I might wish back for days when life might have been simpler for my brother. But the reality I need to accept is that he is defining his own life, which I have the opportunity to affirm and enjoy whatever part he lets me play in it. We meet another young man this morning, in our gospel from John. He and his community are struggling to define who he is. When we first meet him, he’s descriptively called “a man blind from birth”. No personal name, but one that goes right to the heart of his identity, naming the blindness that has affected his whole way of life. It appears that his blindness has shuttled him to the edge of society. It doesn’t seem that he was able to find an appropriate job. The community knows him only as the blind man who sits and begs. When the disciples and Jesus walk by this man, the disciples ask, “Who sinned?” To us, that might seem like a pretty random question- what does sin have to do with his blindness? We come to learn his blindness has another stigma, in early Hebrew understanding, illness and disabilities were thought to be the result of sin. So, his identity is wrapped up in his blindness, which doesn’t allow him a full life in the community, and stigmatizes him because others see this blindness as some sort of punishment. Into this situation steps Jesus. Jesus has just come from the temple (?) trying to help the Jewish leaders understand who he is. He’s been saying, “I am the light of the world”. But the religious leaders think he is blaspheming and repeatedly try to stone him. So Jesus comes to this man, this blind, begging man, and says, “I am the light of the world”. What can that mean to someone who is blind? We don’t know the degree of his blindness, perhaps he can see blurry shapes of passing people. Perhaps he can only feel the warmth of the sun, not knowing the difference between night and day but for that. Somehow, Jesus’ proclamation that he is the light is a proclamation of great hope for this man. When Jesus mixes the dust of the street with his own spit, and begins to smear this mixture on the man’s eyes, he does not back away. When Jesus tells him to go and wash in a certain pool, he does. As this man comes back, he is healed! He is able to see for the very first time. This is the moment in which everything changes for this man. That which has defined his life in infirmity has been healed away. He no longer has to passively sit and wait for someone to have mercy on him, to give him a bit of money or food. His experience with the Light of the World has opened his eyes. Who is he now? We never get to hear him name himself. But the community knows what they have named him. He is the man who used to sit and beg. They realize something has changed. It appears that now he’s not going to sit and beg any longer, but that’s the only way they’ve ever known him. How on earth are they going to figure out who he is now!? They’re going to have a little argument match. “No, that’s not him”, “Yes, it is”, “No, it’s not”, “Yes, it is”… “Well, he’s right there, let’s ask him”, “OK, is it you?”— “Yes, it’s me”. And even after he confirmed what they already know, they still have more questions. “Who did it?” “How?” They just can’t suddenly accept this man as someone completely new, not after a lifetime of knowing him as the blind man. So they take him to the Pharisees, their religious leaders, surely they can help them figure out what to do with this man whose changing identity is so confusing. The Pharisees have more questions. They find rules that have been broken. They try to figure out what the formerly blind man believes about this one who has healed him. They even try to drag in his parents to get their stance on the whole affair. But the formerly blind man isn’t blind anymore. He sees what has happened. He knows he has experienced a great miracle in his encounter with Jesus. He can see the Pharisees for who they are. They don’t see that a miracle has happened. They don’t see that God has worked a healing in this man. They don’t see that Jesus is the Light of the World, who is shining on the ways that they are in the dark about God’s power to heal. The formerly blind man isn’t confined to passively waiting for the world to happen around him. He has the power to declare who Jesus is, to witness to what he has experienced, and to be unafraid of how others might react to his testimony. He can even get a bit cheeky and ask if the Pharisees also want to become Jesus’ disciples. After his encounter with Jesus, he’s a changed man. His experience with the Light of the World has convinced him that Jesus has come from God. His life is new and fresh like it never has been before. But the community is left a step behind him. They recognize that something has changed, but they’re not quite sure if they want to expend the energy figuring out what that change means. Wouldn’t it just be easier to write him off as the blind beggar? It’ll just be so much work to really listen to him and hear who he understands himself to be now. If they open themselves up to hear how he has changed, they might also have to think more about Jesus. And even though Jesus didn’t do something miraculous in their personal lives, because he did something amazing for someone in their community, they might just have to reconsider who this Jesus is. Reconsider how God is being made known in their community. We’re not so different than the community of this formerly blind man. What do we do with people who have been touched by Jesus? What do we do with the people who might just be the outcasts that Jesus chooses to interact with? I don’t know if we really stop to listen even to our friends, to hear how God has been present with them, throughout their lives. Maybe we hear how prayer or scripture has strengthened someone through a difficult time in their lives. But I wonder if sometimes, through our Lutheran self-understanding, we would be as slow and skeptical as the community of the blind man. We’re often not ready to whole-heartedly accept and rejoice with people who declare that Jesus has changed their life, that they are turning over a new leaf, that they’re going to make a better life for them and their family. Some of us have heard those types of promises and hopes too many times. Seen them fall apart, unrealized. We’ve come face to face with the brokenness of our lives and our loved ones lives. Hope is a difficult thing when the fact of a broken reality is so obvious. As followers of Christ, we must cling to the hope that God loves all people, comes to all people. We cling to this promise in faith. Some might say, “The proof’s in the pudding”, that they’ll withhold judgment that Jesus has come until they see a person’s life reflecting Christ. But Jesus comes, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not. Regardless of whether someone’s life is healed or remains in brokenness, Jesus is there. Someone might appear blind, begging, broken, sinful. We can choose to name them those things. We can claim power over others, pinning them into identities that push them away from us. We can name them failures and go home, thanking God that we are not them. Or, we can choose to let go of our need to identify others. We can choose to recognize that Christ comes to all people. To recognize that some people face great difficulties throughout their lives and others less. That these struggles are not the result of Jesus’ absence, but that Jesus is present through those struggles. And we can take it one step further. We can be the community that is willing to proclaim that Christ is present even among those who don’t seem to have it all together. We can be the community that doesn’t hold people to their reputation, but opens the way to a new identity of hope. We can give people the opportunity to be beloved and claimed daughter of God, beloved and claimed son of God. Welcomed and cherished brother and sister. Here, we are free from the names that would divide us, stratified us, enslave us. Here we are named, not in oppression, but in freeing love. In Christ, you are a holy, beloved child of God.
1 Comment so far
Leave a comment