If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, ‘We can see,’ your guilt remains.
A person who is physically blind knows it. A person who is spiritually blind is also blind to their own blindness.
Yesterday my wife got off the bus and headed for the train to work. Her seat companion on both bus and train has been unburdening her soul to Colleen over the last few months. Her marriage is in crisis. She’s unhappy about her work. She feels trapped in her life. And when she goes to church — mostly to get away from all this — she goes to one of those churches that my cousin derisively calls a BYOT church — Bring Your Own Tambourine.
Standing between the buses and the trains were two people handing out free New Testaments to folks as they rushed to their commuter trains. My wife’s friend took one eagerly. My wife did not. She asked me later if she should have picked one up. I told her I already had a half dozen bibles, it was probably an NIV anyway, and I have eight (8) English translations stored on my harddrive along with the Masoretic (Hebrew) and Nestle Aland (Greek). If I was desperate I could reinstall the CD and add several others including German and Czechoslovakian. One day I’ll get an upgrade so I can add the Geneva — just because that’s probably the one George Fox read. No. I didn’t need another bible thank-you.
Most of the folks who grabbed a bible — like my wife’s friend already owned one. People who attend evangelical style churches feel good knowing their crusade style worship is reaching folks for Christ — but statistically the vast majority of new folks coming through the doors were raised in evangelical churches. Its more about stealing folks from other churches than reaching the unchurched.
But old-style Quakerism isn’t that much different. Statistically most Quakes in waiting worship style meetings score INFP (introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving) on the good old Myers-Briggs. George Fox may have been an energizing evangelist but his spiritual grandchildren are folks who like to sit quietly in a room with a bunch of other like-minded folk and call that worship.
And both Quakes and the BYOT folks look cross the highway at the other — imagine what the other’s church service must be like — and shudder.
If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, ‘We can see,’ your guilt remains.
Jesus heard they had ejected him, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of man?’
‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’
Jesus said, ‘You have seen him; he is speaking to you.’
The man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and worshipped him.
Jesus said: It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind.
Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘So we are blind, are we?’
Jesus replied: If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, ‘We can see,’ your guilt remains.
— John 9: 35-41 (New Jerusalem Bible)
In this passage, a man (does he have a name or is he generic?) blind from birth, was given vision through a healing by Jesus. He moved from being born blind, from one who was never able to see, one who was in the dark, so to speak, to one who could see. This particular metaphorical mythology is in every religion – to first be blind and then to be able to see connotes an awakening.
In this scriptural story I wondered about why the clay, spittle, and waters from the pool of Siloam were needed to accomplish this curative transformation. It seemed to me that these were distracters, that these details made it appear that it was this magic that restored the man’s vision rather than the invisible healing force of God. Then I thought about how these physical intermediaries serve to stimulate and become a focus for faith. Actually there have always been a lot of intermediaries in religious culture, for example symbols and rituals, and their function seems to be to rouse one’s receptivity to the presence of God. For example, after the clay and spittle treatment, Jesus sent the man to bathe in the waters of Siloam, which were considered holy waters. This was obviously an essential part of the healing transformation. The water was not only used to wash, but also for drinking, for use on altars, and for feasting and celebrating. This command encouraged the awakening man to immerse himself in holy purification, to be washed by holy waters in quenching spiritual thirst, to rejoice, and to worship to promote his faith.
One thing that drew me to Quakerism was the simplicity of the structure of faith and practice. We have few outward symbols or rituals, other than our Meetings for Worship and Business. And in our Meeting, we also have Meeting for Eating (smile). To encourage our spiritual growth, I guess we just depend on ourselves, our silence in which we wait upon the Spirit, our reading, and our spiritual dialogues and Friendships. Sometimes I wonder if it is enough – is this simple practice enough to sufficiently freshen, deepen and sustain our spiritual lives? This is a question only an individual can answer for themselves.
This transformation from blind to seeing creates quite a predictable commotion amongst the people – the Pharisees were disbelieving, the neighbors were surprised and skeptical, and the parents kept quiet out of fear of excommunication. The awakened man, however, continued to grow in his faith. He was questioned a lot about this experience and treated with disrespect. But still the man remained steadfast in his faith.
In my experience of spiritual sharing I have also received some very negative reactions from others. Fortunately, I have never been cursed and evicted from the Meeting house, or in any way outwardly persecuted. My experience has been much tamer. Sometimes friends are surprised and skeptical. I sense fear in others – maybe it is a fear that Meredith is changing, or as one dear one noted, that I seem to be “in La La land.” Many just don’t want to talk about spiritual matters. Some friends roll their eyes at me when I mention of anything remotely spiritual. I am grateful that I have the freedom I do to express myself. I find the negative reactions sad, but I recognize that I am responsible for how I present myself, and I try to be aware of perceptions, timing, and situation. However, like the blind man, reactions from others have not distracted me from my path.
I’ve already commented on this phrase in Kwatersaur, but here goes again:
The Pharisees wanted the (once) blind man to condemn Jesus, but he stuck to his experience (We like to think he became one of the Lord’s disciples at that point).
What happened to him happened to me, and that became the basis of my faith.
Of course blindness here is not the material, sense based affair; rather it’s the blindness that the Bible speaks of constantly throughout it’s length: “you have eyes to see, but you don’t see” (rough paraphrase of Isaiah), etc.
I encounter (spiritually) blind people all over, virtually wherever I go. Perhaps I too am still blind– to some extent. Jesus touched one man twice; the first time he saw trees walking. Maybe I, too, need a second touch. Maybe we all do. PTL
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. It had been a Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had gained his sight, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’
Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘That man cannot be from God: he does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was division among them.
So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ The man answered, ‘He is a prophet.’
However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind without first sending for the parents of the man who had gained his sight and asking them, ‘Is this man really the son of yours who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’
His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but how he can see, we don’t know, nor who opened his eyes. Ask him. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to ban from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’
So the Jews sent for the man again and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We are satisfied that this man is a sinner.’
The man answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I don’t know; all I know is that I was blind and now I can see.’
They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’
He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples yourselves?’
At this they hurled abuse at him, ‘It is you who are his disciple, we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from.’
The man replied, ‘That is just what is so amazing! You don’t know where he comes from and he has opened my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to people who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of someone born blind; if this man were not from God, he wouldn’t have been able to do anything.’
They retorted, ‘Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through ever since you were born!’ And they ejected him.
Like Crystal, this story speaks to me.
The disciples ask : Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?. What is taken for granted by these disciples with such a question?
Rabbi — teacher. Not Lord. Teacher. They aren’t quite there yet despite the earlier before Abraham was, I am which should have knocked their socks off.
And the providence of God. Clearly the man could have been born with sight if God had so allowed. His blindness is an evil. And it must be understood as God’s punishment for sin — a greater evil. Yet who sinned. He was born with this condition.
Jesus deconstructs their question. Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Jesus does not give into their assumptions about punishment in this life for sin. Nor does he make the move we might expect from modern day liberal Christians that what we call evil is relative. Or the move by modern day mystics, that all that happens is a gift from God and therefore good.
No. This man was born blind into a world without social welfare programs and into a land occupied by a foreign military. He was doubly oppressed. First by his disability and secondly by a world that left him only two options, beg by the side of the road or do not eat.
And so Jesus’ answer is that the evils that happen in this life are not God’s punishment upon us either for sins of ourselves or of our fathers. They are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world. And again, he adds to this wisdom, an injunction, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. We not. Not You. We. Together we respond to evil by bringing forth goodness.
AIDS was not and is not a punishment for the sin of homosexuality. The Tsunami is not God’s judgment upon this world. My disability is not God’s punishment upon me or upon my parents for anything we did or deserved. Each is an opportunity for good — for God’s good to shine like a beacon through our responses to the suffering the pain the sorrow.
To say otherwise is to set our faces like flint against the Christ and the spirit of Christ working in us. It is to define ourselves outside of the Christian faith no matter what other doctrines we are willing to affirm in the abstract.
Now it is easy for me to point a finger at the churches. The churches have a lousy track record. Slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. Using it as an excuse to condemn the sexual lives of others. Refusing to make worship spaces handicapped accessible. Continuing to use disabilities as metaphors for sin and moral lack in sermons and liturgies.
And yet the finger points towards me as well. How much of my spirituality is about earning heaven? These last two years have been difficult ones for me. Unhappy work situations sandwiched extended periods of layoff. My response — though natural — has been to resent my situation, feel sorry for myself. And this has impaired my efforts to bring forth good in the situation. I still have moments when my anger at my former employer wells up within me.
I am not called to a natural response. I am called to a supernatural response. I face the evil in my life. And I recast it as an opportunity for God’s redemptive love to become manifest. And to work towards that aim.
Easier said than done.
This is sort of what I wrote before – sorry it’s so long …
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
This was the line that most struck me in this passage from John. Here and in other places in the gospels, Jesus dismisses the idea that bad things happen to people as a punishment from God for sin.
This stuff about suffering and why it happens made me think of an article I’d just read about suffering and the suffering/death of Jesus. The article explores the contradiction between the compassionate loving God Jesus talks of in the gospels (Abba) and the idea that God’s plan was for Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.
The author of the article thinks the disciples and later theologians (Augustine and Anselm) constructed the idea of Jesus suffering as a debt payment for sin as a way to understand why the “messiah” had met such a horrible end.
Then he presents an alternative theory … the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God’s sharing of life and love in a unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for Original Sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God’s first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus’ life is the fulfillment of the whole creative process, of God’s eternal longing to become human. Theologians call this the “primacy of the Incarnation.”
It’s not a new theory. He says it’s backed up in John’s Gospel and in the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians and is promoted by a Franciscan scholor, John Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308).
The ideas in this article – that God does not desire suffering but works to overcome it. – seem supported by what Jesus says and does (the healing) in this passage from John’s gospel.
Duns Scotus –
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).
Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 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 Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”
They said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I do not know.”
— John 9:1-12 (NRSV)