It Can Wait

Lately, AT&T has been encouraging people to wait.

UnknownThe phone giant has released ad campaign called “It Can Wait,” which exhorts people to pledge that they will refrain from sending or checking text messages while they are on the road.  The impulse for the campaign is both noble and necessary: texting while driving can impair reaction times six times as much as driving while legally intoxicated.  Thousands of people are killed on U.S. roads every year because they or other drivers were texting.  Naturally, the rationale for the campaign is quite simple: there is no need for me to respond to a text message as soon as I receive it.  I can wait until I’ve arrived safely at my destination.  Whatever I am being contacted about, in other words, it can wait.

Our failure to recognize that “it can wait” extends far beyond our insistence on immediate responses to text messages.  There is a general lack of patience, a corporate failure to wait that has become part of our culture over the past several decades.  In some ways, this is related to my previous comments about the fact that we need to remember the importance of Sabbath.  But this failure to wait also has a significant impact on our relationships with other people and with ourselves.  We tend to prize the quick response or witty retort in conversations, but we often forget to consider how what we say can impact the people around us.  This seems particularly true in Internet comment sections.  People are so concerned with responding to another comment with a pithy and sometimes acerbic retort that they forget there is another person behind the comment they just lampooned.  Moreover, people are so concerned with not taking themselves too seriously that their first inclination is to make a joke of everything that happens to them or that they participate in, thus robbing these experiences of any further significance.

Imagine how different our interactions with other people and our understanding of ourselves can be if we simply wait before we respond.  What if we waited before we provided a knee jerk reaction to a comment that makes our blood boil?  What if we took a moment and tried to make sense of an experience before we turned it into a joke?  What if our first response to other people was to wait and remember that they are created by God before we make fun of them for their beliefs?  I suspect that even these brief pauses allow us to begin seeing the world through God’s eyes.  Waiting allows us to recognize that we are all equal in the eyes of God.  So the next time you come up with exactly the right way to verbally harpoon someone who disagrees with you, remember that it can wait.

Oasis

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on finding grace at the gym, particularly Abilene’s YMCA in Redbud Park.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I have been trying to get to the gym on a more regular basis.

images-2When I first returned to an exercise regimen, I solemnly vowed that I would not use elliptical machines.  They seemed simultaneously to require too little effort and too much coordination (more than I possess, anyway).  When I grew tired of swimming every day, however, I sheepishly broke my vow and gave the elliptical a try.  Astonishingly, I enjoyed the experience far more than I expected I would.  Sure, I looked a little like a baby deer the first time I tried to make my arms and legs work together, but I eventually got the hang of it.  More importantly, I discovered that when you do it right, the elliptical is a lot more challenging than it looks.  By the time I finished my first hour-long session, I was completely worn out and gasping for a drink of water.  When I stumbled to the water fountain, I noticed the word etched into the plastic handle: “Oasis.”  I can’t think of a better way to describe the experience of drinking water from that fountain after a long workout.  Like an oasis in the desert, it was a place of refreshment and sustenance, a verdant patch of green in an otherwise forbidding landscape, a place that signaled it was time to rest.

Where is your oasis?  Where is the place that you can stop, rest, and be refreshed?  One of the important aspects of life in the Church that I believe we have forgotten is the practice of Sabbath.  We have gotten seduced by the notion we always have to be doing something in order to be considered productive.  Our ancestors, however, recognized that we are occasionally the most productive when we are doing nothing at all.  The Torah lays out a fairly comprehensive approach to the concept of Sabbath.  Not only are there rules requiring people to rest every week, there are regulations that specify when to let land lie fallow, when to rest livestock, and when to cancel debts.  Sabbath, in other words, not about taking a breather every once in a while, it is about reevaluating our position in the world and reorienting ourselves to the God who created us.  It was a way of rejuvenating the land and reinvigorating human relationships, something that we desperately need in this age of overconsumption and mistrust.  So, as you consider where you might find your oasis, make sure it is a place where you can really stop.  Make sure it is a place where you can go regularly and be productively unproductive, where you can reevaluate where you are and reorient yourself to God.

Naked

For the next few days, I will be reflecting on finding grace at the gym, specifically Abilene’s YMCA in Redbud Park.

Over the past several months, I have been trying to make it to the gym more regularly.

Though I have been a member of the Abilene YMCA for several years, I’ve only just recently started exercising there with any regularity.  When I first became a member I was surprised (even shocked) by the number of naked people I saw on a daily basis.  The locker room was full of men disporting in the altogether, not at all concerned with the fact that they were naked.  For all I know, many of them might not have even realized that they were unclothed.  The last time I had spent any significant time in a locker room was when I and my teammates were still emerging from the throes of puberty, that time when boys are convinced that no one could possibly be experiencing the same things that they are experiencing.  In light of the embarrassment inherent to this condition, all of us had concocted various byzantine methods of changing out of our workout clothes while revealing as little skin as possible.  So it was more than a little surprising that in this locker room experience, pretense was abandoned and people paraded around shamelessly (and pantslessly) for everyone to see.

While I was initially shocked by the overabundance of skin in the YMCA locker room, I have gradually gotten to a point where the predominance of nakedness doesn’t bother me a whole lot.  I’ve even found myself having long conversations with gentlemen who are wearing nothing but a smile (even though I continue to remain covered up, at least relative to my locker room counterparts).  I’ve been wondering about the reason for the shift in my perspective.  On one hand, I’ve probably become desensitized; when you walk into a room where more than half the people are in various states of undress, there is a point at which you will no longer be surprised by much of anything.  On the other hand, I wonder if I’m somehow getting in closer touch with my status as a creature of God.

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Aren’t you glad this isn’t a picture of the YMCA men’s locker room?

Genesis tells us that when Adam and Eve disobey God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden, the first symptom of their disobedience is that they cover themselves.  While the text tells us that they hide “because they knew that they were naked,” it’s pretty clear that they cover themselves because they are ashamed.  They are afraid that the imperfections that they perceive somehow make them unworthy in the eyes of God.  What they forgot was that after God created them, God called them “good.”  God called them good in spite of their imperfections, in spite of their nakedness, and in spite of their disobedience.  In the same way, we must remember that we have been created by God and that God calls each and every one of us good in spite of our unfaithfulness, in spite of our perceived imperfections, and in spite of our shame.  We are called to recognize our identity as creatures of God; we are called to remember that even in our nakedness, God has called us “good.”

Limitless

imgresOne of the most striking elements of the West Texas landscape is the almost boundless sense of space.  Driving north to Lubbock or west to Odessa, it is easy to be overwhelmed by how far one can see, by how little gets in the way of one’s vision.  Where I come from, the only place you can see any distance is near the ocean (there are too many trees or hills in the way elsewhere); but in West Texas, you can see for miles and miles wherever you turn.  Of course, the boundlessness of the landscape allows West Texans to experience a wide variety of natural phenomena that others have a hard time imagining: spectacularly terrifying thunderstorms that you can see coming long before they arrive, towering dust storms that blot out the sun, and glorious sunrises and sunsets that seem to fill the entire world with uncreated light.  The landscape of West Texas is beautiful not because of what it features, but because it is not hemmed in by limits or boundaries.

There is a level at which the boundlessness of the landscape shapes the way that West Texans look at the world.  As a result of the fact that, in the words of one humorist, “West Texas is the world headquarters of nothing,” residents of this area are inclined to believe that you have to make your own way in this world, that no one is going to show you what steps you have to take to move forward.  And since the landscape of this region is not hemmed in by limits or boundaries, West Texans are inclined to believe that nearly anything is possible, that there are no limits on what we are capable of doing if we set our minds to it.  Both the landscape and ethos of West Texas are shaped by an abiding sense of limitlessness, a belief that the obstacles in front of us are temporary, a feeling that nearly anything is possible.

Over the past several weeks, we have heard stories from John’s gospel that involve Jesus encountering another person in a significant way.  At the beginning of Lent, Jesus had his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus.  The following week, Jesus met and had a flirtatious conversation with a Samaritan woman.  And last week, Jesus healed a blind man, who proceeded to have a protracted dispute with the religious authorities.  It occurs to me that the theme running through all of these stories (apart from being very long and making us stand for long periods of time) is that these encounters with Jesus lead people to reevaluate the limited way they look at the world.  Nicodemus wonders why Jesus and the Pharisees seem to interpret Scripture in such different ways; Jesus encourages Nicodemus to change the way he understands his relationship with God.  The Samaritan woman lives in light of the shameful identity given to her by her community; Jesus tells her that the only identity she should focus on is her status as a child of God.  The man born blind is told by the religious authorities that his condition means that he is sinful; by giving this man sight, Jesus affirms that categories like “righteous” and “sinful” are far too simple to characterize the abundant love of God.  In these encounters, Jesus moves his hearers from rigidity to openness, from shame to acceptance, from simplicity to complexity, from limits to possibility.

And the encounter described in today’s reading from John’s gospel is also meant to encourage us to reevaluate how we look at the world.  You know this story well, because it is easily one of the most dramatic in the New Testament.  It’s no wonder that this story is a favorite of those who have chronicled the life of Jesus on film.  In several movies, the raising of Lazarus is the climactic end of the second act, the moment that demonstrates how important and powerful this Jesus really is.  In many ways, the story of Lazarus is the pivotal moment in John’s gospel.  Beginning in chapter twelve, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for his death.  He and his disciples are no longer out in public, but are in houses and upper rooms.  And though John tells us that the authorities have tried to stone Jesus a handful of times in the previous chapters, it is after the raising of Lazarus that the authorities actually begin planning to execute Jesus.  This leads us to ask: what is so important about the raising of Lazarus?  What is it that changes after Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb?  What is it about this event that makes the authorities decide that Jesus is too dangerous to live?

On one hand, the answers to these questions seem pretty obvious.  After all, Jesus raised someone from the dead and demonstrated how powerful he really is.  Perhaps a lot of people heard about Jesus’ ability to raise the dead and decided to become his followers.  The authorities, in other words, were afraid of Jesus just like they would be afraid of any charismatic leader who bucks the status quo.  On the other hand, this answer seems a little simplistic.  Roman authorities were pretty good at quashing popular movements that questioned their power.  The idea that they would have been particularly worried about a Jewish rabbi, even one who could magically raise the dead, is fairly unlikely. There is a deeper reason for the apprehension of the authorities, and it is tied to the transformation that Jesus effects among the mourners gathered around the tomb of Lazarus.

Caravaggio's "Raising of Lazarus"
Caravaggio’s “Raising of Lazarus”

There are three moments in this story that we should pay attention to.  First, even before Jesus arrives at Bethany, there is an interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  The disciples remind their teacher that the last time he was in Judea, the people there tried to kill him.  The implication of the disciples is clear: “You probably shouldn’t go, because you might end up dead. Worse still, we might wind up dead!”  Nevertheless, Jesus ignores the disciples’ fears, ignores the prospect of death, and travels to Bethany to meet his friend.  The second moment we need to consider occurs when Jesus arrives.  John tells us that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days; he is, in other words, good and dead.  The dead man’s sisters accost Jesus, telling him that if he had been there, their brother wouldn’t have died.  In the same way, the crowds say, “This guy opened the eyes of the blind; certainly he could have restored Lazarus back to health, but here we are, mourning his death.”  In response to all of this, John tells us that Jesus is greatly disturbed and begins to weep.  The crowds assume that he is weeping for his friend, but it is pretty clear that Jesus is weeping for the people around the tomb, the people who are completely paralyzed by the death of Lazarus.  Finally, notice that the climax of this story is not when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb; rather, it is when Jesus tells the startled onlookers to “Unbind him, and let him go.”

These three moments in the story of Lazarus point to a meaning that goes beyond its surface. Sure, this is certainly a miraculous account of someone being raised from the dead, but there is far more to this story.  Throughout most of John’s account, the people surrounding Jesus are paralyzed by their fear of death: the disciples don’t want to go to Judea because they are afraid they might die, Mary and Martha tell Jesus that he could have prevented Lazarus from dying if he had just been there, and the crowds are lingering around the tomb even four days after Lazarus’ funeral.  For the most part, Jesus does not react to the fact that Lazarus has died; instead, he reacts to the fear of death exhibited by the people around him.  He goes to Bethany in spite of the disciples’ warning, he tells Martha to trust even in the face of uncertainty, and he weeps because the crowds are imprisoned by their fear of death.  And so, in the climactic moment of the story, Jesus tells the crowds around the tomb to unbind Lazarus, to free him from the prison of death, and by doing so he invites the people gathered around him to free themselves from fear, to let themselves be unbound from the specter of death.  In his encounter with Lazarus, Jesus moves those around him not from sorrow to happiness, not from despair to hope, not even from death to life, but from fear to fearlessness.

Ultimately, this is why the raising of Lazarus impels the authorities to execute Jesus.  As far as they’re concerned, the only unassailable power that tyrants have is the power to take people’s lives.  This is why the preferred method of execution in the Roman Empire was crucifixion: by executing dissidents in a public and humiliating way, the Roman occupiers instilled fear among those who might want to rebel.  But when Jesus comes along and liberates people from the fear of death, those in power are suddenly impotent; without the fear of death, tyrants have no power to control people.  By freeing people from their prisons of fear, Jesus instilled fear among the authorities of this world, demonstrating to them that their power is ultimately fleeting and is coming to an end.  By raising Lazarus from the dead and then going willingly to the cross, Jesus demonstrates to us that we have nothing to fear, that when we ground our lives in God, we are not enslaved to limits, but are empowered to embrace possibility.

There are many times in our lives that we are imprisoned by fear.  Sometimes, we are afraid to try new things because we’re worried that we might fail.  Sometimes, we are afraid to reach out to someone we’ve never met because we’re afraid we might be embarrassed.  Sometimes, we’re willing to arm ourselves behind locked doors because of some vague fear of the unknown.  But by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reveals to us that our lives are not shaped by success or failure.  By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus invites us to risk ourselves and be in relationship with those who are different than we are.  By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus shows us that we have nothing to fear.  In these final weeks of Lent, I encourage you to embrace this fearlessness, to turn away from perceived limits, and to acknowledge that anything is possible.

Fragments

Today’s post is going to be brief, as I not only have to put the finishing touches on a sermon, but also need to watch (need!) a very close national semifinal game between the Florida Gators and the Connecticut Huskies (go UConn!).

imgresThough I’ve been watching the game on TBS, I’ve noticed that there are two other broadcasts available: one for Florida fans and one for UConn fans.  Presumably, the Florida broadcast will include commentators with a rooting interest in the Gators, while the UConn broadcast will feature people transparently supporting the Huskies.  It occurs to me that the existence of these team-specific options is symptomatic of a wider trend in our culture today.  Our society has become fragmented; we tend to spend time only with people we agree with and listen only to people who share our worldview.  This is part of the reason for the proliferation of news networks that cater to people of a particular political bent.  We would rather pretend that everyone agrees with us than engage in the challenging work of listening to people who do not share our views.

This is not a new issue.  The early Church had to deal with a huge variety of perspectives and understandings about how to be faithful to God: Should Christians be required to keep the Law of Moses?  Who has the authority to speak for the Church?  What should we do with people who have committed notorious sins?  Much of the New Testament is devoted to dealing with these questions.  In some cases, like in the letters of John, the solution is to exclude those who do not share the majority view.  In most other cases, however, we see the Church struggling to hold a variety of perspectives in tension, to include as many people as possible, and to recognize that unity can exist even with diversity.

In the Church (and the world) we must remember that we can be in relationship with one another even when we disagree or root for different teams.  Ultimately, we are called to recognize that our unity is grounded not in anything we have done, but in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Potluck

Last night, we had one of our Lenten potluck suppers at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.

potluckThose of you who have spent any time in a church community are familiar with potlucks (or “cover dishes,” as they are called in certain parts of the American South).  The concept is simple: everyone attending an event brings a dish to share with the group.  In spite of the simplicity of the premise, however, some people have a tendency to make potlucks as complicated as possible.  At the church where I grew up, for instance, dishes were assigned according to the first letter of a potential contributor’s last name: A through K brought main dishes, L through R brought salads, and S through Z brought desserts.  I understand the impulse behind these guidelines; they are one way to ensure that you won’t have 75 apple pies for dinner.  At the same time, I always found these requirements frustrating, and not just because I have an “R” last name and may be the worst salad maker in the world.  Rather, guidelines like these tend to hamper people’s creativity and prevent them from offering their specialty, the dish of which they are most proud.  And as it turns out, the alphabetical guidelines I grew up with solve a problem that doesn’t really exist.  At Heavenly Rest, we have no such “potluck rules,” and yet the buffet table always features a healthy balance of main dishes, vegetables, salads, and desserts.  The potluck, in other words, works itself out even without the influence of external guidelines.

In some ways, life in the Church is a lot like a potluck.  As members of the Christian community come together to be fed, each person brings something to the table and offers gifts to build up the Body of Christ.  The temptation for leaders in the Church is to regulate these offerings, to assume that we know the best use for people’s gifts and talents.  (The equivalent of making everyone with a certain letter in their name bring a salad is saying, “Oh, you teach kindergarten?  How would you like to teach Sunday School?!)  But if the Church is truly to embrace an understanding of vocation, then we must recognize that people can offer gifts we may have never imagined. Spiritual vitality in the Christian community is not about assuming that we know best and not about insisting that our approach is the only approach.  Instead, we are called to embrace the great variety of spiritual gifts in the Church and trust that God will guide us to use them wisely.

Balance

This morning, I bought a breakfast burrito from my favorite spot in Abilene.

imgresThose of you who live in the area are probably familiar with the wonder that is La Popular.  Indeed, this well-named local chain of hole-in-the-wall burrito shacks seems to be one of the more popular eateries in town.  If ever I mention to someone that I went to La Popular for breakfast, I almost always get a knowing smile, no matter who the person is.  And this is because La Popular’s appeal transcends a whole variety of boundaries.  Whenever I stop by, there are people from all walks of life waiting for burritos: blue collar and white collar workers, English speakers and Spanish speakers, civilians and military personnel.  A visit to La Popular is an opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds and celebrate the diversity of our community.

I think the main reason that La Popular’s appeal cuts across cultural boundaries is not for any existential reason, but rather because the burritos are really, really good.  The tortillas are some of the best I’ve ever had: soft and chewy with just the right levels of flavor.  The filling is always savory and delicious, and the little containers of salsa are so good that they should be illegal.  But the best aspect of La Popular’s burritos is how well constructed and balanced they are.  Each contains just the right amount of filling and is folded in such a way that your chorizo and egg (or whatever you ordered) almost never falls out of the tortilla and onto the floor.  It’s marvelous to watch the cooks assemble these burritos: they place spoons into the containers of the chorizo and egg mixture, pull out exactly the same amount every time, place the filling into the middle of the tortilla, and fold the tortilla with utter commitment and not a moment of hesitation.  The resulting burritos aren’t over- or under-stuffed; they are perfectly balanced and delicious.

We sometimes get caught up in the notion that our lives of faith don’t really count unless we are doing as much as we possibly can.  We sometimes feel obligated to attend every educational opportunity at church, to go to worship services three or four times a week, to make sure all of our reading is somehow devotional, and to listen only to sacred music.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but we need to be careful that our faith lives do not become overstuffed.  We must be careful that our devotional practices serve a purpose, that they move us toward a more intimate relationship with God, and are not mere obligations destined to end up on the floor.  In other words, our spiritual lives should be balanced.  At the same time, it does not make any sense for us to engage in these balanced spiritual practices halfway.  Like the cooks at La Popular, we must engage our lives of faith with utter commitment and without hesitation.  As you use this Lenten season to examine your spiritual lives, I encourage you to discern those spiritual places where you might be both balanced and committed.

Little Things

Today’s meditation will probably be brief, as my wife and I are in the midst of celebrating her birthday.

bday lunchFor the most part, my wife has pretty limited expectations when it comes to celebrations; she never insists on extravagant gifts and is usually happy simply to spend time together when celebrating special events.  When it comes to her birthday, however, there are certain little things that must be done for the celebration to count.  For instance, her chair at the dining table must have a mylar birthday balloon affixed to it and her day must begin with her traditional (if unusual) April Fool’s Day Birthday Breakfast: dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, mint chocolate chip ice cream, peas, and ketchup.  When we first started dating, the specificity of these expectations tended to stress me out a little bit; I had no idea what I would do, for instance, if I couldn’t nuggets that weren’t dino-shaped.  Over the years, however, I’ve found that I’ve grown to love the ritual of preparing for my wife’s birthday.  Taking the time to purchase ice cream and chicken nuggets from the grocery store is representative of the time we give to each other our marriage.  Setting that birthday table is a way of making it clear that we value the presence of each other in our lives.  Small acts like these become symbols of how grateful we are for each other and how devoted to one another we strive to be.

We often get caught up in the notion that we can only experience the presence and love of God in dramatic, life-changing acts of conversion.  We celebrate people like Paul or Augustine, individuals who dramatically changed the course of their lives after having an encounter with the living God.  But we must also recognize that God is present to us in the little things.  God is present to us when we make time in our days to pray and listen for God’s voice.  God is present to us when we gather around a table where bread and wine are carefully arranged and shared.  God is present to us when we strive to renew our faith lives during the season of Lent.  And like my wife’s birthday breakfast, we ought make these little things expected and regular parts of our lives, moments when we are intentionally attuned to the presence of God.  I pray that during the season of Lent, all of us will be graciously aware of those times that God is made known to us in the little things.

Opening Day

Today is Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.

imgresI have been at least a casual baseball fan for much of my life (and by “casual,” I mean that I’ve always been at least nominally a Red Sox fan), but I really fell in love with the game about ten years ago, when I moved to Boston.  There are a number of aspects of baseball that appeal to me.  I love the history of the game; it is humbling to know that some MLB franchises have been playing since the Gilded Age.  I love the liturgy of the game; there is something very comforting about the unnecessarily detailed rules that are a central part of the game, like this unnecessary and beautiful ritual: whenever a pitching change is made, the manager walks all the way out to the mound, takes the ball from the pitcher, and hands it to the reliever.  I love the pace of the game; baseball is the athletic equivalent of Sabbath: it encourages us to slow down in the midst of our busy lives and experience the wonder of life.

The main reason I love baseball as much as a I do, however, is how well the sport embraces failure.  There are 162 games in the Major League Baseball season.  The Boston Red Sox, who were the World Series champions last year, won 97 of these 162 regular season games.  In spite of the fact that they lost 65 games, they were crowned as the best team in baseball.  Even more dramatic is the fact that Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in history, had a single-season batting average of .406.  This means that in his best season, Teddy Ballgame himself was unsuccessful at the plate almost 60 percent of the time.  The best hitters playing today tend to have batting averages around .300, which means that they fail 70 percent of the time.  Baseball players and fans know how to deal with failure.  And this shapes the way that baseball fans look at the world, especially on Opening Day.  Every team begins the season with a mathematically equal chance of going to the playoffs, and even fans of historically bad teams hold on to this hope.  In spite of past failures, we always know that there is a possibility for redemption.  For baseball fans, the past does not dictate the future; instead, the future is shaped by boundless possibility.

I think the same can be said of the Christian life.  At its best, the Church is deeply aware of the reality of human failure, of the fact that sin is part of the human condition.  At the same time, the Christian community is also deeply aware that in spite of our human failings, there is always a possibility for transformation.  Paul tells us that Christ reconciled us to God while we were yet sinners.  God was aware of our human frailty, and held out the hope of redemption in spite of our inability to recognize God’s love.  We must remember that in the Church, the past does not dictate the future; instead, our future is shaped by the boundless possibilities available to us when we ground our life in God.

Categories

If you were to do Gospel of John Mad Libs, you might end up with the passage we read in church this morning.  John 9 has a little bit of everything: the healing of a blind man, disputes with the Pharisees, controversies around the Sabbath, and the inability of two groups of people to understand what the other is saying.  The chapter is essentially a list of John the Evangelist’s greatest hits.  In spite of this implicit richness, there are many who are inclined to read this as a simple story of a miraculous healing: Jesus makes mud, spreads it on some guy’s eyes, and he is able to see, even though he was born blind.  This is understandable in some ways.  After all, the man’s story about what happened to him is pretty simple: “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.”  He repeats a version of this several times throughout the passage, always with the same dry rehearsal of the facts.

imgresI think the reason for the man’s repetition, however, is not that this is a simple story, but because the dry rehearsal of the facts exposes the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities.  Notice that at the beginning of this passage, the disciples wonder aloud who was responsible for the man’s blindness.  John includes this detail in part to illustrate how the religious authorities of the day viewed the world.  For them, physical capacity was automatically associated with how sinful or righteous you were.  If you were strong and healthy, the likelihood was that you were righteous.  If you were physically infirm, the likelihood was that you or someone close to you was sinful.  This distinction led the religious authorities to make determinations about who was “in” or “out” based on their understanding of people’s relative righteousness or sinfulness.  John also argues that this led the religious authorities to look at everyone in terms of these categories of “righteous” or “sinful,” in terms of whether they were “in” or “out.”

This is ultimately the source of the misunderstanding between the man born blind and the Pharisees.  The Pharisees looked at a man who had been blind from birth, a man firmly in the “sinful” category, and saw that he was no longer blind, that he could no longer easily be considered “sinful.”  Instead of reevaluating their categories, the Pharisees try to prove that there’s no way the man could have actually been healed from his blindness.  It’s almost hilarious: they assume that the guy is impersonating the real blind beggar, they ask his parents to explain what’s going on, they repeatedly tell the man that he was born in sin.  In the meantime, the man repeats over and over, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  The Pharisees refuse to recognize that the man has been healed, because in their worldview, people born in sin do not change, and are certainly not changed by people who don’t observe the Sabbath.  The Pharisees refuse to change the way they look at the world.  They refuse to see beyond their limited categories of “sinful” and “righteous,” and so they fail to recognize the truth when it stares them directly in the face.

While the Pharisees are clearly in the wrong in this passage, I suspect that more than a few of us have shared a worldview with the religious authorities of John’s gospel at some point in our lives.  We like to put things in categories, to keep things organized.  When we are organizing our closets, this is not a bad thing.  But this is a dangerous habit to indulge when we are talking about other human beings.  When we look at a person and make a determination about who he is based on how he looks, we are falling into the same trap as the Pharisees.  When we think we know a person just because we know where she’s from, we are failing to recognize the truth.  God calls us to look beyond our limited worldviews and appreciate the people of this world for who they are and who they can be, instead of who we think they ought to be.