Whether it’s glasses or contacts, bifocals or single vision, I would highly recommend an optometrist named Jesus. . . of Nazareth.
When I read John’s gospel about the man born blind, I never know whether I should laugh or cry. A man who was blind from birth, a man who, in his whole life, never saw a single reflection of his own face or the faces of his family is given one of the greatest of gifts. . . the gift of sight. He is restored to wholeness.
Now what I would expect to happen next is that the religious leaders at his synagogue, along with his parents and friends would get together and plan a grand gala in the parish hall complete with helium balloons and a five-foot monster card signed by his family and neighbors congratulating him, while standing in awe of the unexpected and often ineffable goodness that comes from the God of abundant love.
Instead, this poor man and his family were pushed right into the middle of a religious controversy. You see, something happened that day that wasn’t in the bulletin, and wow, did it ever upset the applecart.
As it turns out, the bottom line of this Gospel is the man born blind is the only one with any real vision at all. Because that’s what happens when Jesus touches you. You gain insight like no other. Unfortunately, part of what intrigues me most about this magnificently crafted story, is just how representative it is of the modern church in which you and I move and live and have our being.
Have you ever noticed that when there is a major controversy in the church it seems that someone either gets beat up, or they’re marginalized, or expelled from the synagogue so to speak?
If you don’t think this really happens anymore, just look at the life of Bishop Gene Robinson of the diocese of New Hampshire. Elected in 2003, he had to announce his retirement seven years prematurely, after living everyday with death threats and the agony of worldwide disruption in the Anglican Communion. Why? Because he was gay. You see the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved Gene Robinson and, well, that was something that just wasn’t in the bulletin.
I know we have a buzz word in the church that, as those who know me, also know, I’m rather fond of: It’s the word inclusive.
It’s a good buzz word. . . really it is. In fact, I think it is a word that although not actually used in the Bible, nevertheless sums up the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus drew in the sand, while people were trying to decide whether to stone a woman to death, I like to think that what he was drawing was a larger and larger circle. His persistent sharing of common meals with beggar and Pharisee alike, is what John Dominic Crossan likes to call Jesus’ radical egalitarianism. This, along with his indiscriminate and purposeful crossing over into non-Jewish territories to teach, his touching of lepers, and his general embracing of those who were ritually unclean, as well as embracing the powerful likes of a Nicodemus, all go to show that inclusivity was at the very heart of his proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
I meet and have met, far too many people who feel expelled or who have actually been expelled from their church. This is just like the man born blind who was expelled from the synagogue all because of something happening that wasn’t in the bulletin.
My dear friends in Christ, we can’t claim to be inclusive and then go on to judge anyone in any way who dares to walk through the doors of any of our churches. That is simply theological nonsense. That makes us as blind as the Pharisees and the neighbors who made us dizzy in this appointed Gospel. When people walk through the doors of the church, they should know beyond a shadow of any doubt that they have entered a NO JUDGMENT SANCTUARY.
If you have ever felt excluded in any Christian community, then consider this an apology. It just goes to show that sometimes in the middle of controversy, even people with the best of intentions can be blinded by their own need to have every theological duck in a row.
Anglicans, of all people, should know better. Our tradition was founded and forged on a compromise known as the Elizabethan Settlement, but as the scriptures say, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. But what great news it is that we can, with God’s help, get beyond our blindness into real vision.
I am struck by the fact that Jesus chooses to stay on the sidelines of this theological gymnastics tournament. He’s only interested in healing, health and wholeness. He’s much more interested in the wellbeing of people, than he is in the debate. I take note of the fact that Jesus chooses to come back on stage in this story only because the man has been expelled from his religious community. . . because someone has been accused and left unforgiven.
Jesus seeks out the ostracized man and assures him of a relationship. You see, there is no rejection that can keep God from being a part of your life. God will always seek you out.
After a fierce battle a soldier said to his commanding officer, My friend isn’t back from the battlefield. Sir, I request permission to go back and get him.
PERMISSION REFUSED, said the officer. I won’t have you risking your life for a man who is most probably dead.
The soldier couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his friend behind, so he defied orders and went back to the battlefield anyway. About an hour later he returned. He was badly wounded, near death himself, and he was carrying the corpse of his friend.
The officer was furious. I told you he was dead. Now I’ve lost both of you. Tell me, son, was it worth going out there to bring in a corpse?
Oh yes, replied the dying man. When I got to him, he was still alive, and his last words were, I was sure you would come!
I suppose there will always be factions arguing in the church, and there will always be one side trying to kick the other side out of the league. For healing of this blindness, we must pray unceasingly, but the wonderful thing is that no matter how bad it gets, we always carry the blessed assurance that Christ will always come.
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