St. John 9.1-41
It’s a great piece of street theatre – this drama about blindness, a drama presented in perfect five-act form, a drama written down by St. John the Evangelist. But make no mistake about this drama, the blindness at its center is not about optic nerves, supernatural cornea transplants, or even about the curative properties of mud. It’s about the blindness of our hearts and minds – about how we do not, will not, cannot on our own see God as God wills to be seen. It’s all about OUR blindness to the love and mercy of God. And – least we think it’s just the Pharisees who are blind to the love and mercy of God – let’s pay some attention to who does and says what.
In the first act of this drama, we hear the disciples – of all people – ask, upon seeing a beggar who was blind, “Rabbi – whose fault was it that this man was born blind? Whom was God punishing – this man or his parents?” Even the disciples, in spite of having been in the presence of Jesus for some time, even the disciples cannot help but see God as a deity watching and waiting to catch someone in the middle of a sin – and then – smack!! – comes the punishment. But Jesus says to them: “Neither sinned that he was born blind. But now watch how God really works! Watch for the sort of light that God has sent me to bring into the world!”
And without missing a beat, Jesus, on the Sabbath no less kneads some of his spit with dirt and puts it on the eyes of the one born blind – and then directs the man to go and wash (religious horror ensues). And of course, in the next act, we hear that this work of mercy upsets the religious leaders, the ones who follow the rules and make sure everyone else does too. (You’d think they’d have a little mercy – but guess not.) They know what the Law says – no work on the Sabbath – and kneading dough, or mud, or anything else is against the rules. And these religious leaders are quite concerned, thinking, reasoning that if the rules are broken, not only will the rule-breakers get smacked down, but so will they, the leaders, and all the rest of the people. And then, in the third and fourth acts, sure enough, all the rest of the religious people of the region pile on – the only god they can see is a god of rules – rules that when broken bring catastrophe and ruin. And finally in the fifth act we hear that all people (yes, all people!) are afflicted with blindness – except for the one born blind – who now sees with his own eyes and face-to-face true God from true God – the God whose will it is to work to bring wholeness – even – or perhaps, especially – on the Sabbath, even going against the law that’s written in a book.
As I was contemplating these things this past week, I opened the digital edition of Time Magazine. My eyes went immediately to David Von Drehle’s “Milestones” piece regarding the death of Fred Phelps. (You can read it yourselves in the April 7 issue.) Now, I would like to tell you I took the high road – oh, I sort of tried – sort of tried to entrust Mr. Phelps – I cannot call him ‘the Rev. Fred Phelps – OK – I didn’t even think of the man as ‘Mr. Phelps’ – and what I called him – out-loud mind you and with no audience but the dog – what I called him, not even I would repeat from the pulpit – or anywhere in polite company for that matter – at any rate, I was trying to take the high road and in prayer entrust Mr. Phelps to the mercy of God – of the God who says, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” But no – I really, really, really wanted, and still want, the God of judgment to land on this jerk – and land on this jerk with all the fury the Divine can summon. I’m talking everlasting hell – painful, agonizing, screaming, burning, everlasting hell. Yeah, bring on the judgment. Damnation. Destruction. Vengeance. Bring. It. On.
But then, sometime in the darkness of Friday night, I remembered something I had learned long ago in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Scriptures of Jesus. I remembered the Hebrew concept of God’s mishpat, or in English, of God’s judgment – a concept of judgment that in our blindness we do not see. God’s mishpat, God’s judgment you see is not about damnation or destruction or vengeance or any of that crazy, angry stuff that I was getting into. If you listen closely to the texts that speak of God’s mishpat, they are predominantly about God lifting up the lowly and bringing down the mighty. But God’s lifting up of the lowly and bringing down the high, the mighty, and the ones such as Mr. Phelps – it’s not the kind of reversal we would like to see – rather it is to raise the valley and lower the mountains that all may dwell upon the plane of the radical equality of God’s love. To be sure, mihspat does declare in no uncertain words that we are congenitally blind to the grace, mercy, and peace that God wills for the world – but then, with our blindness diagnosed, God’s mishpat comes to take away that blindness – with the greatest of pardoning graces. God’s mishpat, God’s judgment – it is the light which reveals that we ourselves with our so-call righteous anger do not walk in the way of God’s great Promise – and then it is that Light who comes to bring new sight to us who daily stumble around in the darkness.
And by that Light I come to know that I too am under that judgment, God’s mishpat: I am given to know that I too train my own eyes upon a god whom I wish would, once and for all, smite the Phelps clan along with all the religious crazies. And I hear in the final act of this morning’s drama that I in my self-righteousness and condemnation of others – I am one with those who would like to have me and my kind removed from the face of the earth, but they are one with me and I with them in a mutual blindness to the God who loves all whom God has created – all – even and perhaps especially the bewildered folks who fear the neighbor they do not know. In John’s Gospel we hear that whenever we think we are the ones who truly see – it is then that we become the ones who don’t see – but then bathed in water and in the presence of the Word proclaimed and the Word given us to eat and to drink, we once more receive back our sight – we receive back our sight so that we may see in the light of the Noonday Sun – the glory of God – the God whose glory it is to judge the world from the cross saying, “They have no clue about what they are doing; forgive them.” Here the God whose glory it is from the cross to repay our dark, unseeing ways not with anger and vengeance, but with grace, mercy, and peace. And again and again and again until at our death when we fully see God face to face, God promises to keep on making us to see, so that – seeing – we walk in the light of the Cross that bears the God who does not and will not smite anyone. Not even . . . not even those I want God to smite . . . not even me, a judgmental s.o.b. – not even me in those times when I am so very, very blind. Not even me.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.