Lent 4, A
Seminary professor Haddon Robinson tells the story of a young woman who came in some consternation to talk to her pastor. She wanted to discuss the sin of pride.“Pastor …” she confided, “every Sunday I come to church and look around and think to myself that I am the prettiest girl in the church. I try to stop but I just can’t. Am I horribly sinful?” Pastor … looked at her and said, “No dear not sinful; just horribly mistaken.” (story from Delmer Chilton)
We know so much.
The young Miss knew she was the fairest in the congregation.
Prior to 1920, lawmakers knew that women did not have the intellectual capacity to vote responsibly
Slavers knew dark-skinned people represented an inferior species.
Galileo’s contemporaries knew the sun revolved around the earth.
The Greeks and Romans knew that opening a vein and letting out the “bad blood” offered a chance for cure from almost anything.
The Pharisees knew Jesus could not have healed the man blind from birth.
When we know something, really know it – we become completely, willfully blind to all other possibilities. We will rearrange the world and all reality to fit.
I once heard a story about a man who was convinced that he was dead. No amount of argument by his friends would convince him otherwise. Finally, a trusted friend said to him, “Hal, you know that dead people don’t bleed.”
Hal conceded that this was true. Dead people do not bleed.
“So prick your finger and you will find out that you are alive,” said his friend.
Hal pricked his finger with a needle and it bled. He looked in amazement at his bleeding finger for the longest time and then exclaimed, “Whadda you know! Dead people DO bleed.” (Beth Johnston, Avon United, Midrash, personal communication)
I’m not always a huge fan of miracle stories. They seem to lend themselves to an extraordinary array of theological gymnastics. We live in an age of science, of explanations. We must, with these stories, decide if there was some scientific explanation of which 1st Century Israel could not possibly be aware, or, they happened the way the bible says, but life just doesn’t work that way any more, or it’s all some big metaphor for something or another (depending on the story); a message for the ages, a parable of sorts.
This story, however, is one of my all-time favorite miracle stories. I love that in the face of life-changing, world-shifting, mind-blowing miracle the man born blind (we never learn his name), the man born blind eschews opinions and speculation on the nature of his experience. He instead practically and patiently teaches the acknowledged paragons of knowledge and virtue what it means to know. “I don’t know where he is”. “I don’t know if he is a sinner.” “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
“A preacher can talk and talk about this story, but it is not a story about talking. It is a story about time: before and after, then and now, years ago and today, always and then suddenly.” (Anna Carter Florence, Preaching on the Word) The narrative gives us permission, almost commands us rather, to challenge our own assumptions, question what we “know”, open ourselves to the Holy, to the Truth with a capital T.
The pharisees know Jesus as a sure sinner – He did not follow the rules as they understood them.
Some evangelical preachers know God punished Haiti for its religious choices with a horrible earthquake, and the US for its liberal choices with the events of 9/11.
Many Christians know their sure path to paradise, and which of their neighbors travels it with them
We know…what do we know?
“If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God,’ opined Saint Augustine. Sixteen centuries later, theologian Peter Rollins rephrases, “God is an event, he says, ‘not a fact to be grasped but an incoming to be undergone.’” (paraphrased from Jeffrey S. Spencer)
Barbara Brown Taylor preached, “…wonder, not suspicion, is the beginning of worship, and seeing is believing only if we are willing to believe.” She continues… “There is a warning here, we must have a willingness to examine even our most cherished and deeply held ideas and suppositions. A willingness to engage in self examination is one of the key qualities of the Lenten season”. Traveling through the certainty of always into the unknown abyss of suddenly, we are invited to live differently, love differently, understand differently, awaken to the light that is Christ.
Yahuda Amichai, internationally recognized Israeli poet wrote this poem entitled, “The Place Where We Are Right”
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Today’s is not a a story of what, when where, or most particularly how. Today marks a story about before and after, then and now, years ago and today. Jesus does not teach what happened today. He teaches what is, knocks a chink in our armor of self protective mantra ‘I know, I see’ for the light to come in, for the seeds of new growth to whisper awake into the wind of the world just changed, “Lord, I believe.”