John 9:1-41 a bit deeper

So remember my upset about how this story starts? Let’s review:

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.

And I was upset because the idea that God caused the man to be born blind just to reveal God’s glory is …. upsetting to me.

Well it turns out that, if I had remembered to read the footnote, that might not be how the lines “really” go. It might be:

So instead Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; we must work the works of him who sent me …. ”

That it doesn’t matter to Jesus “why” the man was blind, nor does it matter to him “why” is this world so broken”. It just is. So Jesus aims to hurry and work to fix the problem.

A pastor friend of me, not knowing I was studying this, wrote about this in her blog and then there it is in the footnotes. Well. Don’t you love that? God found a way to “answer” me. 😉

I know that, just my life experience anyway, that “why” can be a trap. “Why did you do that?” says the parent to child. “I dunno,” says every child everywhere. “Why” can have you going around in circles. Instead, I can imagine Jesus (once again) shaking his head a bit at the disciples, smiling gently, and basically saying, “Let’s not waste time. Let’s get to work on healing.”

___

I also want to point out that right after the healing the point of view changes from Jesus to the blind man. So when I told this story at church, I put my hands over my eyes to “wash” them and then moved them away (like jazz hands a little bit) to reveal my sight — and to “show” that I was now a different character in the story.

For the glory of God!

The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

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. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!

 

*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of Jesus and the blind man

In reading aloud John 9:1-41, which I don’t know if I can learn by heart, I’m struck by the man who was formerly blind. I’m struck with how impatient he gets, how annoyed he is. The response to the miracle of his being able to see isn’t to rejoice — which should be the response, don’t you think? He was blind and now can see. It sort of echoes “the sheep/coin/son was lost and now is found”, doesn’t it? No, instead the response is endless repetitive questions from everyone, and scarily the Pharisees call people to give testimony. (Is this like some sort of trial? I shall have to learn.) The man who was formerly blind has to endure all this, but when he is ultimately tossed out of the community Jesus finds him. And he worships him.

And as a storyteller that is the first of my problems — all the “he/hims”!

Take a look at this snip:

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” “

The Pharisees are not saying that the formerly blind man is not from God, but that the man (Jesus) who performed the restorative actions is not from God. But then, on the other hand, how could he not be from God, others say? It is a miracle. But it is a mess of pronouns!

So how do I inflect my voice? Or use my hands? Or turn perhaps — how will listeners not get confused?

And so I start! FTGOG

Interrupted by books — The Boss

The book “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen is lyrical and honest and beautiful and hauntingly sad and human. Obviously he is a world-class musician, songwriter, performer! He took about seven years and just wrote about his life privately and this is the result. His childhood was brutal but he is looking back with forgiveness and grace and understanding. He is interested in expressing what it is like to live as an artist, what it is like to perform, how you can love, completely and totally, performing for crowds of ten’s of thousands and yet still be intensely private as a person. The first song of his that I remember hearing is “Hungry Heart” and oddly he says that that was the song that brought girls into the club. {{grins}} His entire album of The Rising helped me cope with 9/11. So much of his music is the soundtrack of my life; our lives. It is a gift to read his own words about himself and his experience.

In reading memoir/autobiography good writing is hard to find, in my experience. This is excellent writing, even when the topic is mental health and his searingly honest and deeply personal struggles with it. It is even more amazing how he is able to share the experience of songwriting and performing and so on.

This took hours and hours to read, I’ve ignored my family a lot the last week. Also I was reading on a Kindle and note that at the very there are pictures. Easy to miss, I almost missed them.

 

Luke 2:25-38 and a woman’s voice

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

I think often Jesus, in his ministry, used “masculine” and “feminine” imagery to get the same point really across. For example, the Kingdom of Heaven is like: yeast and will multiple the dough; or it is like a net which will catch a large amount of fish. If you don’t know something about yeast and dough, then maybe the fish will catch your imagination.

So — the widow, Anna, also praises the baby Jesus. If you do not trust the words of a proper righteous man, that’s ok. You can listen to Anna. It isn’t exactly equal time here, but I am told that in that time and place the word of a woman was not “trusted”, especially legally, the way a man’s word was; a widow could not own property; a widow on her own, as Anna was, would have a very hard time. She would be perhaps invisible to people, or perhaps she would be useful, perhaps she kept things clean? We do not know a lot. I am sure that if she was not truly nice and truly thoughtful and helpful, and truly worshiping God with a shining and inspiring sincerity, they would not have let her stay at the temple all those years of her widowhood. So she earned some right to be heard. She chooses to speak to “those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Meaning those who were seeking justice from oppression politically, perhaps from the Romans, perhaps in other ways that oppression can occur. If you are looking for redemption, then you have something that needs to be sorted out, reclaimed, redeemed, remade…..

“At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Perhaps Simeon spoke to those of power. Perhaps Anna spoke to those without.

Jesus, I hope, speaks to us all.

FTGOG

Luke 2:25-38 and joy

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

So I think perhaps Simeon and Anna were joy-struck. Somehow (the Holy Spirit…) of all the babies they had seen brought to the temple for blessing, this baby, Jesus, stirred their hearts and made them think he was the one: a light, a blessing, a sign. Not just another life, not just another good life. Perhaps not a “good” life at all because being “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” does not sound safe and secure and happy to me. There’s going to be conflict, so much so that Mary will suffer, because we suffer when our children suffer. This child was the one.

And they are delighted. They were struck with relief and thankful joy to have lived long enough to be in the presence of the babe who would go up and bring Israel’s light to the whole world. It is not a gift for them that is making them happy, it is a blessing for the world.

Just as Luke’s angel declares to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people”. You can hear it as just one set of people or you can take that “all” seriously and I take it seriously indeed. This joy is a love for all — a radical love that has no boundaries, that has no limits, that wants everything made whole, that shares and grows and is full. An abundant love.

This harks back, so my footnotes say, to Isaiah 49:6:

[The Lord] says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to restore the survivors of Israel;

I will give you as a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It would be too easy to just save Israel. God wants the whole world to be saved. Saved from battles and strife and hunger and pain and suffering. Saved from economics that separate and hurt. Saved from a yardstick that only measures by “worldly riches”. Saved by giving.

I think it says a lot that Simeon and Anna were full of joy and thanksgiving at this news from the holy spirit, instead of bitter and anger that it didn’t come sooner. By their joy, the good news of redemption was already a treasure they had, yes? Just as we do: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, Jesus will grow up to say. Not yet, but here.

FTGOG

Interrupted by the Overwhelm and Poetry

So completely overwhelmed, my friends. This morning I went to a beautiful lecture/speech and the speaker said, to the effect anyway, “When we hurt the least of us, we are hurting God. God suffers when the hungry are not fed, when the thirsty do not have water….to help God is to help each other.”

I nearly cried right there and my eyes are suspiciously moist now.

Here’s a poem, written a while back initially that I have been working on for a while.

 

The Body of Christ

 

We remember Him by breaking bread or

Is that the way He remembers us? Either way

Breaking is messy – let’s be glad it isn’t glass

Imagine the shards

Stabbing us

The drops of inevitable blood

 

Instead, today, with each piece pulled free and given,

Tiny crumbs fell to the ground, creating an abundance of memory

Reminding us of dogs who also

Deserve salvation and the birds of the air

And even of mustard seeds

 

Close your eyes. Wonder about mysteries

Wonder about wholeness that is found

only in the beautiful broken mess and then open your sight

to the cross, to what we are remembering

to Whom was so messily broken for dusty us

 

Interrupted by Books: Today will be different

Today will be Different, by Maria Semple, is a wonderful book! I have to interrupt going on more about Simeon and Anna and baby Jesus at the temple to praise this book. I thought it was just going to be another modern family story: Eleanor and Joe had a perfect life, with their son Timby, when …..mental trouble, physical trouble, emotional trouble, you  name it, one of the “troubles” would descend and mess things up. Instead something else entirely happens, a whole new future is suddenly there. To say too much would be to entirely spoil the story.

It is funny. It is heartbreaking. It is so true to life in spots! Eleanor, mostly our narrator, seems both so real and so awful and so cool. I liked her more and more as the story rolls on. While in a way the action of the story takes place in just one day — a day she wakes up determined to be different (she wants to be the perfect wife and mother and she doesn’t want the mess and stress of an ordinary day) — in another way the action travels to the past in memory to explain how this day came to be about. And the more she tries to be perfect, well, the more hilariously things unspool. She is definitely in “firstworldproblems” territory at first, but then, so many surprises.

Parts are told with graphics and other clever things — normally I just want my stories immersive and don’t want clever things but this totally works. It is completely integral to the story.

Absolutely a unique and delightful voice, a great story, a fast read, a surprise.

Luke 2:25-38 an old man and an old woman are joyful

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

This is actually one of the stories that I think I am supposed to like — look they knew this child was the Messiah and they died happy — but to me it is one of the “spooky” stories that do not quite make sense. In fact, miracles of healing don’t trouble me — God can do miracles. All sorts of stuff that might seem spooky is fine by me. But this story has people not really making sense, it seems to me.

Simeon is looking forward to the consolation of Israel — what? The Holy Spirit rested on him and revealed things to him? This is so confusing. Since he was guided by the H.S. to be at the temple when Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus there for circumcision and presentation, on the eight day — really? It is about 6 miles, but they were on the road for so long to get to Bethlehem and Mary has just given birth. This is true dedication, right? Is Mary ever going to catch a break?  And where was Simeon before the H.S. told him to go to the temple? And…. how about something more like this.

“Simeon rose early that morning as he typically did, and said his prayers. This room was chilly in the morning air, but the day would be warmer. Shepherds would bring some spring lambs to the city, farmers might bring some vegetables and fruits. Slowly the sounds of his household pressed upon him — the women in the kitchen, eternally working to feed everyone. Simeon knew he had work to do that day. He raised his hands again and closed his eyes and said a final blessing and suddenly a shaft of dawn’s light broke into the room through a slit in the covered window. He opened his eyes and was amazed at the brilliance and dazzled. Suddenly he knew work could wait. Today he would go to the Temple first thing, be a part of the daily quorum of prayers. His heart lighter, he dressed quickly and ….”

See doesn’t that make more sense? {{laughing}} I know…that was a bit silly …the Bible doesn’t work that way. We are just told — as in a classic storytelling opening — “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, …” where he was when the Holy Spirit inspired him and what it means to be Guided by the Holy Spirit just are not explained.

Maybe that is part of the point? The Holy Spirit needs us to listen and see and do, not fret and question? And with the classic story start — Now there was — his chops to authority are authenticated, at least to the people that first heard this. We’d want to know where did he go to school, and if it wasn’t Princeton Theological Seminary, why not, and what did he study, and …..that’s why I think this is a “spooky” story because I don’t understand who Simeon is and what is motivating him. I think the people then and there and those later that heard the story, woudl absolutely know who he was.

What Simeon does is to hold the baby and praise God and to give a prophesy, a word from God — motivated by the love of God.

And that’s enough for now, for the glory of God.

 

 

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions, for me it means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805823

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805927

At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.

FTGOG