The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
The Fourth Sunday in Lent…..preconceived notions…..
© 2014 Frank B Crumbaugh III
I used to play a game when sitting in airports or train depots. I’d watch people pass, and try to tell their story. I’d see a person of particular carriage, raiment and demeanor, and from that observation develop a story of who s/he was. It was even more interesting when observing pairs of people, some of whom appeared to have been married for a very long time…making up their dialogue gave no end of chuckles. It was mildly amusing to pass the time this way, and since they never knew I was having fun at their expense, I could justify this kind of mental loitering. Certainly, it echoed my work as a police officer, when observing people had far greater consequence than it does as a private citizen playing an idle game. But however acutely laser-light precise, and humorous I may have been or thought I was, it was a seductive, arrogant game. I don’t play it any more. Thinking we know something and making assertions from that presumed knowledge is dangerous, and is as likely to be inaccurate as not. We all play some form of this game in our daily lives. We take a snapshot and from it develop a précis, never engaging the subject of our judgment at all.
By another name, we know this airport/depot game as assumptions- the stuff of our lives that is so settled as to no longer rise to the level of discourse. And sometimes the assumptions are accurate- gravity does work, some illnesses and physical conditions are not presently curable, water does seek its own level, the Earth does rotate so that the Sun appears to rise in the East, the dead stay dead…you get the idea. And sometimes they aren’t.
The Pharisees disbelieve a miraculous healing. It challenges an assumption that is not outlandish- the assumption that nearly all blindness is permanent. The Pharisees challenge the recipient of a healing, who responds: "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.”
The best we can say is that the Pharisees begin this conversation theologically and morally neutral, but it goes quickly down hill from there. They try to grasp the enormity of a human being born blind who now is fully sighted. Their amazement is understandable. The Pharisees exhaust every assumption-driven possibility, and the healing still will not fit them. They resist the possibility that a new thing has happened. Whether it is a fundamental policy change in how the universe is wired, or a one-time stunning event is immaterial. Either way the event is real, and they resist that possibility. So they make a judgment that conforms what they see to their assumptions- “there’s a trick in this somewhere…blind guys don’t become UN-blind…there’s something fishy going on here.” Jesus isn’t on the approved list of vendors, He hasn’t passed the Healers’ Guild entrance exam, and He isn’t operating with a Pharisaic license. The persistent testimony of the healed man and his family notwithstanding, the Pharisees look for conspiracy and trickery. Even now I suppose we could understand their skepticism about an unknown operator working in their midst.
But the evidence is incontrovertible- the man was born blind, Jesus healed him, and now the man can see. Recovering sight for one who has lost his sight is the bringing current of memory, and there is a sense of deliverance, of being brought back from the edge of irretrievable loss. For one born blind, it is like being born again; as surely as people learn to walk, they also learn to see and live as a sighted person. When one born blind receives his sight for the first time (as an adult no less!), it is being born again- having the joyful task of re-learning how to live as one who can see. The one born blind who now can see is grateful, and utterly unconcerned about the doctrinal legitimacy of his restoration. For him, the legitimacy of his healing is self-evident…res ipsa loquitur- “the thing itself speaks.” Seeing is seeing, no matter how it comes, it is miraculous and it IS a cause for rejoicing.
The Pharisees get more and more edgy as the man’s right and proper jubilation expands. They lash out, denouncing the healer, the healing, and the healed one. The man was, and stays, healed and Jesus did it, whether the Pharisees want to believe it, or like it, or not. Whether they believe it or not makes no difference; it isn’t about them. They assume that they get to render a judgment when they don’t. Jesus didn’t ask their permission to heal the man, and the man didn’t ask their permission to be healed. That may be the true frustration for the Pharisees- they weren’t asked, what they think doesn’t matter, and that infuriates them. We know anybody like this? Jesus has healed the man, and the man has rendered the only opinion germane to the conversation- joyful gratitude.
The overarching issue here is not whether or not the man was healed. He was healed. Period. The overarching issue is what the religious leaders of the day do with that. They knee-jerk a reaction rooted in reasonable assumptions. They get in trouble when they do not allow for the possibility that they do not know everything there is to know about the moment. Their defective assumption is that they do know. They get in trouble when their assumptions do not include: “Assumptions change.”
"Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
Samuel plays the airport/depot game; he imputes character and an entire life from a glance. It’s a bold and incorrect assumption about the one he has been sent to anoint. There is one and only one assumption we can make about God: God is. It is not accidental that God gives God’s own name as “I AM,” when Moses wonders how to answer the Egyptians’ questions about Him. Yep. What can be assumed about God is simply and only what God reports about Himself: I AM. All other assumptions deriving from that are subject to amplification and modification as God acts in the World. Samuel can hear God, and he learns something even as David learns something when Samuel anoints him.
That learning, that possibility, is too expansive for the Pharisees when they see the one born blind healed. They want a settled, defined and established set of assumptions about God. So they define God by their assumptions rather than having their assumptions defined by God.
Jesus didn’t assume anything about you or me. Jesus knew we were sinners. And He went to The Cross anyway. If the Almighty chooses to work miracles that save and heal people when He “knows better,” who are we to assume anything, anything, about Him other than His Love!?!?
Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, Beach Haven, Lent IV 2017