Monday, March 18, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 18, 2013

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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?” And they were divided. (John 9:13-16)

It would be amazing to have your sight restored. Imagine being blind from birth, never seeing a thing, then suddenly your eyes are opened. Everything would be new to you—color, movement, faces, landscape. It would take quite a while to get accustomed to a sighted life. It would be like landing on a distant planet where all things are alien to you.

The man born blind in this story would have been in the midst of joy and celebration when the Pharisees showed up to interrogate him. I wonder if he stared at them for a while before answering, marveling at their phylacteries and robes. They were putting a damper on the moment, not seeming to care that the man could see for the first time in his life. They were more concerned with how Jesus had done it.

Had Jesus just waved his hand like a Jedi knight, it might have been considered an acceptable act of healing. But Jesus made mud to do the job, and on the Sabbath such an act was interpreted as work. You can’t work on the Sabbath, even to heal a blind man, so said the religious leaders. They stood on God’s word.

Jesus, of course, saw the Sabbath differently. He claimed that the Sabbath was for people, not the other way around. For him, the works of God could not be separated from the word of God. He also claimed to do only what he saw his heavenly Father do. That was blasphemy enough for the Pharisees.

When the abolitionists rose up in the 19th century to fight against slavery in the UK and US, they were accused of going against the word of God. Scripture, so the defense went, did not condemn slavery, but rather commanded that it be done with kindness. Therefore, the abolitionists were (among other things), fighting against God’s will.

But the anti-slave people persisted, seeing something deeper in Scripture that did not allow for the oppression and enslavement of anyone. No one today would likely disagree with their convictions.

Are there other issues facing us today where we have gripped our texts of Scripture—our interpretations of those texts, actually—in such a way that our convictions of correctness end up bringing harm to others? Is being right our highest calling? We have a number of biblical and historical precedents showing how the desire to be right can violate what God is doing in the world (think of Jesus and the Pharisees; of Paul and the Judaizers; of abolitionists and slaveholders; of women and men in the church).

God help us to recognize his works before we make a false claim on his word.

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