Being A Christian Does Not Mean Going with the Flow
Some thoughts on this week’s gospel reading, John 9: 1 – 41. An amazing story, the account of Jesus healing of a man who was born blind. One of my ATF’s.
It is so carefully crafted, unfolding in scene after scene, until in the final one Jesus, who got everything rolling then disappeared, returns to find and bless the man who has stood against a virtual flood tide of willful blindness — which would suggests that sight is not only a physical thing, but a spiritual thing.
Please read it carefully, slowly. In scene one the disciples treat the man as an object for their theological discussion and debate. Jesus says, “Enough of that! This is an opportunity to do God’s work of healing and new life!” With that, Jesus heals the man.
Then the trouble, or fun (depending on how much you enjoy irony), begins. Now the newly sighted man becomes an object of his neighbor’s debate and discussion, “Is this really the guy who used to sit there and beg?” Some say “yes,” others “no.” The guy says, “Wait a minute, it’s me, I am the guy you are talking about!” He gives an account in plain words of what has happened to him.
Unconvinced, the neighbors bring the man to the religious authorities for examination. The guy says, straight-up, “here’s what happened.” The Pharisees, like the disciples, talk as if the man himself weren’t even there, concluding that Jesus can’t be from God because he healed the man born blind on the Sabbath.” “Sorry, wrong day to be healed. Return to GO, do not collect $200!”
Next up, the man’s parents. Do they stand with their son? Noooo way. They are afraid of the powers-that-be, afraid of being booted out of the synagogue (as had by now happened to the early Christians to and for whom John wrote his Gospel). They abandon their son. “Talk to him, he can speak for himself.” (Think families where someone gets into recovery and everyone else freaks out.)
Back to the church (to speak analogically) authorities for round two. Note that as each scene of disbelief and opposition unfolds, the faith of the man does not diminish. It actually grows. He doesn’t say, “Gosh, maybe they are right, that didn’t really happen to me. I’ll go back and sit in my old spot and close my eyes and forget about it all.”
No, he becomes more assertive, now incredulous that everyone can be so blind. Like I said, irony abounds. The seeing people are blind. The blind see. He becomes exasperated with the Pharisees, who rebuke him saying, “You who were born entirely in sins, and you are trying to teach us?” Well, yes, actually. God works in strange ways, doesn’t she?
Neighbors, parents, church all tell the now seeing man that it can’t possibly be true that he sees, that he has been healed by Jesus. (Thinking of churches that say, “We want to grow.” Should growth happens and new people actually come, they say, “Who are these people? What are they doing in my church?”)
In the final scene, the seeing man, basically abandoned and cast out by everyone, is found (again) by Jesus, who blesses and reassures him that what he knows to be true is true. Sort of the opposite of gaslighting someone. The man responds by confessing his now fully-formed faith. In the face of trial, his faith does not wither . . . it grows. (Can you really know Jesus apart from suffering as a disciple?”)
Possibly take-aways are many. Unlike many conventional stories of Christian witness that one hears, i.e. “Jesus saved me and my life got wonderful, marriage better, got a super job, kids got straight A’s, etc.,” No. Here it is, “Jesus healed me and all hell broke loose. The Lord touched me and things got really weird and hard. ”
As Luther said, “When the Word of God is active, evil spirits are set in motion.” Or, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
What do I make of it? Many possibilities. Here’s one: we’ve come to the end of a long time where church belonging, Christian identification, was the default option in America. Being Christian was going with the flow. People were culturally Christian. I was.
Nowadays, that’s not so much the case. It’s easier to be a None, the new default. You get Sunday morning to yourself and you avoid being associated with those right-wing, “Evangelical Christians,” who have exchanged the gospel for political power and an invite to the White House.
Being a Christian is like the experience of the man in this story who was born blind. It may mean standing against what “everyone knows,” against the consensus, swimming against the current. Salmon Up! Or as Flannery O’Connor is said to have quipped, “You shall know the truth . . . and the truth . . . shall make you odd.”
Following Jesus may (if this story is to be believed “will”) put you at odds with the world, with those who you thought you knew and who thought they knew you, with the religious authorities and maybe with the church. (That said, being a cranky, self-righteous misanthrope doesn’t necessarily mean you are a true Christian.)
Christian faith is not conformity, not going with the flow, not fitting in with the group-think. Nor is being fully human any of those things. At least at times, it may be lonely and costly, bearing witness to the grace and healing you have experienced and cannot deny.