Hearing Christ is more than Quoting the Gospel

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before HIM no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.  (Hebrews 4:12-13)

In Acts 15 the nascent Christian movement is confronted with one of its first crises as a new found faith – do you have to become Jewish in order to be a Christian?  The basic issue is that some Jewish Christians were demanding that Gentile converts must follow certain of the requirements of the Torah – including circumcision – in order to be true disciples of Christ. 

What is noteworthy is that in the discussion and debate which ensue no one quotes Christ at all.   Certainly we might expect the original 11 disciples of Jesus to try to recall things He said that were apropos to their discussion and to quote Jesus to bolster their arguments.  Apparently no direct teaching of Christ could be referenced as the guiding principle for solving the problem.  The original disciples considering what the Church’s policy should be do not even bring a single quote from Jesus into their deliberations.  Rather they are trying to discern what they should do based upon their experience in Judaism with the Torah and based in their experience with what God was currently doing in their lives.  They tell and listen to stories about what God is doing through their current lives and ministry rather than simply proof quoting things the Lord taught them.   They talk not about what Jesus said, but about what they have been doing, what God is doing in the world and what they currently see happening in their own lives.  

They are not ignoring what God is currently doing in their lives, and they are not fixated on the past and on making sure they quote Jesus exactly.  They certainly have not fashioned the Gospel Message of Christ to be a new indelible Torah written in a Book of Law which they must fastidiously obey.  Rather what they clearly decide is that those embracing the Gospel must receive the message as God’s Word, active in their hearts and lives, and not return to the Old Torah nor to try to fashion a New Torah based in Christ’s words.  The Word of God for them is not a written word, but a Word which lives in their lives and that is the only Word of God they try to read in order to discern what God wants from them.

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men;  and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Blindsided by Christ Giving Sight to the Blind!

John 9:1-41           Today I got to listen to a sermon on the text.  It was Sub-deacon Marty W.’s turn to preach.  As I listened to the Gospel and to his homily, this is what I thought about:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo’am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The blindman cannot see.   He does not appear to do anything to attract the disciples’ attention.    How did they know he was blind from birth?     They either knew the man, or talked to someone about him, for there would be no way to know he was born blind.   What does the blindman hear?   Jesus spits – a big enough wad of drool to make some clay with!   Today, we antiseptically avoid people’s spit, and certainly would not welcome someone rubbing their spit in our eyes.  Most of us blanch at the tiniest drop of a friend’s spittle touching our face!   Jesus rubs spit and dirt into the man’s eyes.  Maybe that is why the man was so willing to wash in the pool!   Had he been so abused before by the cruel who despised him for his plight?

There must have been more to their conversation than John reports. The blind man goes to the pool with a purpose.  Later (vs 11) he is able to tell people what Jesus did, though he wouldn’t have “seen” it.  Jesus must have told him what he was doing.  Holy spit!  As far as I know the only spitting we do in Orthodoxy is to spit at Satan during the exorcism before baptism to show our rejection of the Evil One and to demonstrate our willingness to defy him.  And after that we too send the person to wash in a pool – the baptismal font.   And we do hope the newly baptized eyes are opened and that they come out of the pool with their spiritual eyes opened.

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

Wouldn’t their son receiving his sight have been the answer to the parents’ prayers?  And yet they are afraid to give credit to God for a miracle.  How often in life do we have chance to witness a certifiable miracle?   The parents are willing to be blinded rather than to have to speak about what is right before their eyes.   The social pressure on them is great.  They are not willing to come out of their comfort zone.  They will play it safe and accept the pressure of religious authority rather than admit what they think is true.  And they certainly are not going to sacrifice anything – personal safety, status in the community, personal integrity – for God and what God is doing in their lives.  They end up denying their own hopes, dreams and prayers for their son, so they won’t have to suffer personal discomfort.

28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple… 30 The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

The cured blind man’s eyes are opened in many ways.  He knows what his and his parents’ hope and prayers have been.  He knows all his life he has wished not to be a beggar and blind man with the dubious cloud of sin hanging over him.  All of this has been taken away from him – stigma and blindness.  And yet no one is rejoicing for him.  Instead people are angry about how he was healed and who healed him.  And instead of the preachers of God’s mercy rejoicing that God has done what they taught God would do,  these purveyors of God’s law are angry because the miracle wasn’t done in the manner that was acceptable to them – neither at the right time (the Sabbath) nor at the right place (the Siloam pool instead of the temple).   This is not how they expected God to act, and so therefore they are convinced it can’t be from God.  They had convinced themselves that only they knew God’s saving activities, and that God would have to act within what they narrowly taught as God’s way.  They were looking to themselves and not to God for His Kingdom, or rather, they had blinded themselves to the possibilities of God and God’s work in His entire creation.   God cannot act outside of our interpretation of godliness.    But Jesus came to give sight to the blind, not to continue blindness – to open the eyes of those who do not see.  But his actions are also judgment and those who are so certain that they alone control God are blinded by what Jesus does.   We in the one true Church should take note.  Our job is not to blind those who see God at work in their lives, but to rejoice in every act of God wherever and whenever it takes place.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.