3 April 2011
Revisdd Common Lectionary, Year A
As Lent goes on, you can reach places where you just seem to get stuck. Your energy flags. You get distracted. Life beckons you away from the discipline which you are attempting to keep. My effort at maintaining my blogging schedule, unfortunately, has become a good example: Lent 4 actually was three Sundays ago now. I have some catching up to do. It does not matter that I might have excuses; the whole point of a discipline is to stick to it even when inconvenient. But, at least, another part of keeping a discipline is how you get back to it after you have been derailed, because giving up completely is far worse than not being perfect.
I think that the fourth week of Lent is a classic point at which to stall. You are just over the halfway point, and you start getting delusions about the ease of what you are doing, but there is still a ways to go in your journey. Sometimes you find the way obstructed by rougher terrain: your path suddenly becomes even more difficult and you lose heart. Sometimes, however, you reach a place you just don’t want to leave; you come upon an oasis, and you forget why you were travelling through the desert anyway. In either case you fail to see the route ahead.
All of the readings for Lent 4 have to do with types of blindness, but it would be more accurate to say that all of them are about the opening of eyes. Samuel, grieving that Saul has fallen out of favour with God, is sent to anoint a new king; at first, he seeks a person who (in his opinion) looks kingly, but God opens his eyes and shows him that God just might measure people in a different way. The Psalm opens your eyes to trusting that, even in the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you. The letter to the Ephesians exhorts Christians to live as children of light—to look for what is good and to act on it. John tells a long story of Jesus giving sight to a man who is blind, and the repercussions; Jesus also talks about blinding people who think they can see, of turning vision upside down. Just when you are stuck, when you cannot see any possibilities for change and hope, the lectionary points to Scripture which instructs you to open your eyes and see a little differently.
One way to get stuck is to be constantly looking for the blindness of others–to spend your time pointing out how others do not see. I would guess that many Christian preachers over the years have treated the reading from John 9 like that, as a way of describing Pharisees, synagogue officials, and other Jews as being blind to God’s true word. In this interpretation, ‘the Jews’ cannot see that the blind man’s transformation might have been an act from God. When Jesus says ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind’ (9:39), one traditional interpretation would be to lay this squarely at the feet of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time–that they are the ones who once saw but have become blind. It makes me think of the statues of Synagoga in so many Christian cathedrals, which personify Judaism as a blindfolded woman.
In my experience, however, the last line of the John passage receives little attention: that ‘now that you say “we see,” your sin remains’ (9:41). Taking this into account for sermons to Christian congregations should bring about a warning that no human being owns or controls God’s truth, and that as soon as you think you see and know and understand, you are liable to stop looking. You are also tempted to turn the glimpse of illumination which you have been given into an exclusive and totalising vision, one that neglects the possibility that more of God’s creation and plan might yet come into sight and thereby makes the visions of others suspicious, at best.
As a time of introspection and confession, then, Lent is a time for Christians to interrogate the things they think they know: to search out your own blind spots. So, friendly and compassionate readers, what are mine?
Well, right now, my blindness is going to church expecting to hear anti-Jewish interpretations of Scripture given in the sermon and liturgy. Not that the stereotypes are necessarily explicit or even consciously there in the worship services, but I go resigned to the fact that, more likely than not, someone will make the assumption that Jesus’ take on God as loving and merciful was all new, or that the religious authorities of Jesus’ time were all in the business for power, prestige, and financial gain, or that Pharisees loved to spend their time making life difficult for poor people and widows by heaping up religious regulations which were impossible to follow. My problem is that I spend so much time expecting this that I spend too little time looking for the signs of hope which would give impetus for attempts to make any change.
In the same way, I look for the annoying or horrific theologies of my more conservative co-religionists, and the ways that they might say things offensive to my beloved, before considering my own beliefs, and how my assumptions also might be problematic for my Jewish spouse.
It is so easy to see the blindnesses of others. May God shine a light on my own blindnesses during this journey of Lent, and beyond.