Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who Sinned? The Child Born Gay or the Man Born Blind?

Who Sinned?
The Child Born Gay or the Man Born Blind?

Who sinned? This man or his parents? Who sinned the man born blind or the child born gay?

Two discoveries this week caught me by surprise. First I discovered that Phillips Brooks and Helen Keller had a correspondence with one another about some of the deepest parts of their souls. Both held within them things they wish they could have shared to the wider world more openly than was possible for them. The fact that Helen Keller was blind and unable to communicate without considerable effort impressed Brooks. In one of her letters, she told the great preacher that she knew of God's love for her even before she learned the word for God. Phillips Brooks was deeply moved and thrilled to learn this. Few know now and fewer then that the great preacher from Copley Square was gay. Who sinned? This young woman who was blind perhaps not from birth but shortly thereafter? Or that fine preacher, born the way he was? 

Secondly, I was stunned to learn yesterday that the Church of England will end its resistance to gay marriage. On the same day as its legalization in Britain the Archbishop of Canterbury said; “I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday (March 29, 2014) by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being."

For many centuries and still in many places those born gay are considered born in utter sin. So too the blind man was considered the same. In the Ancient Near Eastern World, the idea of suffering, flaw or disability involved sin. It is as if responsibility for suffering was an ethical fault on the part of the one who suffers, and often that suffering is passed on from one generation to another. Similar thoughts come to us even now, when parents often blame themselves for their children's failures and disappointments. “Oh where did we go wrong?” You can imagine how the parents of many gay children feel. 
Notice, however, that in the case of the man born blind, Jesus reverses direction. Neither the child nor the child’s parents are to blame. Instead, Jesus takes a different tack; "Let’s look at what God can do with the situation to salvage what we can of the life that is left." Jesus can redeem all our days. 
In today’s Gospel lesson there is the question: who sinned; this man or his parents? “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.’” 

It is as if Jesus were saying, “Let’s see what we can do to salvage what we can of this man’s life...and help out his parents too.”
Obviously in the story of this miracle there is more than one kind of blindness. The physical blindness is in point of fact the easier blindness to cure and deal with. All that it took was for Jesus to spit on the ground and make a little cake of mud and rub it on the man’s eyes. Vivid images aren’t they! In the Ancient Near Eastern World, saliva was thought to have restorative and healing properties. After all, even a dog knows how to lick his sores. 
Jesus said; "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent) Notice the pool is named “sent”, sent like Jesus was sent into the world to be the Light of the world. So too Jesus sends the blind man to the pool of Siloam, “sent”, to be “sent” and be cured, and receive his sight. 
Immediately he does receive his sight, and the neighbors are now in an uproar. “How did this happen? The beggar we see day in and day out is now no longer blind? Who did this?” 
“It was that man Jesus.” 
“Where is he?” 
“I don’t know. What I know is that he made a mud paste from some spittle and some dirt, he rubbed it into my eyes and sent me to the pool called Siloam.”

So they brought the man to the Pharisees; the biblical literalists and fundamentalists of the day. After all, the man Jesus, healed the blind man on the Sabbath; horrors! And that’s when the interrogation begins. 

Tell us again what happened. Like an episode of an old Law and Order rerun, let’s go over the story one more time. 
“The man put mud in my eyes and told me to go and wash”.
Immediately the Pharisees say; “This man cannot be from God if he did this healing on the Sabbath day.”
Others said; “On the other hand, how can a sinner do such a wonder as this if he is not from God?”
And so there was a division and a controversy.
They went back to the man and asked him what he thought of Jesus.
“He is a prophet.”
That just added fuel to the fire.
So now, they summon the man’s parents to meet with the fundamentalist and biblical literalists. How could he have been born blind they reasoned with themselves? 
But the parents said, “Yes that’s our son. Yes he was born blind. And yes, he sees now that’s for sure.” 
But they were terrified about being ostracized by the townspeople, which they most surely would have been, had they been put out of the synagogue. Anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would have been rejected from the fellowship of the synagogue.
So they said “He is of age. Ask him.”

So here we go with another interrogation. 
“Glory be to God”, the literalists say, “we know his man is a sinner.”
The man born blind says; “I don’t know if this man is a sinner. But one thing I do know is that I was blind and 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?" 
That reply raises the stakes now in a whole hurry up, and now he risks his place in the synagogue. Here comes the final confrontation:
"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." 
And that, as they say, was that. 
"You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us? 
And with that they drove him out of the synagogue. 

Jesus heard that he had been driven out and as Jesus was wont to do, he found the outcast man in order to embrace him with the love of God. 
"Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 
The Pharisees overheard this and confronted with Jesus. “Are you calling us blind?” 
And in an exquisitely interesting play on words Jesus concludes the Gospel with; "You say 'We see' and your sin remains."

Note if you will that Jesus obviously uses the word “sin” here not as a way of explaining the blindness and suffering of the man born blind or in assigning blame on him or his parents. Jesus uses the word “sin” as a way to talk about how we treat one another, not as how to account for the conditions we are born with.

Obviously the the sin in this passage involves a literalist interpretation of the scriptures, and results in expelling a blind man cured at the hands of Jesus and for the praise of God. 

It makes me think of the question of who we should exclude from our church. Should we exclude folks based on race or ethnicity? Perhaps on the basis of wealth or poverty? Maybe gender or orientation? It seems my whole professional life time as an Episcopal Priest has been a struggle to embrace those who formerly had been excluded. We are more and more becoming what I was taught to believe as a child; “We are a House of Prayer for ALL People!”

So I had a gay uncle and have two gay kids? Who sinned? My uncle? My kids? Or Cindy and me? Whom shall we exclude? Shall we exclude them? Maybe us? Who do we drive out of the synagogue, the church, the mosque? For many, many years we distanced ourselves from those who differed most from ourselves. 

Members of the LGBT community could not express their love for one another in a marriage relationship like heterosexual folks could. In the case of my uncle, he had the only stable relationship in the family. It lasted over 50 years. My mother on the other hand, well, let's just say she was a little frisky. And when we had the temerity to consecrate Gene Robinson bishop of New Hampshire, we lost whole congregations, whole dioceses; people who could not embrace the idea that there are those born blind and those born gay. And there is no sin in either. We are all born the way we are. And Jesus finds a way to embrace us all no matter what condition we are born into.

For embracing the teachings of Jesus, namely that there will be no outcasts in this church, that there will be no barriers to membership or to ministry in this church, many walked. But many, many more stayed and we go on. 

So who sinned? Thankfully Jesus reframes the question. How shall we treat one another now? Who is blind? Who sees now? Who has the right to exclude one of God’s children? Who has the courage to embrace those born blind, those born black or white, those born into poverty or wealth, those born male or female, and now those born straight, those born gay?

When it came time to anoint a new king for Israel, we learned that God sees what we are often blinded from seeing. Surprise, it was God’s choice that the shepherd boy would be God’s chosen. God looks way beneath the surface and deeply into the human heart. Alas there are those still blind as bats and unable to see. And that's where the sin remains, because they cannot see the love of God made flesh and blood in Jesus. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Fr Paul

No comments: