Recently I attended a Christian conference in Pittsburgh USA, in January and it was freezing cold. There were an amazing raft of keynote speakers and an amazing range and number of breakout electives/workshops.
I tended to follow a theme in my electives of storytelling. This is not something I have looked at in the past, but I decided to look at it for a project I may do one day (which gives me a lot of time!).
But it has also given me some insights into Biblical stories that I now read.
In the preparation for Easter, as we journey through lent, I have the opportunity to take an early morning service at my local church for a four week period. For the first time I have tried to integrate a theme and at the same time follow the lectionary (Definitional link) .
Last week, week three of our journey, and the Bible reading was John 9:1-41, the story of the man born blind and Jesus’ healing. (Link to the Bible Reading).
As I was working through this, it struck me that unfortunately this story is playing out in many churches around the world at this moment.
You see, Jesus left us with a very fundamental set of principles, Love God, and Love One Another. In the second part, there is no *, where at the bottom of the page there are exclusions.
When Jesus saw the blind man (in our series so far Nicodemus a religious figure has sought out Jesus in the darkness of night, and the women at the well, met Jesus and had a conversation on equal grounds), it seems that Jesus sought him out. In our Lenten readings we see three different interactions between Jesus, and in this case, Jesus is seeking out the person.
It appears that only the Disciples hear the conversation between Jesus and the man born blind, but their focus of discussion is on where is the sin, is it his own, but as he was born blind, or it is of his parents?
Jesus response was emphatic, neither this man nor his parents sinned …
The Disciples were stuck in the construct of the day, that disabilities or disadvantage were a response to sins. We now have all the medical, scientific, psychological and sociological evidence of the causes of disabilities or disadvantage. Accordingly, we have moved on from this concept of the relationship between a disability, disadvantage and sin.
So we are being asked to change our paradigms as new information becomes available to us?
The next characters in the story, with a relatively short mention, are his neighbours. As the blind man was an outcast, and needed to beg to survive, he was probably pretty invisible to those in his neighbourhood, and when his sight was restored, they weren’t sure if it was actually the same man.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider if we are being blind to those that suffer disadvantage in our neighbourhood?
The next characters in our story are the parent and the Pharisees and there is an interconnection here.
The Pharisees went immediately to sin, because Jesus had healed the man born blind on the Sabbath, so he could not be of God. Theirs is a focus on a breach of the law, sin, and no connection with the man to celebrate that he now has sight.
The Pharisees ask of the parents, is he their son, was he born blind and how does he now have sight? The Pharisees were so overbearing in their community, that the parents were frightened of them, that they might be thrown out of the Temple for declaring that Jesus healed their son, so all they can fearfully do is to acknowledge that he is their son, that he was born blind, but as their son is old enough, they tell the Pharisees to ask him how he was healed.
The Pharisees are determined to follow the law rather than any compassion, and when the formerly blind man states that Jesus healed him, he is excommunicated from the Temple.
So, it seems to me we are being asked to consider, should we throw someone out of our Christian Community because a person doesn’t fit our understanding of the rules?
The final act of this story, Jesus hears the man has been rejected from the Temple, he seeks him out yet again and brings him into his community.
So, it seems we are being asked to consider, are we willing to reach out and welcome in others who are outcast by other communities for being whole and for who they are?
So what is the modern day parallel I am seeing?
If we look at the LGBTIQ community around the world, there are many Christians who are caught up in an old paradigm, using phrases like “lifestyle choices”, or interpreting some limited passages as total justification for condemning LGBTIQ people as sinful and as outcasts.
I think this passage is asking those particular Christian communities to serious examine themselves.
Firstly, as with the first part of this John passage, the Disciples want to focus on the sin that caused the affliction. Jesus would have none of that. We now know that physical blindness is not caused by sin, we also know that LGBTIQ people are simply born the way they are, in the image of God. There is the medical, scientific, psychological, and sociological evidence that there is nothing wrong with LGBTIQ people.
Secondly, there are many neighbours of LGBITQ people, who are like the neighbours of the man born blind, they choose to ignore their neighbours, their needs and assistance and support for justice.
Thirdly, there are many parents of LGBTIQ youth who feel they must ignore their children, or worse, put them in “reparative therapy” because the Christian Pharisees of the day make them so frightened to look after the best interest of their child (who is made in the image of God).
Fourthly, the Pharisees are focused on law and in their case law over love, law over healing, law over compassion, law over community, law over hope. They send the man away from their community. Today, we still see many Christian Churches who reject LGBTIQ people because they focus on what I believe I poor view of scripture and more focused on their interpretation of law over love, healing, compassion, community and hope, and in fact, their focus on law leads to destruction and often suicide.
Finally, we see Jesus coming to those that are rejected by the Pharisees and welcoming them in, and I think the parallel is clear that in today’s context Jesus is welcoming in the LGBTIQ into his community.
There might be some reading this and thinking, no, if there is a linkage to LGBTIQ people in this story, then it is about being healed from their LGBTIQ affliction. The flaw in this positing is there is no affliction, but there is other healing required. I think the healing in this passage is the healing for LGBTIQ people from the abuse they have suffered from society, Churches, other religious institutions, and governments. Just as Jesus made the blind man whole by restoring his sight, I think Jesus is wanting to heal LGBTIQ people from the hurt, pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of others, and from their own hands as they struggle often with internal issues of acceptability from their rejection by so many.
What I am seeing particularly now in Australia and the USA (an in it in other countries), is a group of Christians that are more focused on excluding people because of their interpretation of sin (whilst ignoring a whole raft of other sins), whereas what we see in this story, is Jesus is focused on the exact opposite, making people whole (and stopping them from being rejected) and including them in his community.
Are you willing to accept Jesus’ challenge from this story?