The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
“Faith in God’s revelation has nothing to do with an ideology which glorifies the status quo.” These are challenging words, written by the theologian Karl Barth. Today’s Gospel reading is about the risks inherent in challenging the prevailing opinion of the way things are and should be. It’s all about the status quo.
The healing in today’s lesson occurs on the Sabbath. Jesus restores the sight of a man who had been blind from birth. The man washes and is cleansed. Yet instead of the community giving thanks for a miracle and celebrating the restoration of this person’s sight--a controversy ensues. Some people respond by saying: “(The) man (who performed this healing) is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” Others reply: “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And the Bible tells us that the people were divided. And this is a lesson--challenge the status quo and odds are good that rather than rallying behind the one who is calling a new reality into being, there are a good many people who will be placed on the side of maintaining the way things are. And this is precisely what happens.
The people proceed to put the formerly blind man on the spot, saying: “What do you say about Jesus? It was your eyes he opened.” And the man replies: “He is a prophet.” The man’s parents are then brought forward for questioning. They know a losing battle when they see one, and respond: “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
Here's the thing--the proof is right in front of everyone. It’s righ before their eyes! There’s no missing it. Here is a man who was born blind and had never been able to see and is now able to function completely in the world. He has been healed, cleansed and restored. But the religious people of the day are stubborn, and they deny what is right before them for in their minds what they see shouldn’t be possible. It doesn’t mesh with their version of how the world should operate. Healings should not take place on the sabbath--so, somehow, this healing must be wrong.
And this is where we come to the most heart-breaking line in the Gospel: “And they drove him out.” They drive the man away. Jesus learns that they had expelled this man from their community, and he finds him and says: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answers: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” And Jesus responds: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he”. And the man, with 20/20 vision of eyes as well as heart replies: “Lord, I believe.”
It seems preposterous that what all of us might view as an opportunity for celebration--for giving thanks, rejoicing throwing a party and killing the fatted calf results in expulsion, scapegoating and division.
Yet, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Society in general doesn’t tend to be kind to people who challenge the way things are. Consider the abolitionists who rose up against slavery, proponents of free education for all, those who fought against child labor, women suffragists, civil rights advocates, those who first advocated for climate change, the ordination of women as priests and LGBTQ rights.
We look back and, I suspect most of us would agree that these changes are good--and even Godly; inspired by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, a good number of the people involved in these issues believed this to be true when they were inspired to take up their respective causes. But for each of them, from William Lloyd Garrison, to Horace Mann, Edgar Gardner Murphy, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., John Topping, Jackie Means and Ernestine Eckstein there was a great hue and cry and backlash for taking the risk of challenging the way things were. Time and again it seems to be true that before sainthood is conferred and you find your face on a stamp--you can expect to be vilified, condemned, impoverished, jailed or even assassinated. The world is not kind to disrupters.
Looking at the situation in the Gospel for today as well as movements of societal change, perhaps we can see how what Jesus says in the twelfth chapter of Luke is true: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three, they will be divided.”
It's a reminder to us that when Jesus comes into our lives, things change. In the seventh chapter of Luke, John the Baptist is in prison and disciples speak to Jesus, who says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” That sounds good, until we realize that change is always disruptive. In fact, in the midst of controversy, we might even find ourselves wondering whether the promise of change--and even the new life it brings, is worth it.
Do you know, that the one phrase repeated most often in the Gospel by Jesus is this: “Do not be afraid.” Over and over, and many different contexts he says this--whether it is a boat in a storm or speaking to the father of an ill daughter or to disciples in a locked room, we are reminded not to be afraid.
I began today’s sermon with a quote from Karl Barth: “Faith in God’s revelation has nothing to do with an ideology which glorifies the status quo.” The story of the man born blind presents people of faith with a challenge--to ask ourselves, if it is possible that when we are confronted with challenge or change, we might be a bit like the religious people in today’s reading who drive out the man whose sight was restored.
Certainly, we need not be on the side of every movement which comes down the pike--not all change is good change. However, when confronted with disrupters, perhaps we would do well to pause, step back for a moment, pray, ask for guidance and wonder if what is being advocated might, in truth, be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The prevailing question to ask is this--does what is being advocated bring more life, more healing, more love and more grace into the world…or not. Today’s lesson places each one of us on the spot. Where do you believe you would stand in the controversy of the blind man? And where do you find yourself today in the midst of disruptive change? In Jesus’ name. Amen.