You gotta have heart…

John 9:1-41

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind (but, in order) so that God’s works might be revealed in him 4 we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 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 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.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! 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 he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

 

I’ve just finished the 2nd season of the tv show The Good Place. I highly recommend it but won’t say much to you about it for fear of spoiling it. But what I will tell you is we meet 4 people who find themselves in The Good Place after dying suddenly and tragically. The setting is peaceful, colorful with frozen yogurt shops on every corner and each person lives in a home designed just for them. One of the main questions at the heart of this show is what does it mean to be good? And at the heart of that question is, well, the heart.  Or, rather, what is your motivation for being a good person?

If we found the Pharisees guest starring on this show, I think we’d soon discover that their motivation for being good actually lacked any heart at all. These poor guys were so afraid of their whole system for religion being turned upside down. God was no longer locked inside of the temple. Jesus was threatening the rules around sacrifice and buying your animals in order to sacrifice and then gain access to God.  Jesus was hanging around with Samaritans, the despised, enemies of the time. He was talking to women out in the light of day. And he was claiming the authority of God?

The absolute foundation of their belief system was shaking. Everything was at stake.

Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath – that simply was not done. A miracle that takes about 2 verses in our reading today then takes the rest of the 37 verses to then debate. That’s what happens when fear gets the wheel of the religion bus. The scrutiny of the miracle -worker and the miracle-receiver begins immediately. Their reputations are hung out for everyone to analyze and judge. I mean come on. Did he deserve to be healed? Was Jesus qualified to heal?

Wild, wondering, fearful questioning ensues by the townspeople – they don’t even recognize him anymore. Then they drag him to the Pharisees who ask him many of the same questions. And then they drag his parents in, who insist their son can speak for himself.

Let’s just catch our breath for a moment, shall we? There has been a miracle and no one can stand it because it didn’t fit into the protocol. Jesus wasn’t following the rules, didn’t have the right credentials. After all, Jesus was a sinner and the man born blind must have sinned. How could God possibly be working with this kind of situation?

The motivation of the disciples was to use the blind man as an object lesson about sin. The Pharisees and the townspeople and even the man’s parents try to find the sin that must be lurking just beneath the surface of the blind man, Jesus, and the miracle. And they do this to keep good order. To stay included. To not be excluded. To earn, they think, God’s favor. Sinners aren’t good or deserving.

They all missed it – the critical intersection of having faith and living life. They missed the heart. They were blinded by their claiming to see who was a sinner and who wasn’t. Who was deserving of God and who wasn’t.

Jesus rocks the foundation of the Pharisees’ world. And this blind man, wordlessly listens to Jesus – without actually seeing Jesus – and goes and washes and then, miraculously, can see.

The disciples’ and the Pharisees’ and the townspeople’s vision for what God can do is limited by their own interpretation of God and their ideas about how the world works.

My vision and your vision for what God can do is limited by our own interpretation of God and how the world works.

God’s dream for us, God’s vision for us is for us to see that we belong to each other. The disciples, the Pharisees, the townspeople are so busy drawing lines that cut us off from each other that they just can’t see.

Greg Boyle, a catholic priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang rehabilitation program in LA, writes about a trip to speak at a school with Mario and Bobby in his book, Barking to the Choir:

“I should mention that Mario, a tall drink of water, is among the most tattooed of any of our trainees – and at Homeboy Industries that’s saying a lot. His arms are ‘sleeved out,’ neck blackened with the name of his barrio, and his entire face is covered but for the immediate area around his eyes, nose, and mouth. I had never been in public with him and was surprised by people’s reactions in the Burbank airport. People would widely sidestep him. Mothers would pull their kids in more tightly. The recoiling was pronounced and widespread.

And yet, were you to ask anyone at Homeboy who is the kindest, gentlest person who works at homeboy, they wouldn’t say me. The answer would most certainly be Mario. He is proof that only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.”

Then he goes on to share what happens at the end of their talk when there is time for Q&A with the audience, Father Greg, and these 2 former gang members.

“The first question was from a woman near the front. She stood and said that she had a question for Mario. The spine shiver that went through his slim body was likely visible from any seat. He gingerly approached the mike. “Yes?” he squeaked. “You say you’re a father,” the woman began, “and your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years… what advice to you give them?”  She sat and Mario was left alone to sift her words and find a response. He trembled some, and closed his eyes, then suddenly blurted out: “I just…” As soon as those two words left his mouth, he retreated again to silence. Standing next to him, I could feel, sense, and see the sentence he was putting together in his mind, reducing him to a new, emotional setting. His eyes were closed and he was clutching the microphone. He finally opened his eyes and stretched his arm out toward the woman as if he were pleading with her. “I just…I just don’t want my kids to turn out to be like me.” His last words felt squeezed out and his sobbing became more pronounced.

The audience was silent, and not one of us made a move to fill it. The woman stood up again. Now it was her turn to cry as she pointed at Mario, her voice steely and certain, even through her tears. “Why wouldn’t you want your kids to turn out to be like you?” she said. “You are gentle, you are kind, you are loving, you are wise.” She steadied herself, planted herself firmly. “I hope your kids turn out to be like you.” There was not much of a pause before all one thousand attendees stood and began to clap. The ovation seemed to have no end. All Mario could do was hold his face in his hands, overwhelmed with emotion. Bobby and I each lightly placed a hand on his back as he gently sobbed and a roomful of strangers returned him to himself. As I looked at this crowd, it was unshakably clear that they, too, had been returned to themselves. It was all exquisitely mutual.”[1]

When we see as Jesus wants us to see? Our hearts break wide open, the dark places are exposed, and we can hardly take in what we are seeing new for the first time. The reason Jesus came is not so we can hide out in the safety of our church family or in our homes with our families or even in our communities that look like we do. Jesus came to this world to send us into each other’s lives, to show us new ways to see.

Being Christian is not about being good – it’s not about separating the sinners from the good people. It’s about heart. It’s about God’s heart shown to us through Jesus.

 

[1] Barking to the Choir p.204-205

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