Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for April, 2014

Seeing Butterflies

John 20:1-18

 

The monarch butterfly is an amazing creature.

lone_Monarch.jpegEvery year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies go on a great journey of up to 3000 miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

monarchswarm Once they arrive in Mexico, the monarchs congregate in the oyamel fir trees in the Mexican states of Michoacán and Mexico.

Monarch butterfly wintering colony 30MONARCH

 Along their journey, the monarchs travel at an average speed of 12 mph (but sometimes get up to 30 mph); they travel 80 miles a day. They fly at heights of up to 2 miles. How does this once-hungry-caterpillar-turned-monarch know how to find its way to its wintering grounds? Scientists still don’t know exactly how they do it.

It’s a mystery.

It is a resurrection story.

And that’s why more people go to a Christian church of some sort on Easter Sunday–for a resurrection story?
If you did do that, turns out you’re not alone.

According to the Pew Foundation and Google Trends data, more United Statesians search for the word “church” around Easter than at any other time.

While the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, the lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving each November. The second lowest search for “church” occurs in the summer months.

So if you went to an “Easter” service, did you hear a resurrection story?

Let’s revisit one—from John’s Gospel.

And who will be the main character?

Jesus?

It’s Mary Magdalene.

I guess this is reason # 12,124 why the church’s historical [and present] holding back of women is inexplicable and inexcusable. It’s clear in this resurrection story that Mary’s gender doesn’t hold her back. She is the first to go to the tomb, to see that Jesus’ body was not there, and she is the one who shares the important information with the other disciples.

Mary Magdalene is worried, though. After seeing the stone rolled away and the body gone—she worries if the body had been stolen and what would be the impact of such a thing?

Grave desecration; awful.

You see, Jesus’ followers had planned to make that Jesus of Nazareth tomb into a shrine. People would visit it from near and far and pay homage to him and pray, and remember his teachings. But now…?

So Mary goes and tells the others and then they go to the tomb and say that they believe; but what do they really believe? They don’t believe all that Mary said. They only believe that the body is gone and that this is a problem because then how will they make this place a religious shrine and now…great! What are they going to do about it? They don’t believe in resurrection. They are depressed.

So the story keeps following Mary. She’s outside the tomb, still crying, and two angels appear to her. None of the disciples with her have a clue that this is happening. Mary herself doesn’t recognize them as angels. And even after the angels tell her that Jesus’ body was not stolen but that he is actually alive, she doesn’t buy it. She cries and cries some more and still wonders who stole the body.

Then John’s Gospel gives us a literary treat. Jesus himself appears to Mary as a gardener; she still does not recognize him. Why? She is not looking for him. There is no way that Jesus her teacher could be alive, so why would she look for him? She’s looking for a missing dead body, remember?

Jesus calls her by name, [in the original language of the NT], calling her Mary, not merely woman. Hearing her own name, Mary realizes what’s up. She then calls Jesus teacher, a title of great respect. Mary is awake now. She is no longer thinking about a missing dead body but instead sees her teacher Jesus in a new way.

Do not hold on to me, says her teacher.

Go to my brothers, says her teacher.

And Mary goes and tells the others.

And the resurrection story ends—that is, if you only read it/hear it on Easter Sunday.

But I’m not convinced at all that story ever ended.
Consider: why do you think the risen Jesus says: Don’t hold on to me, Mary?
Was she clinging tightly to his feet, impressed and overwhelmed by the moment?
Or was she clinging to the Jesus of Nazareth she knew before—present in a body, limited to a time and place?

It was time for Mary to let go of the Jesus she knew.

He was indeed alive, but not the same.
And this was important and challenging news for Mary to take in.
It was important, challenging, and also good news for her to share.

It remains important, challenging, and good news for us to live.

The importance is there in the story of the caterpillar—this slow creature that travels only a few feet at a time, and then gets its cocoon on and becomes a butterfly. As a monarch, this new creature can fly thousands of miles. What a change.

A few feet to thousands of miles.

Crawling and inching on the ground and on leaves to…flying in the air.

This is change.
This is metamorphosis.
This is resurrection.

That is important, but it’s also challenging.
Because we often think that we cannot change even a little, much less a lot.
Perhaps its stubbornness or habits built up over time or just being jaded and conditioned by life experience.
Whatever the case, we’re not sure that we can undergo a metamorphosis.

We’re just not convinced that we can experience resurrection.

Maybe it is because, if you’re like me, someone rising from the dead in body and mind, is stuff for movies and science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

But not real life.

So the good news…

I don’t think you have to fully believe that a dead Jesus of Nazareth emerged from a tomb in bodily form and was alive again.

People keep arguing about what is doctrinally true about these resurrection stories, but no one gets it right.

In the end, friends, we should not push our brains to the side every time we read the Bible just so we can accept a religious belief.

Why?

Because resurrection won’t happen in your life because you buy into a doctrinal statement.

There is plenty of room for skeptics here.

We’ll have to see butterflies, though.

We’ll have to believe in resurrection here on the ground, on this earth, though.

We’ll have to see change in ourselves and in the lives of others. We’ll need to pay attention to the resurrection and new life in nature.

So pay attention to the important, challenging, and good news.

Do you think that you can go from squirming around slowly to spreading your wings?

Do you think that it is possible to break your routine, recharge in a cocoon, and emerge fully alive?

Each of us are caterpillars at some point, and then we’re butterflies. And then we die and then we live again. And then we’re caterpillars again. And then butterflies.

Each and every day that life cycle begins and ends.

So will you see butterflies all around you?

Will you embrace new life in the natural world and in the people you meet?

Jesus said: don’t hold on to me.

So don’t hold back.

Change, resurrect, live.

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Cloaks, Branches, Donkeys, and…?

Matthew 21:1-11

Hosanna, Hey-sanna, Sanna, sanna, ho!

I am conditioned at this time of year to hear that song and to see the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, because I actually saw the original Jesus Ted Neely perform in a live stage version a long time ago. For some reason, it stayed in my mind.

And…why does Jesus always resemble Michael Bolton?

This hosanna story that many of us think we know…

We all visualize it in some way.

How do you see the story of Jesus of Nazareth entering Jerusalem at Passover time?

Now, see the story through the eyes of various artists:

jesusjerusalemitalian1 JesusJerusalemItalian jesusentersJerusalemBenedictineSisters African_Jesus_Christ_s_triumphal_entry

I personally like Jesus on the T-Rex. Of course, it makes sense.
He’s Jesus, after all!

jesusonDinosaur

Jurassic Park Jesus!

How we visualize the story, of course, is determined by our culture, time period, and upbringing. It’s related to whether or not we grew up with palm branches on this particular Sunday and sang “Hosanna” songs or whether we did none of those things. Perhaps this story is just a quick pit stop on the way to Easter—something to spend very little time on and something that could in fact lead to crucifixion and death, which are not nearly as pleasant as egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and Easter baskets.

But this story deserves our attention—that is, if you wish to take the journey to the end of the Gospel story.

But the road goes through Zechariah.

Zechariah the prophet from the OT is the only way to make sense of this. You see, this story is told by the 4 Gospels: Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. Mark wrote it first, and the others borrowed and altered the first version to fit their perspectives and their audiences and their time period.

It’s like hearing the same story as told by four different people who never met each other.
But in the end, all four stories lead us to one question.

Who was Jesus of Nazareth?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coat

So consider some details we get. We’ll stay in Matthew.

Jesus came to Jerusalem from the east. Bethphage, called the house of figs.

The Romans [soldiers], however, came from the west to maintain order during the Passover party.

Jesus’ entry mocks the Romans. It is counter-empire.

How many donkeys and why? Two.

See Zechariah again. Donkey and a colt [baby].

However…

The quote “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey” is like “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” a Hebrew repetitive wordplay; one thought that is expressed in two ways. Maybe Matthew misinterpreted Zechariah? No, not really—that wouldn’t make sense. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience and knew about the prophecy and he also had Mark’s Gospel as a reference [with only one animal]. Matthew tweaks the OT texts to fit the style and message of this particular telling of the story.

The crowds were not what we may think. They weren’t Jerusalem crowds, because as mentioned before, Jesus was from the north [Galilee] and Jerusalem was in the south [Judea]. Jesus of Nazareth was not a superstar in Jerusalem. So the crowds were his followers, kind of Jesus flash mob formed outside of Jerusalem city, to greet Jesus on his way in and to mark this moment, because they really wanted things to change.

So the people shouted things from Psalm 118. They reminisced about the good old days—when King David was ruler of Israel and things were better. Could Jesus bring back prosperity for them? Some of them saw Jesus as a prophet, others as a king. Some thought he was a teacher, a Rabbi, a brother in a struggle for independence. However they saw him, people threw their cloaks to the ground. This was to show their hope that Jesus would be something big. It was respect. It was Matthew’s red carpet moment. Jerusalem was Hollywood and Jesus, at least the people hoped, would be a superstar.

superstarNow, there were no palm branches anywhere in Matthew’s story…just branches. Why don’t we wave figs instead? Or olives? That would make more sense. Well, we have John’s Gospel to thank for that—the only one that mentions palm branches.

And before you blink, the story is over.

We’re left with the intriguing ambiguity of the crowd.
All the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.

And then, the story continues. Jesus goes to the temple and starts throwing furniture around.

It’s true. The story begs us to ask this question

Who is this?

Who was this Jesus?

A king? A prophet? Just a dude from Galilee?

Who?

It may sound strange, but I’ve come to the conclusion in my own journey that perhaps this question who was Jesus is our own obsession and not really what Jesus himself was concerned about. Nearly everyone tried to define who he was. Even the Romans and temple authorities who arrested him and eventually crucified him tried to figure out who this Jesus of Nazareth really was. But each time, Jesus himself refused to accept the titles given to him.

Makes me wonder: what would Jesus say to us now as we do the same thing?
We give Jesus titles and want him to be what we need him to be.

Will he be our king, our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah?

Will he save us from our personal problems?

Will he give us all the answers if we just praise him and shout encouragement at him?

Will this Jesus be all that we want him to be?

I don’t think that this is what we ought to obsess over anymore.
You see, in the Gospel stories, Jesus of Nazareth is not worried about titles and what people believe about him.

He cared about how people lived.

How did they treat others?
How well did they love?
Did they forgive?
Did they heal?
Did the show mercy when it was difficult?
Did they show hospitality to strangers?
How did they live?

You see, we continue to argue about who Jesus was and is and the Gospels tell us so what? You’re wasting your breath and your time.

How do you live?

How does this Jesus of Nazareth—his teachings and his life—how does he inspire you to live?

Because when it’s all said and done, our perspectives and opinions will always be subjective. But our actions will speak louder. Our love and compassion will make an impact on the world.

So how will this story inspire you to live?

 

Unbinding to Be Alive

John 11:1-45

cutezombieNow look, I don’t know if you watch The Walking Dead on television or if you’re into zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead, REC, Dawn of the Dead, World War Z, or 28 Days Later. I am not sure if the idea of a once-dead human being rising from death to be “alive” again intrigues you or if it just plain freaks you out.

Regardless, it’s appropriate to talk about zombies, because the story of Lazarus is a zombie story.

I like the Brick Testament’s Lego version of Jesus and Lazarus…

lazaruscomeout

lazarus

So it is only a few weeks away from when we talk about the death and resurrection story of Jesus, which also is a zombie story. That’s why most people think of the Lazarus story as just a prequel to Jesus’ resurrection story. I’ve said before, however, that when anyone projects things and ideas onto the scripture stories, one can go to crazy extremes. So how about we just read the Lazarus zombie story as it is and then go from there? I think we’ll find more meaning and hopefully more inspiration to live as more loving and compassionate human beings…who are alive.

 It is also my hope that we’ll be creative people who use our brains; after all, so far no one is actually eating anyone’s brains.

 So who was Lazarus?

He was from Bethany, and his name means a Galilean. Why should you care? Well, Jesus was a Galilean and the Galilean Jews represented a particular ideology and world view. The short version is that the Galileans weren’t in love with the Roman Empire or the religious temple system. You see, when we talk about “the Jews” in a NT context, we don’t just mean the people who lived in “the Holy Land-Jerusalem” and that they all believed the same things. “The Jews” were [and are] a diverse group of people—geographically, culturally, and religiously. Galilee was a northern province. Judea was a southern province [where Jerusalem was]. Galilee, the north, was more diverse ethnically and culturally due to the Assyrian conquest in the 8th century B.C.E. The influence of other religions and cultures [Hellenistic] was widespread.

Galilee was separated from Judea by…Samaria.

Politically, Galilee was set apart from the rest of Judea, resisting Roman rule. Galilee was also a major place for resources—good fishing and agriculture. Galileans also spoke a unique form of the Aramaic language. Imagine Jesus with a thick accent in which he drops consonants from the end of words. And religiously, Galileans were not thought of highly by their Judean neighbors to the south. They were far from the religious epicenter of Jerusalem, they did not maintain as strict or strong Jewish traditions, and they were definitely influenced by the Greeks.[1]

This is all very, very important in the story.

Jesus, from the north, was not considered by many Judeans to be as religious or culturally relevant. He was not accepted overall in the south as a great prophet or teacher.

It is in this context that we meet Lazarus, who happens to be sick.

Actually, the word in Greek for sick is better rendered as lethargic or weak.

Lazarus was pretty much like a zombie.

Then John’s Gospel reminds us that those of us reading this in 2014 in the United States have some work to do. Verse 2 of this story mentions Mary, the one who anointed Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Turns out the zombie Lazarus is her brother.

Oh, right, except there’s just one problem:
The story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume hasn’t happened yet.

How come John’s authors assume we already know that story before it’s told?

Friends, this is yet another example as to why I argue that we need to read Bible stories as they are in their literary, social, and historical context. John’s Gospel isn’t for you and me. It was written for a specific group of people who already knew the stories and were now getting a different interpretation of them. So as we read this, let’s walk in their shoes and enjoy it even more.

Lazarus was as sick as a zombie.

But even when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus secretly that he should do a pastoral visit, Jesus didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He stayed two more days in the place where he is. No urgency. Finally, he eventually said to his friends: “Let’s go to Judea.”

Uh…Judea? The south? They just escaped from there and barely! Are you crazy?

But Lazarus was Jesus’ dear friend, and according to him, there was still the light of day with which to walk. So why not?

Lazarus was just asleep, so why not wake him? The disciples understood…or did they?

They assumed Jesus would just say to Lazarus: Wakey, wakey, Lazzie…

But Jesus was referring to death and then the life that would come after.

It seemed like the only disciple who got it was Thomas, who assumed that if they did go to Judea, things would not end well.

Sure, Jesus, let’s all go to see Lazarus, so we will all die.

Man, that’s a bit depressing.

But the story throws us for another loop, because apparently, Thomas and the others didn’t go. Jesus alone eventually makes it to Bethany to see Lazarus.

Maybe he followed the smell.

You see, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. The professional Judean mourners were already there. Mary stayed with them and Martha went to meet Jesus. An interesting dialogue occurred.

Martha was convinced that if Jesus would have come earlier [i.e. NOT hanging out and partying for two days with the disciples in Galilee-Vegas], for sure Lazarus would not have died.

Then, she affirms her generic religious response: I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.

But that’s not what Jesus was saying at all.

He was saying: Your brother Lazarus will rise…TODAY.

Martha’s religious dogma and doctrine was set. Resurrection in the last day? Check. Messiah, Son of God, coming? Check. But it was all in the future and tied to tradition.

So let’s find Mary, shall we? Martha whispered to her [pssst..the teacher is here] because the Judean mourners were still there [remember what I said about the Judeans and Galileans not getting along?]

So Mary went to see Jesus and repeated [like a zombie] just what Martha said:
If you had been here earlier, my brother would not have died.

Uh-oh. Mary wasn’t sneaky enough, though. The Judeans followed her to where Jesus was.
Would there be a fight?

No, actually. Jesus saw everyone’s great sadness. He empathized. He cried, too. But he was more than just sad. He was angry, too. The suffering was real. Jesus did not ignore it.
But, in spite of Jesus’ empathy and compassion, some still wondered why he didn’t come earlier.

Time to go find Lazarus.

The tomb was a cave and a stone lay against it. Caves were metaphors for transformation or metamorphosis—kind of like the caterpillar’s cocoon.

Take away the stone, says Jesus.

Martha is hesitant to do this now, because, um, it smelled bad and apparently they ran out of incense.
But Jesus didn’t care. As the people moved the stone, Jesus prayed.

Then he shouted: Lazarus, come out!

At this point in the story, Lazarus is actually no longer a zombie [tired and weak], but more like a mummy.

mummyHe was still wrapped in burial cloth, after all.

And that’s fitting, because Jesus’ one-liner, climatic line is:

 Unbind him; let him go.

Indeed. Unbind him; let him go.

Throughout the whole story, Martha, Mary, the disciples, and the Judeans were limited by their understanding of life and death; they were limited by their religious views and socio-political conditioning.

In short, if someone was dead, he/she was dead. End of story.
If someone was poor, it must be meant to be.
If someone was limited by gender, language, culture, or geography—so be it.
Everyone thought that Lazarus was a zombie, but they were the zombies.

They were conditioned [even brainwashed at times] by their experiences to think that their own humanity fit into someone’s category and that G-d’s great mercy and love were meant for only a select few.

But Lazarus emerged from his cave-cocoon with life.
What they thought smelled awfully like death would now smell like sweet perfume.

But Jesus’ last words in this story stick in my head:
Unbind him; let him go.

It was up to the people in the story to unbind Lazarus. They had to let him be free.

Man, do we need to hear this.

How many people do we bind in this world—limiting them? How many people do we write off as dead and useless?
Unbind them. Free them.
Or help them unbind and free themselves.

And how much do we notice our own zombie tendencies in day to day life?
Are we just asleep?
Are we fatigued, weak, lethargic?
Or are we dead?

We can say the same thing to G-d:
If only you had been there…maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Where are you, G-d?

Or we can try to comfort people who suffer by saying:
Pray about it.
Just hang in there.

But their suffering [and ours] is real.
Living as fully human, we can stay in that moment of suffering and get angry, sad, and upset.
Ignoring the our own suffering and the suffering of others will fool us into thinking that we’re all meant to be zombies.

Well, we’re not.

We’re meant to live as resurrected people…and now.

So how will you unbind yourself and let go this week?
Who will you help to unbind and be alive?

 

[1] R. T. France, Commentary on The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT, 2007)

Is Sin for Real?

John 9:1-41

 adam.eve.serpent.jpegThe Temptation, Hugo van der Goes, 1470

 What is sin?

Man, what a complicated question that is!

Of course, there is no way to address such a question in a short time.

But it will be helpful to start with the English word itself and work backwards.

So let’s do some etymology of this modern English word sin.

It derives from the Middle English sinne from Old English sinn, which means injury, mischief, enmity, feud; sin, guilt, crime. In Proto-Germanic language it is truth and excuse. Put them together and it’s truly non-excusable.

Anyone feeling really, really guilty yet?

Okay, but of course, English is only one language and those words I just mentioned come from somewhere else. Let’s go a lot farther back in history. Let’s look at ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek.

In Hebrew, the most common word used for the English word sin is chata’ah.

This means: to miss the mark, to be absent.

Chata’ah

 חֲטָאָה

This is not the only word for sin, but it is the most commonly used.

In most Jewish thought, humans are said to have inclinations towards both good and evil. There is no concept of “original sin.”

I like this explanation from Rabbi Yalkut Shimoni, in the Midrash on Psalm 25:

He describes a sort of “panel discussion” in which the question “what is sin?” is asked to four different authorities — Wisdom, Prophecy, Torah and G-d.

According to Wisdom sin is a harmful deed.
According to Prophecy it is death.
Torah sees it as folly.
And G-d sees it as an opportunity.

Now. Let’s turn to the NT Koine Greek. The most common word for sin is:

ἁμαρτία, hamartia

It means basically the same thing as chata’ah–to miss the mark.

Of course, like in ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek has various words for what is translated “sin” in English, including: forgetting, making an unintentional mistake, being ignorant, or intentionally crossing a line/going too far.

Overall, in ancient Greek thought, sin was looked upon as a failure on the part of a person to achieve his/her true self-expression; a state of ignorance or an action that failed to preserve his/her relationship to the living beings all around.

So…no original sin quite yet.

In fact, you’ll have to wait until the end of the fourth century C.E.

The Original Sin Greatest Hits Compilation CD that you can buy for only $19.99 and receive a free half-eaten Eden apple—was made popular by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Ah, what would we do without the guilt soundtrack?

guilty girl comic

It is of course the idea that all humans have inherited the weakness and sinful, fallen nature of Adam [who apparently was dumber than Eve]. According to the concept of original sin, you and I are all doomed to follow the path of sin, personally condemned and guilty from birth.

And this, for Western Christians, became the reason why Jesus died on the cross.

If everyone is personally and corporately guilty, someone has to pay the price to make us all feel a little better. So enter the idea of atonement or substitution—that Jesus needed to suffer and die in order for sins to be forgiven.

Anyone feeling guilty yet?
Look, this is just the short, short version.

This brings us to 2014 and how we define sin.
For younger generations, the concept of sin is less relevant. But basically everyone is familiar with the term and for the most part, people equate sin with morality.

Each culture around the world determines what is “right” and what is “wrong” and the “wrong” thing becomes “sin.”
Lest you think that we are drifting into moral relativism, let me show you what I mean.

There have been countless surveys related to morality and what people think is acceptable in a particular society.
Ellison Research [Phoenix] found that 87% of U.S. adults believe in the existence of sin, which they define as “something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.”

The Pew Research Center has done various projects, studying what people think about morality around the world.[1]
They began by asking: must people believe in God to be moral?

pew1.jpeg
And then, should homosexuality be rejected or accepted?
peworientation.jpeg

 Or what about issues like abortion or stem cell research?
pewmoralassessments.jpeg

And finally, look at this recent Gallup poll: U.S. Perceived Moral Acceptability of Behaviors and Social Policies.
gallupmorality.jpeg

And…not making an appearance in any of these polls:
killing people
invading a country
taking people’s land
eliminating a culture or language
getting as rich as possible by any means necessary
creating monocultures for growing food products
oppressing people for reasons of gender, sexual orientation, religious background, or ethnicity

Go ahead and add your missing sins…
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Is sin for real?

I mean, today sin is simply morality codes. Sin is completely tied to particular cultures and societies—what people determine is “right” or “acceptable” and what is not.

But I want to challenge you to dig deeper and to think deeply.

We’ve used our own moral rules in society to single out others based on their different behaviors.

We’ve even gone so far as to say that our moral rules come from God and are superior to other people’s moral rules.

See, this sin thing is about separation. Many cultures around the world [including the Hebrew and Greek communities] understood this separation to be going missing, falling asleep, mistaking our true identity.

So we need to hear this story about a blind man, because it screams at us to just stop judging others in the way that we still do.

For just like in the story, we have used things like illness, oppression, poverty, gender, sexual orientation, language, nationality, skin color, religion—to be “sins” that separate us from our humanity.

In the 1st and 2nd Century in Israel and Palestine, many thought that illnesses were caused by sin. Those who were blind, deaf, disabled physically or mentally—were typically left on the edges of society and marginalized.

Reminds me of this powerful Frida Kahlo painting, Sin Esperanza.
sinesperenzaFrida.jpeg Sin Esperanza, Frida Kahlo, 1945

This marginalizing of so-called “sick sinners” did not sit well with Jesus.

According to him, the blind man in the John story didn’t sin and neither did his parents. Jesus didn’t judge him but instead spit on the ground and made clay out of his saliva and then rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus told the man to go to the pool of Siloam. Siloam means sent. The man went, washed the spit-clay from his eyes in the pool of Siloam, and he came back.

But he came back seeing.

Many love to take any healing in the Bible as literal, but before you jump to that conclusion, consider this:
Total blindness is the complete lack of form and visual light perception. Clinically, it is often written as NLP:

No Light Perception.

Not that’s curious, don’t you think?
No light perception?

Well, Jesus of Nazareth just happened to teach a LOT about light and perception of light, and just about everyone he healed experienced some sort of en-light-ening. This is one of those cases in which the meaning is very clear. Be reminded of John’s Gospel beginning in chapter 1:

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[2]

If we choose to wake up and see the meaning of the story:
Healing does not have to be literal.
Healing does not fit into our categories.
Blindness or any kind of sickness is not about sin.
And when someone is healed, we ought to just celebrate and not judge.

In the story, the people who knew the former-blind man wanted to know HOW he was healed. What did he do to pay for his sin? None of his answers sufficed.

So they brought him to the Pharisees on the Sabbath day. Not supposed to work on the Sabbath, right? So Jesus messed up, right? But…how could Jesus be a sinner, if the blind man was healed? The ideology of sin equaling illness or punishment was falling apart. People started to doubt.

That’s what happens when you start asking questions about all these rules we make up;
that’s what happens when we question this concept of sin.

But in the story, the Pharisees [and others] just couldn’t accept a world in which they couldn’t point to certain people and say: Sinner!

Without that ability to judge others, what did they have left?
They might as well kick this guy out of the temple. And so they did.

But outside the temple, the now-seeing man met Jesus again. See last week’s [Leaving the Church to Find God]. Jesus asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” This phrase was well-known. It’s an ancient phrase, Semitic in its origin. Jews, Greeks, Romans, others knew it. It does not mean Messiah or Savior. Son of man appears in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT] and 80+ times in the NT Gospels. Son of man means human.

Jesus said: “I am human—a person, just like you.”

And just in case we STILL don’t get it, Jesus continues:
I came into this world for judgment so that those who don’t see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

All those who claim to see and judge others as sinners or blind are actually the ones who don’t see.

Do we see?

Defining sin can limit what is possible; we can worship our rules & morals.
We want explanations, formulas, linear answers, concrete solutions, and strategic plans for life’s problems.

And yet, healing is not restrictive.
Our humanity is not restrictive.

Jesus of Nazareth did not see sin as many of us do. People were not blind, crippled, poor, hungry, or marginalized from society because of something bad they did. And the light and healing of God was not restricted to so-called “good” and “moral” people.

Light was and is available to all.

Healing is available to all.

Light can wake us up, make us more present, help us to recognize our humanity, help us to see.
Those who claim to “know” who is sinning and who is not are completely blind, asleep, missing the mark…absent from reality.

Friends, what would it be like if we stopped focusing on sin?

What if we stopped pointing fingers and embraced everyone’s humanity?

What if instead we focused on our true humanity: our ability to love, to heal, to help, to forgive, to be truly alive?

May we wake up, be present, and open our eyes to this.

[1] http://www.pewglobal.org

[2] John 1:4,5,9, NRSV.

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