Sunday, March 22, 2020

Phil Kniss: Viral blindness

Lent 4: Show us, Jesus, how you define blindness
John 9:1-41

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There is a saying that “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
    True enough.
        We’ve been getting a taste of that recently.
    But that doesn’t say everything.

    Desperate times also call for patience,
        for thoughtfulness,
        for courage,
        for compassion.
    Sometimes moving at a measured and deliberate pace
        is better than running in desperation.
    It’s especially better than “running blind.”

“Running blind” is a vivid metaphor
    that today’s Gospel story from John brings to mind.
    And it feels like many of us, right now, in the age of Covid-19,
        are running blind.

A blind person on foot is better off walking, not running.
    Even better, with a white cane feeling the ground ahead.
    But when you “run blind” you have no buffer,
        no cushion,
        no warning.
    Only a desperate hope that there’s nothing in your path
        to bring your run to a tragic end.

In this Gospel story about blindness,
    there are actually quite a few characters who are blind, figuratively.
    And they are running blind.

And what’s a blind runner?
A blind runner is a desperate runner.
    They are desperate because wherever they are right now
        feels dangerous,
        feels out of control,
        feels like a place where they cannot bear to remain,
            even one moment longer.
    Some of you might be feeling that right now.

Well, in John 9,
    pressure was mounting against Jesus and his movement.
What Jesus taught, and what he practiced,
    was on a collision course with the establishment—
        both the religious establishment, and the Roman Empire.
    Everyone was feeling the pressure.
    The disciples were obviously in the cross-hairs
        of the authorities.
    The parents of the formerly-blind man were under pressure,
        because they didn’t want to be accused
            of being aligned with Jesus.
    Even the neighbors were confused and baffled,
        because they couldn’t put the facts together
        in a way that made sense or felt safe.
    And the Pharisees clearly were on edge,
        because their tightly-constructed ethical framework
            was falling apart in the wake of Jesus’ ministry.
        Jesus ignored religious regulations
            like working on the Sabbath,
            and associating with unclean people.
        Nevertheless, he was a powerful healer and influencer,
            and he was gaining ground,
            while the establishment was losing ground.

Everyone in this story,
    except for Jesus and the blind man,
    was running blind, out of desperation,
        out of a desire to regain some control over their situation.

And you know, “running blind” can be contagious.
    Like a virus, it spreads.
    Until nearly everyone is running blind.

So is there a vaccine against viral blindness?

Well, if the blindness in this case,
    was the need to be in control,
    then the vaccine was compassion.

Isn’t it striking, what was missing
    from all the back-and-forth dialogue in this story?
    Nobody but Jesus showed any compassion for the man himself.
    Everyone else looked straight through the man,
        as if he wasn’t even there,
        and tried to get their control issues resolved.
    The disciples tried to resolve a theological issue
        about the connection between sin and birth defects.
    The neighbors had an issue with the evidence:
        was or wasn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?
    The Pharisees were obsessed with their fear
        that this healing, if proven,
        would unravel their tidy theological framework.
    And the man’s parents said as little as they could,
        to avoid having a conflict with the synagogue.

Nowhere, in 41 verses of dialogue,
    did anybody walk up to the man who was healed,
    and ask him, “What is it like to see for the first time in your life?”
    No one seems interested.
    No one simply and sincerely praises God,
        for showing his love and mercy to this man.
    One would think even sworn enemies of Jesus,
        would find something positive
        in a man born blind being able to see again.

    But God’s compassion on the man completely escapes them.
    Instead, they turn inward, tending to their own control issues.

This dynamic is present in our own lives today.
    We could probably apply it to our political lives,
        to the church,
        to the many social, physical and spiritual ills in our society.

But let’s also think about it today,
    as it relates to this coronavirus pandemic we are in the middle of.
    Many of our choices are being taken away—
        choices about how we physically move
            around our community,
        where we go and who we’re with, and so on.
    We should, we must, we will,
        abide by these choices being made for us.
    But we still have complete choice, complete agency,
        to view ourselves,
        and those around us,
        with the love and compassion of God.

When we realize our own behavior,
    as innocent and well-intentioned as it may seem, in normal times,
    might be endangering the life and well-being of others
        more vulnerable than ourselves,
    then perhaps we will find more compassion in our hearts.
    Perhaps our own fears will subside.
    Perhaps, in our physical separation from each other,
        we will find space for a deeper human and spiritual connection.

Perhaps, as we prayerfully release to God
    our need to control the outcome of our lives,
    we will find within us the power of the Spirit
        to walk in hope, and in love,
        and in compassion for all those who are suffering.

I believe that as we lay down control, and pick up compassion,
    we will discover that we are no longer running blind.
    We are walking, in faith, in trust, and in hope.

Peace be with us all.

—Phil Kniss, March 22, 2020

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