"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.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.”
From The Daily Office, reading for Friday, Proper 17
One of the marks of growing maturity is in the realization that there is more than one perspective to viewing the life in which we live and to be willing to view the world in different perspectives. The ability to view the world and the people in it, from a different perspective than the prevailing perspective is also a sign of self-confidence, security and humility. This can also be a description of living a life of faith; that one’s faith is strong enough to withstand the challenge of another perspective and appreciate it and maybe, even grow from it.
Today’s reading is the continuation of a disagreement between Jesus and the political-religious leaders of Jerusalem over the definition of sin. The leaders hold to the traditional perspective of sin as being in the breaking of Torah’s rules. Jesus continues to challenge this perspective with a new perspective. This reading is less a discussion on whether healing someone of blindness on the Sabbath is a sin or not, but more about the perspective on living beyond sin, because at the crux of the leaders’ complaint is that one’s state in life is a direct reflection of whether one is a sinner or not, and that one's lot in life, for better or worse, reflects God’s judgment.
The gist of their argument is, "Lots of power and wealth? God loves you. Poor and diseased? God does not love you." The leaders use their domination, wealth and power as proof of God’s judgment of their being favored by God, and therefore as the justification for their place over the poor as being “God’s will”.
More than challenging their perspective of authority, Jesus is challenging their sense of power and control. In their perspective Jesus is a threat. Jesus does not ever blame the poor and sick for their condition, he holds the power structure accountable for the condition of the poor and sick. Ultimately, Jesus comes to say that contrary to the claims of the leadership’s perspective, they hold power and domination not because God favors them, but because they are sinners: they see, but their “sin remains”, their sin being abdicating God's call to accountability, as leaders, for the preservation of their wealth and status over the well being and health of the people.
I remember the first time the cultural perspective, “work hard, play by the rules and you will succeed” was challenged. I was fourteen and doing volunteer work in my parish’s shelter for homeless families. Our guests who took shelter in our parish hall were families of working people, minimum wage laborers, who barely could make ends meet, but who worked hard and played by the rules. They experienced misfortune, were hit by a financial disaster, a baby’s illness, or one of the parents losing a job, and they were homeless. They worked hard and played by the rules and now were homeless.
How could I make sense of this? I could blame them for their lot, thereby leaving the sanctity and security of my perspective intact, because clearly by my accepted perspective, they didn’t work hard enough, or broke some rules along the way, which led them to this place. Or, I must have to reevaluate my perspective. Fortunately, I had a community in Christ to help me, from which to help me judge my perspective by the gospels. I had a place and people which allowed me to question the perspective I took into the shelter, the perspective now called into question.
Jesus provides me a means to judgment for my perspective, so that what I was blind to before, may now be my vision, my new perspective. This is what the gospels are for me, a means to judge my perspective against the perspective of Jesus. The perspective of Jesus gives me the realization that my perspective must change, must grow in its scope to incorporate the value God puts upon all people and all creation. Jesus is also calling me to be rid of my former perspectives which would become a hindrance to my ability to greet the world, and all who are in it, from a place that is anything but a vision of compassion. Jesus calls me to be blind to the vision that guided me before I came into the Spirit of God’s compassionate graces.
I think this is why many avoid working with the poor; they don’t want their perspectives challenged by a reality beyond the one they assume, one which is exposed to the poor being ordinary people suffering extraordinary circumstances. It is natural for us to preserve our perspectives of comfort and security. It is natural to avoid the resulting work within ourselves which arises when we see our revered perspectives fail, which we may deny at all costs. We naturally wish to avoid the sense of vulnerability. We may wish to avoid the call of Christ, the invitation from God to love, the invitation to know and experience God’s vulnerability in the poor and the sick. We can see, but choose the sickness of blindness. We can also choose blindness in order to see, truly see, our capacity to share in God’s love, in our healing and our aiding the healing of others.
Living God, we thank you for the blessings of your compassion manifest in Jesus Christ; grant us vision to see you in the creation, and in the faces of all people we meet; instill in us the courage to be blind to the perspectives which would blind us to the witness of your love in our healing, and through our ministries by your Spirit abiding in us, give to the world the vision of your ever abiding love and presence. Amen.