4 Lent: Harjo, John, and Me at the Table

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Okay, I cheated.

I cut about two-thirds of that story
from the Gospel of John
because it is just too long
and too wordy
and too repetitive.

So even though you likely remember it
I will briefly describe
how it ends
so that I don’t feel too guilty.

We ended at verse eleven
but the story goes on for forty-one verses.
Here’s what happened
after the man born blind washes
Jesus’ spit from his eyes
in the special pool.
The unhelpful neighbors
dragged the poor slob to the Pharisees
who got mad at Jesus
for healing on the Sabbath —
his second Sabbath healing in John
to that point, I think.

Then the Pharisees blamed the victim —
they got mad at the healed man
for claiming to have been healed,
and even angrier
that he claimed Jesus was a prophet.
Then they dragged his poor parents in
and interrogated them —
hoping they would confess
the whole thing was fake news.

But they confirmed he was born blind.
When asked if Jesus really healed their son
the parents respond
that the Pharisees
should ask their son
because they didn’t see it happened.

The Pharisees were hopping mad
and really frustrated,
and they insisted the formerly blind man
denounce Jesus.
But he wouldn’t.
In fact, he got snippy and sarcastic
with the Pharisees
and so they excommunicated him
from the temple,
labeling the once blind man a sinner
who was in cahoots with Jesus
an even bigger sinner.

The story ends
with Jesus catching wind of the man
being abused because of his association
with Jesus.
So Jesus finds him.
Then the man and Jesus both agree
that Jesus is the Son of Man —
whoever and whatever that is,
because isn’t explained.
But in the end, Jesus makes one of his
cryptic reversal sayings:
I came into the world so that those
who do not see can see,
and those who see will be blind.

Some Pharisees overhear this
and metaphorically
stick out their tongues as Jesus
and Jesus sticks his out back at them —
The end.

Honestly, I like that Joy Harjo poem
a whole lot better
and I think it gets us
to a better place
than John’s story.
And you already know
I have a bad attitude
when it comes to John’s Gospel.

I have tried giving it up for Lent
this year, the bad attitude that is, and
worked with John
each Sunday so far —
and Wednesdays too.

But today I am failing
with my Lenten discipline.

Honestly, it isn’t John that bothers me
so much as it is how the Church
treats and uses John.

It literalizes
and historicizes
John’s story-telling.
It treats John’s Jesus-monologues
as if they were verbatim reports
filed by his scribe
to preserve his every word.

It is as if Monty Python
wrote the Church a theological script
based on John
and no one recognized
is was a comedy.

Take the foot washing business.
We have daily showers and baths
in this country,
closets full of shoes and boots
we’ve spent hundreds of dollars on,
and Nail joints on every corner

where you can get a pedicure.
And we want to enact
a ritual of pretend humility
because we think Jesus did that?
Why not replicate the hot oil massage
he got from the woman without a name
in the Gospel of Mark?

John tells long allegorical stories
that are clearly meant to be highly symbolic
and we re-tell them literally
as if the transcript from a hidden video.

Today’s edition is a story
about Jesus challenging
the religious monopoly
that was in place while he was alive,
and which declared Jesus
was both the source
and the substance
of Light in the world.
Those who use Jesus as their lens
can see,
but those who use religion
as their lens
are blind. That was John’s message.

John is writing before Jesus himself
became a religion.
Jesus was still
a subversive mystic/prophet
unrecognized by anyone important
and proclaimed by John
as the Light of the world,
not to mention
the Light at the beginning of the world.

For John, Greek-speaker
and Hellenistic-thinker,
the world, as I said last week,
was a synonym for the ordinary evil
that is encountered everywhere.
The world is a bad place
full of sin and sinners.
The Light is from heaven
where Jesus came from
and where Jesus
will once again reside.
Light good
world bad.

Those who see the world
through the lens of Jesus
are light to the world.
Those who do not recognize Jesus
as the Light of the World
are spiritually blind
and part of the darkness.
That’s John.

You and I as modernists
and even post-modernists,
live in a much more nuanced world.
We know we do not live in heaven
but we have all experienced
a little bit of heaven
in the world now and again.

In fact, some of us
may not even believe in heaven
as another place or dimension
but still experience God
in the midst of ordinary life.
Some of us
might not be sure about Jesus,
as in the heavenly figure,
but nonetheless
wrap our arms around the earthly one.

If we need a stark and clear
distinction to recognize
the distance between John’s world
and our world,
look no further than the first sentence
in that story.
The whole story begins
with the question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or
his parents, that he was born blind?”

It was believed
that disability
was a symptom of sin.

There had to be a reason
for blindness
or paralysis
or disease
or illness
or anything that was considered
less-than…less than perfect.
The reason was sin — someone’s sin.

Most of us, if not all of us,
would look to biology, genetics,
and microbiology
to both pose and answer
any such questions.
Sin, not so much.

Science was not a lens John
had available to him.
History was not a lens John
had available to him.
Social sciences
nor psychology
were lenses John had available to him.

Even spiritually, John had
far fewer lenses than we have.
Besides Buddhism and Islam, John
did not have the whole
long line of Christian mystics and poets we have,
nor the whole history of wisdom
found in Protestantism and Catholicism.

We have an almost endless menu of choices
when it comes to the spiritual lenses
we wear
through which to see this world.
Even within Christianity
there seems an inexhaustible number
of lenses we can choose,
assuming of course,
we do not live within
the straight-jacket of orthodoxy.

We do not have only two choices —
to believe or not believe
what we have been given — as John would define it.

The problem is that our Church
as well as most of the others,
have not really caught up
with this reality yet.

Sitting here in this worship space
there are roughly thirty sets
of hearts and minds.

My guess is that if we did an inventory
we would discover
more than thirty spiritual lenses
because most of us
wear more than one.

So Joy Harjo,
meet the author of John’s Gospel.
You both sit at our table,
and this table is our lens.

This is the table Jesus hosted —
the MAN Jesus
who spat,
and who was born in the blood
of real childbirth,
and laughed
and cried
real tears,
and got sick
like we get sick,
and struggled with
his own dark corners
just like we do.

That Jesus
who welcomed
the likes of us
and others
to his table.

The Jesus
whose light shined
because of his generous hospitality
and his abundant loving.

The Jesus who brightened
our darkness
because of the wisdom he shared.
That Jesus.

The Jesus
who apparently
didn’t pay attention
to the rules of Sabbath
and religion
any better than
anyone here does.
That Jesus.

John, I’ll take your Jesus
and see him
through the lens
of my world, not yours.
The Jesus I know
is the Jesus that a post-modernist knows
not the one that you knew
or wanted me to know.
And neither one of us
knows the Jesus
the Church seems to be selling.
But all of us
have a seat at HIS table.

If the world has to end
I would just as soon be here
at this table
when it does.

Thank you Joy Harjo.
And you too, John, begrudgingly.