Monthly faith reflections from Pastor Clark.
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
One of my teachers was born blind. He had a complicated relationship with this chapter in the Gospel of John. He loved what Jesus said and did in it and the boldness of the man born blind. He hated how so many Christians read it.
Because he was blind, Christian leaders quoting Old Testament prohibitions tried to deny his calling to become a pastor. It pained him to hear the many hymns and sermons that repeated the “blindness equals sin” metaphor.
I remember the powerful sermon he preached about “the eyes of faith.” He talked about the “lenses” we rely on, instead of trusting God. When he took off his thick, heavy glasses and invited all of us to do the same, I and many others wept. To trust that his blind and uncorrected eyes were truly “eyes of faith” was incredibly moving. God includes and loves our eyes as they are and our “uncorrected” selves!
The metaphor Jesus used here in John is “seeing equals sin.” Jesus praised humbly accepting one’s blindness and warned against what these religious people did: self-righteously claimed to see clearly, as they damned and threw people out.
But Jesus wasn’t out there criticizing anyone. Can you see love in Jesus’ interaction with everyone in this chapter? It can be an act of love to hold others to a higher standard of love...when you do it with love. But this is such an angry age, we don’t have many role models.
Look to Jesus, who would rather be stoned than thrown stones. Ask God to help you trust what you cannot see: Christ in every one and every thing. Ask for wisdom to discern what, here and now, really is love.
The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, you have no bucket.”
This Lent, the gospel of John shows us one-on-one encounters between Jesus and another person. Last week, Nicodemus, a pious leader, the consummate insider. Now, the woman at the well, an outcast among outcasts.
(The timing says it all. In this hot, dry place, everyone went to the well for water in the cool of the morning or evening, not in midday heat, as this woman did.)
As with Nicodemus, misunderstanding and confusion fill this conversation. The woman and Jesus talked past each other.
We might say, Jesus spoke about what is unseen (living water, eternal life), and she responded about what is seen (buckets, this well, relief from hard work). She was on the practical level, and Jesus, the soul level. She was just trying to make a living; Jesus was encouraging her to come alive. The distance between them yawned.
At first. Amazingly, they find each other. The resonances of truth--her honesty, his authentic generosity--light a way through the dark. She reveals and Jesus discovers her deep thirst, her soul level desire.
This became good news for her and her whole community. They invited Jesus to stay, and he stayed--John's keyword for a true and deep connection on the soul level. Which is the very living water Jesus was talking about.
Who invites you to the soul level? Who are you inviting? Ask God to tune the resonances between us, so we can be drawn together and stay in Christ.
“Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.’”
“We know,” Nicodemus said. But Jesus confounded and even canceled what he knew.
What do we know about Christ? This meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus gets me second-guessing what our knowing is worth. Will Jesus draw us, like Nicodemus, into unknowing?
“Be still and know that I am God,” is our theme this Lent. At evening prayer on Wednesdays, St. Paul people will tell stories about when they were still and knew God was God.
But the knowing born of stillness seems to be entirely different than the knowing Nicodemus asserted.
“The Cloud of Unknowing” is a small guide to contemplative prayer, written by an anonymous Christian mystic in the Middle Ages. It advises the student, “For God can well be loved, but God cannot be thought. By love God can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held.”
Is this what Jesus was showing Nicodemus? Nic resisted. Then he let go a little. Then at the cross, he let go completely.
“The Book of Privy Counsel” (a kind of second volume to “The Cloud of Unknowing”) says, “And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge.”
Ask God to help you hold what you know lightly, or even to let go of it completely. Can you seek simply to love God and to be loved by God? --PC
They say you attract more flies with honey. But what if our honey attracts no flies? What if the wicked are not converted? If people in need are ungrateful when we are generous? If we love but our enemies continue to hate us?
Jesus asks us to check the good we do. Both the hows and the whys.
As for how: Do we love beyond our tribe? Beyond our own kind? Beyond our party, country, and religion? Do we love God’s own enemies?
Of course, for Jesus, love is not a feeling. It’s concrete action that benefits the other, including the enemy. Jesus himself does and wants us (in the words of one scholar) “to break the rule of reciprocity and cost/benefit analysis.”
To do that, Jesus goes even deeper: surfacing our hidden motivations for the good we do. We expect something in return.
“Let go of that expectation,” Jesus seems to say, naming only one motivation. Do it because God does it. God is good to everyone, and it usually has no apparent effect on the evil. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus did and does what he commands us to do. So it’s the invitation at the heart of Jesus’ life: “Follow me.” Or, “Do what I do.”
The only person I can change is me. The only person you can change is you. And virtue is its own reward. Jesus shows us the way. Jesus is the way. Ask Jesus for the faith to follow and to trust that following is enough, no matter what anyone else does. --PC