Whenever we’re looking for somebody to blame, we are basically looking for a scapegoat. Most of the time we do this when we are encountering a change that we don’t understand or agree with. When somebody does something that has a ripple effect, instead of understanding the change, we often want to find somebody to blame or punish.
Our Gospel story on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is one of those situations. There was a belief that people who experienced some physical or mental ailment were either being punished by God or inhabited by a demon. They were shamed, excluded and isolated. They were thought to be unclean and unworthy of attention and love.
The man born blind in the Gospel story is one of those people. Even Jesus’ disciples were trying to figure out if it was the man’s parent or the man himself who had done the wrong that caused him to be born blind. This wasn’t the first time that the disciples of Jesus were left questioning Jesus, His associations and relationships. He had a tendency to seek out the lost and isolated and invite them back into a relationship of love. As you can imagine, that particular behavior would have been experienced as revolutionary. Why would anyone want to upset the status quo? Why would anyone want to change the way things have been for generations? Isn’t it better to just leave things alone and learn to live with the societal judgments and prejudices that already exist? Maybe those age-old practices have some semblance of truth that we are to follow?
And those who are seeking to stabilize the status quo seemed to be those who benefited most from it. Their lives were defined, their rules were clear and everybody knew their place. How dare one of the rabbis heal somebody who is not worthy of being healed! It was almost as if Jesus was questioning the wisdom of God as they understood it. Before we come down too harshly on the people of this time, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we deal with change and those who wish to be rebellious against the status quo. Most of us have a vested interest in that status quo, so we don’t look kindly on those who shake it up.
One of the most endearing parts of this Gospel passage comes at the very end, when Jesus realizes that the man born blind has been kicked out. Jesus seeks him out and makes sure that this man is on solid footing. Jesus certainly doesn’t want to heal him and then leave him. Do you believe in the Son of Man? The man born blind doesn’t know what Jesus is talking about. When Jesus identifies Himself as that person, this man worships Him. Recognizing the power of Jesus, it is a natural next step for the man to worship Him. He has already been kicked out — what more does he have to lose?
The anointing of David by Samuel is another instance from the Old Testament, turning this supposed worldly wisdom upside down. Instead of following the given tradition of anointing the oldest son with the birthright of the family, Samuel lets the spirit lead him to God’s selection for the anointing. Again, the wisdom of God upsets the status quo and invites us to notice that if we listen to and follow the wisdom of God, blessings and fruitfulness flow forth.
During this Lenten season, where are you allowing the wisdom of God to upset, turn it upside down, shake up and change your status quo? Or have you decided that God’s wisdom isn’t worth following?
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.