Friday, May 29, 2009

3-2-2008: 4th Lent (A)

Samuel 16:6-7,10-13/Psalm 23/Ephesians 5:8-14/John 9:1-41
Language as revelatory: in Spanish “to give birth” means literally “to give light” (dar a luz). In today’s gospel Jesus spits in the dirt and rubs mud on the eyes of a man born blind, and he sees -- he’s given spiritual birth. The crux of the gospel drama (and its comic relief), however, is not the miracle but the timing. Jesus heals on the Sabbath; he breaks the rules, bringing him into confrontation with the religious establishment, the morally-minded and ritually-uptight Pharisee class. The once-blind man attempts to make light of the great event, cleverly denigrating the Pharisees for their silliness -- but the objection will not go away. The Pharisees are, after all, quite correct in their accusation that Jesus broke the law by not keeping the Sabbath rule. And, in fairness, the Pharisees were not being unreasonable given the import they placed on keeping the Sabbath: this was no life-threatening emergency after all. The man was blind his whole life --couldn’t Jesus have waited one more day? Thus the miracle not only restored sight to a blind man but shed light on the folly of rules – on the fact that religion itself is not immune from inanity, especially when it becomes an obstacle to spiritual birth. Religion can often be the very thing, Carl Jung once said, that protects us from the experience of God.

Religion (it doesn’t much matter which one) may claim to know the answers to the dilemmas we face in life but, if it is true religion, can never relieve us of our personal responsibility to make a choice. Sometimes that choice will go against the dictates of a religion or an ideology. When Huck Finn decides, for example, not to turn Jim, the runaway slave, over to the authorities, he is convinced he is going against his religious and patriotic upbringing; nevertheless he follows his conscience, though he is quite certain he will go to hell for his choice. Or, the mandate of the American bishops for Catholics to vote in any and all elections, as if St. Peter would be asking you your party affiliation before opening those pearly gates. Or, the young Catholic couple who turn to reproductive technologies when they cannot conceive. They are told that it will be sinful to attempt to conceive in this way (what about the method employed and the fertilized embryos created – subjects, perhaps, for another column); a sinfulness parents may find hard to accept as they look down on the face of their newborn.

You may object to my examples: how can you compare breaking the Sabbath with masturbation or the destruction of human embryos? And does voting in an election really equate with the import of slavery? But, no matter religion has to say on a particular subject, it is you and I who must make the choice and be ready to account for that choice. The man born blind was as guilty as Jesus in seeking to be cured on the Sabbath, but he refused to let the folly of religion stand in the way of the freedom he sought by the gift of sight. And it is freedom, more than anything else, which is at the heart of salvation – a salvation that gives us the gift of inner light, what we might call insight – the power and sovereignty of conscience, enabling us to stand up to the folly of all that seeks to protect us from the experience of God.

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