Teenager, Foreigner, Rich, Poor, Atheist, Christian, Clergy, Monk.
These are all words which conjure up an image of a person, we expect people to behave a certain way based upon who they are.
This is human nature, John 9:2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”Here we see the disciples making snap decisions about people they meet.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.John 9:3 this response shows us that all our flaws and failings, all our strengths and our characters are from God; they are tools for us to live our lives, not just to survive this world.
Yes we have progressed in society to a point where we no longer believe that disabilities and illnesses are caused by God punishing our sins, but have we really progressed?
We still make those snap judgements about people we meet. We still focus on what we see as each other’s flaws and failings. We use each others weaknesses as justification for the way we see them.
Let me try another word and focus on what type of person you image and why.
For most people this word will have very negative connotations, and why? Because it was the Pharisees who were responsible for the crucifixion, it was the Pharisees who plotted against Jesus, it was the Pharisees who tried to undermine Jesus at every chance they got, and it was the Pharisees who warped the Jewish religion to suit themselves.
But can we really say that?
A pep talk I had with a priest not too long ago sticks in my mind whenever I need help, he told me ‘If you were the only person ever to have lived, Jesus would still have come, he would still have died, for you. That is how much God loves each of us, individually and collectively.’ This provides me with great strength but at the same time it adds responsibility, the Pharisees were not to soley blame for the Crucifixion, we all are, we all must carry that burden. No matter how unique and different we are; we all have that in common.
Surely not the Gospel reading from tonight show us that the Pharisees where individuals and were just as diverse as you and me. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.’ John 9:16
Here it shows that not all the Pharisees believe that Jesus was a sinner, but it also shows they were willing to stand up and say that. Further proof is found later in the reading some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we? John 9:40
Jesus had gone in search of the blind man after he had been banished from the synagogue John 9:35, so for the Pharisees to be near him they must have been looking for either the blind man or for Jesus, possibly to try to understand the situation more upon finding them they listened to Jesus’ teaching and they asked questions, not to entrap Jesus but questions so they might be able to understand. By asking ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ the Pharisees present are beginning to understand that Jesus isn’t speaking about physical blindness, for they themselves would know if they were physically blind but they do not understand that Jesus is speaking of spiritual blindness, by asking that question they are looking for knowledge about spiritual blindness that they may learn how to achieve it.
I think this is a question we should all ask of ourselves, are we also blind. Are we blind to those we meet that we cannot see Christ living in them? Are we blind to see the individual person behind the label?
Next time you see someone and judge them because they are a teenager; or they are a foreigner… Because they are rich; because they are poor… Because of their religion whether that be Muslim; Christian; Jewish; or any other
Because you expect them to behave more like a cleric or Monk
Ask yourself what each of those words mean and if that’s the person or the projection that you believe they should be.
I spent a year working in walsingham last year, there was an unprecedented number of clergy who came to visit, each and every one different from the next, there is no ‘perfect model’ for a cleric, different locations, different parishioner, different traditions entirely different situations leads to the need for clerics to be different and that’s the same for everyone not just clerics.
Look at the Holywell community, yes we all have little quirks in common but we are also so very different from each other… and yet we are all monks.
Remember that these labels don’t make the person, its people who make the labels. Not everyone fits the model of the person we expect them to be, we all have our weaknesses but it is these that we build our strengthson.From our past bad experiences we form our current gifts.God made us all who we are, to try to be anything else or to expect others to be anything other than they are, isn’t right, we should embrace our differences after all variety is the spice of life.
I will leave you with something to think about
When somebody new walks into church, the way you react to them and welcome them will shape your interpretation of the word Stranger but more than that it will shape their interpretation of the word Church and what Christians are like.