Don't Ask Me!
Scripture: John 9:1-41
The street lights weren’t working properly that night as my friend walked home late from work. As he took the short cut through the alleyway towards his own street, it was almost pitch dark. He knew the path well enough, so he wasn’t worried about it.
But just a moment later, he paused. He had heard a small noise in the darkness just ahead of him. He waited & listened; but hearing nothing more, he guessed he had been mistaken & started walking again. Almost immediately, he heard the noise again. Again he stopped, & felt a small shiver of fear. What was it? Who was it?
He decided to put on a brave face. “Who’s there?” he asked, hoping his voice didn’t sound too fearful or too threatening.
“Is that you, Peter?” It was the voice of his neighbor. “Thank goodness! I couldn’t see who it was, & I was scared stiff!”
Their eyes grew used to the dark & they laughed together. They had both been afraid of each other.
Many of the world’s great problems are like that: 2 groups in the dark, each afraid of the other. The Cold War between East & West – especially the Soviet Union & America – in the years from 1945 to 1989 was like that. The relationship between Western capitalism & militant Islam is much like that today. Many smaller struggles between religious, cultural & political groups are like that. And the same thing can happen w/in the workplace or the home.
Of course, in many cases there are real dangers & threats. Even when the leaders look each other in the eye there may be irreconcilable differences. Sometimes one side really does intend harm against the other. But in many cases fear on one side simply breeds fear on the other. Fear can lead to threats, & sometimes actual violence.
What we have in our Scripture is the 2-way power of fear, acted out as the Pharisees, & the parents of the man born blind, try to come to terms with what just happened.
The Pharisees, it appears, are afraid of something new bursting out within Judaism. They are not afraid in the same way as an attack from outside. They are used to that: paganism, the world of non-Jewish religion, money & power; those are their ever-present enemies, & they hope that one day God will defeat them. But when people arise from within their Jewish world, claiming to act in the name of the one true God, & start doing things that crack their system from top to bottom, they can’t take it.
John, in his gospel, has made it easier for us to understand their resistance by placing the story of Jesus clearing the Temple in chapter 2. The leaders in Jerusalem had realized from then on that Jesus was a threat. Once he had healed a cripple on the Sabbath – in chapter 5 – they knew more exactly what kind of a threat he was. The disputes that followed in chapters 6, 7 & 8 make this even clearer. Now, we discover, that they had decided that if anyone declared Jesus to be the Messiah, they would be put out of the synagogue. And note: This didn’t just mean that they wouldn’t be able to join their fellow Jews in worship. The synagogue was the focus of the whole community. If you were put out of the synagogue, you would probably be better off leaving the area altogether.
This kind of reaction is born of a classic type of fear: fear of the unknown, of something outside the system. The man’s parents are also afraid, because they know the threat against anyone saying Jesus is the Messiah. They are concerned for their social standing, their livelihood, perhaps even their very lives. They are so anxious, in fact, that they are prepared to let their son face the full brunt of the questioning. “Don’t ask me! He is of age; ask him.” That may be true, but it is hardly the statement of a loving parent.
In 1 John 4, this same writer states: Perfect love casts out fear. The gospels are all about the different ways in which this happens - & the ways in which it doesn’t happen when people resist the perfect love which is coming to them in Jesus. The perfect love coming with God’s healing & light. In fact, for John, love & healing are all part of the new creation which is happening in & through Jesus.
And new creation brings in a new “week.” If you look ahead to chapter 20, Jesus’ resurrection is the start of a new week, a new day, a new moment for which the whole world had been longing. The Sabbath commanded by Moses speaks of the time of rest at the end of the old creation, the old week. There wasn’t anything wrong w/ the old creation itself. God saw it & declared it very good. There wasn’t anything wrong with the Sabbath command in itself (though it’s interesting that throughout the New Testament neither Jesus, Paul nor the rest of the early church say anything about Christians being required to keep it). But, as it stood, the Sabbath spoke of the old way, in which Israel & the world were still waiting for the new thing God intended to do. The old creation was good, but incomplete. Jesus had come to complete it by making all things new.
The angry, fearful reaction of the Pharisees, & the anxiety of the parents, come together in this sorry tale. Where we would like to see faith, acceptance & hope, we see just the opposite. This passage speaks to the many dark places in our world today, & no doubt the many dark places w/in our individual lives, where fear, resentment, shock & anxiety cripple our understanding, restrict our faith, & stifle our love. The only way through is to follow the small signpost we find in the middle of the passage. The man who had been blind was at least prepared to say that Jesus was a prophet. By the end of the story he has moved on to a fuller confession of Jesus as Messiah. When surrounded by fear & anger, the only way through is to glimpse whatever we can see of Jesus, & to follow him out of the dark & into the light.
Let us pray. Holy God, we confess that we do not trust you fully. We put our hope in worldly gain & in human promises, & find ourselves defeated & lost when things fall apart. You have given us love more fully than anything we could experience in this world, but we do not seek it, we do not hold on to it, & we look to our own means of assurance & security. Forgive us. Call us back to you that we may put our trust in you & not be afraid. May we hear the words as clearly as the disciples did on the day when the man born blind received his sight. May we rise up, & not be afraid. In the name of Jesus, who loves us & offers us forgiveness, we pray. Amen.