Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Muddy: Abstruse for the Obtuse

Reading various gospel stories convinces me that the Jesus of the canonical gospels came to kick our gospel garbage cans upside down; upside down, tump them out, and show what skybalon we believe, are, do, and impose on others. Jesus did this again last Sunday in our gospel reading for Lent4A. John 9:1-41 is, to me, the gospel writer's most clever work: obscure, abstruse, perplexing & incomprehensible, to the glory of God, all subtly capped, like a red cherry atop an ice cream sundae, by the use of mud to clear the eyes. 

(Lord, give us this mud).

We worked it over in Adult Sunday School, but only laid a background. Sitting outside on 7H porch this morning I’ll have another go, unscholarly, repetitive, rambling, disorganized, back and forth, but WTH, it's my blog and my +Time+ isn't it. Linda wanted to discuss the gospel after church while we were having Sunday dinner together, and both before and since then I’ve had more inquiries, seekers who, hearing and reading the story, found it as quirky, murky, elusive, muddy and unclear as I think John* the gospel writer meant it to be. John's own, it’s a long story, with layers, innuendoes, word play, shifting meaning, reversing between abstract and concrete, turning upside down, coming back on, making asses of Jesus’ esteemed detractors in the conversation that John* reports. Jesus lays the groundwork, the Blind Man makes fools of the authorities, ultimately Jesus seals it. For refresher, the story is reprinted again below, scroll down. So here goes, another stab at it without overly belaboring what we discussed in Sunday school. I'm sorry, but not very or especially, that I wrote too much. However, nobody has to read it.

The story is loaded, absolutely loaded. With a high christology, a cute term that means the writer believes Jesus is divine, John’s gospel has one primary agenda that is unique among the four canonical gospels: to show John’s audience that Jesus is (not simply the Son of God, but) God the Son, the Logos, the creating Word who brought order out of the churning chaos heaven and earth were in the beginning; and is also the long awaited prophet like Moses that the Lord promised. (Deuteronomy 18:15f, John 6:14, John 7:40) 

Whether John* had access to one or more of the synoptic gospels, some scholars say yes, some say no: neither certain nor a doubter, I listen to both sides of the discussion; but he does have other ancient sources, maybe a "signs gospel" and maybe a list of "I AM sayings." As to his intended audience, some of John* tells me he’s writing to pagan Greek gentile Christians; some of John* tells me he's writing to encourage Jewish Christians to stay with the developing Christian church instead of, yielding to threats of ostracism, abandoning Christ to return to the synagogue.

John* uses two noticeable themes. Jesus in John refers to himself as “I AM,” relating himself to the Jewish “I AM” God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus chapter 3). To his Jewish detractors, this is capital blasphemy. Our subject gospel lesson has an example, “I am the light of the world.”

Also in John*, Jesus uses “signs” (not quite the same as Jesus’ happenstance miracles in the synoptics) purposefully to show those present who he is. In some cases, John* points out these “signs” as such. 

John* is a clever, imaginative writer, and it shows especially well in this story with different kinds of unwillful and willful blindness, physical blindness versus spiritual blindness, wanting to see versus refusing to see; flashes of light (from the light of the world), seeing and not seeing, physical sighting versus spiritual comprehension, muddy versus clarity, obtuse certitude of the learned versus abstract discovery of the innocent. In the story, Jesus does a Pantokrator sign: he does not "merely" restore a man’s sight, he gives sight to a man born blind, thereby bringing something out of nothing, an act of creation. He has such a clever exchange with his detractors that they are left standing there not realizing, because “seeing” is entirely beyond their willingness, that they are exposed as total jackasses. Morally, spiritually blind, they are still in the dark. They have been subjected to the subtle, debilitating wit and sarcasm of I AM himself.

The story contrasts the poor innocent, ignorant blind man who both sees and “gets it,” versus Jesus' proud, self-certain detractors, who, certain that they see, “see” nothing because they are morally blind, spiritually obtuse, will never “get it.”  

Again, enlightened, the ‘blind man’ sees, realizes, and believes (believing is important to John*, see John 3:16 and John 14:6, et al). Seeing and believing, the “blind man” is saved, free of sin (starting the story, John* makes clear that in those days people believed that blindness was a mark of sin). The blind man is free of sin.

in the dark, the Pharisees see what they are certain of, but reject what is plainly before them, realize nothing, refuse to believe, insist they are right, that they are not blind, and therefore they are damned, still in sin.

Paraphrasing "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains" -> If you would see that you had it wrong, your eyes would be open to the truth; but insisting on being obtuse and remaining in the darkness, you can go to hell.

This may be the best and most complete story in the gospels, because it includes everything and John* wraps everything up.


Applying ancient and modern theology in our postmodern age: does this mean that we are damned if we do not believe? This is John*’s story for John's audience, and our 21st century is beyond his interest. Again, as suggested above, John* has an audience and an agenda. We needn't be so naive as to believe the Gospel according to John (or Matthew 28:19) mandates our knocking door to door and demanding of whoever opens, "Are you a believer, are you saved, or are you going to hell?"

John 9:1-41
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 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. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

* Tradition aside, like the other canonical gospels, and like several of the NT epistles, the authorship of The Gospel according to John is uncertain, just as the identity of "the disciple Jesus loved" is uncertain. More about that, perhaps, after the gospel for next Sunday, Lent5A.We are back to the basics: Just because you believe it, even believe it fervently with every fibre of your being, that don't make it so. and Seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Bearing in mind: the truth may prove to be very costly indeed. TW+

Also, all the above does not mean that we are stupid if we don't "get it" reading John's story. He intentionally makes it inticingly obscure to show Jesus putting a clever one over on the Pharisees. 

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