Who’s blind?” the Pharisees demanded of Jesus-are you calling us blind? (John 9:40). What would Jesus say to the leaders of the church today? And what about our own blindspots? During this Lenten season we are all asked to look at our blindspots. We are asked to see what prevents us from seeing all of God’s people with compassion and equanimity-with chesed and tzedakah , with loving-kindness and with justice and viewing the world through God’s eyes. The reading in 2 Samuel 16 says that God does not see as we see for we look at outward appearances while God looks on the heart. Indeed Jesus cuts through to the heart of the matter many times in the Gospels. We exclude and God includes. We judge and God offers loving-kindness also translated as mercy. We are ethnocentric and egocentric and God welcomes all to the Table. We uphold the laws and rules of religion and Jesus cuts through to the spirit of the law which is always love and justice. The Gospel for today shows Jesus’ compassion for a blind beggar while the religious of the day say that healing on the Sabbath makes him a sinner and a heretic. They could not see the man before them and they could not see Jesus for who he was. Jesus called it like it was-they were blind.
Jimmy Carter has written a book ” A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power” just released by Simon and Schuster in which he makes the connection between religious subjugation of women and violence and discrimination against women throughout the world. He also is calling it as he sees it, and he strongly supports the ordination of women as priests. In his book he notes how the Scriptures are taken out of context and used to validate oppression and discrimination. He says:
“So you can pick out individual verses throughout the Bible that shows that the verse favors your particular preference, and the fact that the Catholic Church, for instance, prohibits women from serving as priests or even deacons gives a kind of a permission to male people all over the world, that, well, if God thinks that women are inferior, I’ll treat them as inferiors. If she’s my wife, I can abuse her with impunity, or if I’m an employer, I can pay my female employees less salary.”
The problem lies not only with Christianity, he says, but many of the world’s major religions.
Religious texts are interpreted “almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls,” Carter writes in the book. “This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them.”
Carter may have joked on an NPR talk show when he said in response to a question “are you going to become a Catholic?” that he would indeed do so when the Pope ordains women. Yet he truly believes that Pope Francis may have a different response than his predecessors to women’s ordination. As woman priests, we in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests are asking Pope Francis and the Curia to see as God sees, to look upon the hearts of those called by God to serve as priests whether women, married men or openly gay individuals and look again at the distinctly man-made rules that prohibit the ordination of any but celibate non-openly gay males. We are praying that they may see, illuminated in the Christ-light, what they have done and continue to do to women and all of the faithful by denying that God can indeed give the church the power to ordain women. We pray they may see as God sees.
Another example of blindness: here in Florida the State Legislature voted to turn down billions of dollars to extend Medicaid to the working poor. They wanted to subvert Obamacare by this action. Hence, Millie, one of our church members who works extremely hard cleaning big stores, is exploited by one of her two employers and makes under $17,000 a year for a family of three AND she would have to pay $300 a month for medical coverage. She cannot afford to give what is a fourth of her monthly salary to do this. Had the Florida legislature accepted the money her costs for medical coverage would be minimal and affordable. Surely they go to church and other houses of worship and congratulate themselves for the blow against Obamacare when it was a direct blow against the hardworking poor. Whether its politics or religion or personal viewpoints: blind is blind.
The theme of seeing flows through our Scriptures today. When Samuel was called to anoint a king, he looked at Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son who was tall and strong and good looking and thought “well, this is easy, he’s the one!” But God had another of Jesse’s sons in mind, one not even grown enough to be in the group under consideration. Now, David was a good looking young man, but he had not even been in the running. God chose him and explained to Samuel that God looks on the heart and not the appearance when God chooses people and fills them with the Holy Spirit. God sees differently than we do. God also sees to it that our needs are met. The wonderful Shepherd Psalm says that God feeds and leads and cares for us like a loving tender mother does. In the Aramaic idiom, God leads us into pastures of strength (green pastures) and by restful waters, teaching us what we are able to learn-to enlighten us so we may see what is true. And God anoints each of us, choosing us to love and serve.
In Ephesians 5 we are asked to live as children of the light-seeing- and to rise up from the dead and see with Christ’s light. But how does Christ see? The same way God does, looking on the heart. Jesus does not see a blind beggar but a man who is a true visionary, one who can see that he is the Messiah, God’s Chosen and Anointed. He sought the man out twice-once to restore his sight and once to be with him in his rejection from the Temple authorities after he took them on with great insight. You see, he could see who Jesus was, his sight was excellent!
Like the Samaritan woman at the well last week whose name has been lost forever, we wish we knew what this man’s name was. Even in the Scriptures women, “foreigners” and blind or lame or mentally or physically ill people are anonymous and invisible. Jonathan Swift said “”vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” He also quoted another writer of the 16th century saying” There are none so blind that those who will not see.” Cynic and satirist though he was, in this he saw what God saw. Singer and song writer Ray Stevens uses this line in Everything is Beautiful, a song that begins with the children’s hymn “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” All God’s children deserve homes and food and opportunities for education and a good life and yet we inure ourselves to the poverty all around us.
We have seen so many pass by on the other side of the street to avoid looking at the homeless begging in their midst. We have heard good people say “I don’t give them anything, they will only go out and do drugs”. Our church serves the homeless. We do so with eyes wide open. It hurts to see. We know that some are homeless for reasons of economics in a society where the safety nets for the poor and the working poor are full of large gaping holes. We know that some are homeless because of divorce,deaths and families falling apart. We know that some cannot compete in the new technology. We know that some are too sick to work and yet denied disability benefits. We know that some are mentally ill and falling through a system that no longer gives adequate time or resources to their treatment and rehabilitation. We know that some are addicted to legal and illegal drugs. We know that there are many children and old people in their number. We know that there are few shelters and services and resources for the great numbers of homeless people. We know America has turned its back on the problem, blaming it on the victims.
We know how hard it is to serve people in church week after week,to look them in the eye, when it takes so long to house them and they must sleep on the streets or in cars. In seven years we have helped nearly a hundred people to become housed, and many to access incomes. It is barely a dent in the problem, but I am so thankful for this little church that does what it can,welcoming everyone and feeding them every Sunday both physically and spiritually. We do see- our poorest neighbors are visible and welcomed. We do what we can but it is not enough. We do not have the resources to do much more. We see, and when we see what God sees we also weep for there is so much more work to be done.
The Pharisees on the other hand were blind to the way God sees. They ignored this blind man and passed him by a million times. Then they demonized and victimized him. They thought that he or his parents had sinned so he deserved his blindness and shunning and marginalization. And they put religious rules about the Sabbath above compassion for a human being. Moreover, they were totally blind to who Jesus was. Yes, Jesus who turns things upside down called them blind and saw in the blind beggar the makings of a strong disciple. Indeed, “God has chosen the weak and foolish of this world” to usher in the kin-dom of love and justice. Wow!
We too are like the Pharisees, we may see some of what Jesus saw, but what and who are we still ignoring and misjudging? Jesus, wash the scales off our eyes so we may see.