Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 3 April 2011)

Blessed are ‘us and us and us’

Ephesians 5.8-14
John 9.1-41

Our beatitude today is:

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

And we’re looking at the person we know as ‘the man born blind’.

One thing is clear: there was no mercy from the disciples for this man born blind. They had a question that was a theological hand grenade for Jesus. It was this:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

There’s only one way this kind of thing can happen as far as the disciples are concerned: sin. That’s already decided. The only questions on their lips are: Which sin? Whose sin? His, or his parents’ sin? Was it passed down from parent to child? To them, the man born blind is an ‘object’ of theological speculation. His disability must the result of some kind of sin; in other words, there’s ‘something wrong’ with him.

But you know, there are others in this story who lack mercy; it’s not only the disciples, wanting to know which ‘category’ of sin caused the blindness. We also have the Pharisees, who are divided about whether Jesus is doing God’s work; and the man born blind’s parents who cower before the authorities in fear, unable to stand up for him. Not one can see that God is at work, and so they show themselves to be spiritually blind in their lack of mercy.

By the time we get to the end of this story, there are only two who see it all: Jesus, the Light of the world; and the man born blind.

What did Jesus say the purpose of this man’s blindness was? It was

so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

In other words, we can reveal God by the way we respond to people in need. We can work God’s work. Or, we can hide God’s presence by the way we respond. Which do we want it to be?

These days, we would say that ‘the man born blind’ has a disability. If we can say, ‘Blessed are the merciful’, then I am convinced that a ‘merciful theology of disability’ will reveal God’s work. What I’d like to know in the light of our Gospel reading and today’s Beatitude is: how does ‘mercy’ apply to our relationships with people who have a disability? Could my attitude and yours be called ‘merciful’?

One of the first steps towards a merciful theology of disability is to recognise and take on board that we are each ‘less than fully abled’ in some way. It’s not ‘us and them’, the ‘normal’ and the ‘disabled’; in the words of Australian author Tim Winton in his novel Cloudstreet

It’s us and us and us. It’s always us. That’s what they never tell you…there’s no monsters, only people like us. Funny, but it hurts.

We’re all of us in this life together. We sang these words as we gathered together:

Differently abled, differently labelled,
widen the circle round Jesus Christ:
crutches and stigmas, culture’s enigmas,
all come together round Jesus Christ.

‘Non-disabled’ people may be considered ‘normal’, but that word hides a multitude of ways in which we are less-than-fully-able. We may have difficulties relating to others; we may be tone deaf, and unable to appreciate good music; we may find even cricket a bore (I don’t know how that’s even possible!). Don’t forget: in today’s Gospel story everyone except Jesus starts off blind.

Those who have a recognised disability are not ‘different’; they are people who crave to be treated as human beings, not as something ‘other’ than the rest of us. I learned that very powerfully not long ago.

Last December, the Department of Communities held a Christmas party for their clients with a disability in our church hall. We heard Christmas carols written by some of the clients; I preached on one of them on Christmas Eve. I was simply amazed by the depth of the woman wrote it, both in her writing and in person. She has a diagnosed intellectual disability; more than that, she could only ‘speak’ with me by means of ‘facilitated communication’.

She surprised her helpers that day by ‘speaking’ to me of her faith. She also told me that she wanted me to make the Gospel message accessible to people. In this amazing conversation, she and I were ‘we’ and ‘us’; she became my teacher, and won my respect.

What went ‘wrong’ for this woman? Why is she ‘like that’? These are questions that may be answered a certain way; there may be medical explanations for her condition. They have their place; of course we want her to have all the opportunities that she can. But our question is different, isn’t it? What we want to know is: why did God make her like that?

I can give no answer to that question. But I do know this: she isn’t ‘there’ for me to ask questions about and to speculate over. She is ‘there’ as a neighbour for me to love; she is ‘here’, with me.

It’s us and us and us. It’s always us’…there’s no monsters, only people like us.

If I can love her and people like her, I can wait for the answers—and maybe even hold the questions.

The miracle for the people in our Gospel story was that one person could see once Jesus had done his work. The miracle for me in my conversation with this woman with an intellectual disability was this: she opened my eyes. She became my teacher, and she did it quite naturally and unselfconsciously.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

Jesus talks a lot about being merciful. We’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer later; in it, Jesus teaches us to say

Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.

Jesus teaches that if someone sins against me seventy times seven times, I am to forgive. He teaches that since we are forgiven so much, we should then forgive whatever others have done to us.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

In the spiritual economics of Jesus our Saviour, the merciful receive mercy themselves.

When we treat people with a disability as objects, we lack the mercy that belongs to the blessed. It doesn’t matter whether they are objects of our curiosity, our fear, or even objects of our care. By treating them as objects, we are devaluing their humanness. But when we treat them with mercy, when it’s ‘us and us and us’, abundant mercy comes our way.

You know, there’s another way we may receive mercy: when we treat the person with a disability as a neighbour to love, when it’s ‘us and us and us’, when we are in a place in which we accept that we too are less than fully able, then we can be more merciful toward ourselves.

It’s possible to devalue yourself, to look at your own less-than-able parts and wish you were perfect—just like everyone else!—except they aren’t perfect either. When we make it a spiritual practice to offer mercy, mercy begins to infuse our lives and our beings. Let me offer you this challenge: make it a daily spiritual practice to be merciful, to forgive others for the rest of this lenten season. Make it a practice to see other people as ‘us and us and us’; realise ‘there’s no monsters, only people like us’; and see how more ready you are to really celebrate the resurrection of Jesus when Easter comes.

‘Blessed are the merciful’ indeed!


Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

2 responses to “Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 3 April 2011)

  1. A beautiful expose’. Thanks and God bless

  2. Deacon Ed Fischer

    Thanks for the insight. I was stuck on where I should go with the Gospel message for my message today. You have opened my eyes. Thanks.

    Deacon Ed Fischer
    Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida

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