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The Great Reversal

Readings
Jeremiah 17.5-10
Luke 6.17-26

______________________

The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift. 

— Mary Oliver

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Nations tell stories about themselves. Stories that establish who they are, how they see themselves in the world. For example, in 1950s and the early 60s in England, we could sing Rule Britannia and half believe it were still true. Now, they can’t even manage an orderly Brexit. 

The USA has its Declaration of Independence, which contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

‘All are created equal’? Yet some of the men who signed this document were slaveowners. 

‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’? Tell that to the ever-increasing American underclass. 

Australia’s founding story includes Terra Nullius, the lie that the land was unclaimed before Britain established a jail here for its own underclass. Terra Nullius enabled us to think of Australia as the land of the fair go, while ignoring the frontier wars that are our real history. Australia, the land of the fair go—but don’t arrive by boat. 

Luke has a foundational story for the Good News of Jesus. It’s been called the Great Reversal. We see it firstly in Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Mary sings:

[God] has brought down the powerful
  from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And Jesus himself follows it up, by reading from Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim
   release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Luke’s Great Reversal subverts all other stories. It’s a story of the poor being raised up and the rich being cast down. 

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

Blessed are ‘us and us and us’


Readings
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’?

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