Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 2, 2011

Blindman… No Bluffing

Okay… this is just a quick note ’cause I’m sure I’m not the only one. Listening to the reading last Sunday on the Man Born Blind (John 9:1-41), you get all the usual back-and-forth. Great story of illumination, God’s wonder, and all that. All the usual traditional stuff.

And yet what I heard I don’t see much about. I guess it’s just too obvious, or folks just get so caught up in the other wonderful things in the story that this seems so… unimportant… ’cause it’s a “duh” moment. Well, if you’re Thickheaded like me… nothing’s ever too obvious to avoid comment.

But I did try to check to see whether there was anything distinctive about the selected text to be read. First, I checked our Western Rite for comparison, but couldn’t find the story scheduled for a major feast day or regular Sunday. Yet my memory has it pretty firmly fixed as hearing it. It’s that bit about the “spittal” that sticks… as most folks feel compelled to define it as part of their homilies. So I guess it was my pre-Orthodox Anglican days where I ran into it. And it is read in several weekday places in 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the Roman Catholics (along with all the wannabees) read it on the Fourth Sunday of Lent… which is where I remember it. But here we have it after Pascha.

And if there is a distinction between the two presentations in the schedule, I wonder that it isn’t that the story underscores the consistency of the miracle as fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah as opposed to the Orthodox emphasis on illumination. That’s what you hear or read, but I’m not so sure that’s it either as the explications seem to follow a pretty similar course. Look around at homilies, and you’ll find folks have much the same take-away. You might even be stuffed trying to discern a different reading based on presupposed different theologies… I mean you “think you can hear” some of the non-Orthodox going off track… but I really don’t think that’s there. Fact is, I think everyone seems to get this one pretty well, and frankly… I’d have to say that surprised me. Maybe we’re not quite as distinctive as we think we are sometimes.

Ah me. What have I done?

So big whup, right? Yeah. But the thing is… that’s not what I heard that stuck out. What stands out for me in this story is completely consistent with the understanding of illumination and the spiritual life, but rather than the miracle or the debate with the Pharisees, it’s the last bit that hit me:

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in teh Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshipped Him.”

It’s the part “…and when He had found him…” that sticks out. There are a lot of miracles and a lot of people in these miracles, but not many where the story continues to the point that Jesus himself reconnects with the central person of the story as He does here. There is follow-up with the Photinia, the woman at the well, but that’s between the folks she steered to Christ and their recounting to her afterwards their visit. I think this may be the only place where Christ himself returns to make direct contact, to ask whether the person is okay and whether they understood what happened. And more than that, it is the seeking out… because the Man Born Blind is thrown out of the Temple because of his encounter with Christ that Jesus seeks him out. Seems to me this is real love, real concern and not just someone demonstrating a passing card trick and moving on to the next event guided by a bunch of handlers as would be common today.

You can take it as an allegory of the spiritual life… to have one’s sight, to be thrown out of the familiar darkness, and then to be found in one’s isolation by Christ and welcomed into the Body of Christ, and know Him as He really is… not just an itinerant “doc” but God. And I think that this understanding is intended. But I see less written on this, and certainly few seem to overlook this rather remarkable reconnection. I just don’t think we’re meant to miss it. The reading in just about all cases continues to include it… and even many of the Western lectionaries that shorten the whole, pick up this last few sentences.

And for my money, I’m not going to say that non-Orthodox folks don’t believe Jesus loves them… because in fact they do. But we do say it a lot…or at least I think we say it a lot more. And here’s a reading that gives it flesh. He’s looking for you as He looked for the Man Born Blind… like all of us, and He will find you when you’ve been thrown out, and pick you up, that you might give thanks for the best and worst things that could happen – all at the same time.


  1. “non-Orthodox folks don’t believe Jesus loves them” – where are you hearing this a lot??

    • Robert: Note that I prefixed that with “I’m not going to say…” because I don’t. But if you read around, you’ll see the theological types like to point out that the logical conclusion of much non-Orthodox theology is that it is rooted in a belief in an angry God. Leave aside the inconsistency that these folks with their so-called errant theology tend to still sing “Jesus Loves Me…” but there you are. So I find it a weak argument. On the other hand, atheists tend to also be non-Orthodox, and I think many with that opinion will buy the God-Hates-Me argument pretty quick.

  2. Perhaps they don’t see the inconsistency between an angry God and Jesus’ love….. the Orthodox theological argument is against penal substitution, the basis for this argument is quite substantial.

    • I’d tend to suggest most folks aren’t aware of fancy arguments, or if they are, are plenty content to let the self-proclaimed fancy brains hash it out. “Leave me out of that one” seems to be the ‘tude. Folks just don’t want to be bothered, and for some pretty good reasons. If they do operate there, my guess you’re dealing with a quant type or some sort of brain who’s rather keenly engaged in prefering this level of abstraction… his/her way… and I’d bet that type won’t likely be talked into accepting apophatic approaches to things, or is likely to get derailed on some other aspect rather than become Orthodox. “Too squishy”. The desire for certainty and having things squared away can seem to take over and take precedence over odd and reasonably obscure inconsistencies in the matter. I understand that… and it’s not my bit, but I’ve seen it enough in so many different things (besides religion) that I appreciate a wall as a wall when I see it.

      And so the whole positive case for Orthodoxy on this tangent… strong as it is… just doesn’t get a lot of traction. Reaction in my rather small sample is more one of puzzlement at the whole notion. “My God is an angry God and hates me? Right. And your guy takes Prozac and loves me? Where are you getting that?” Never mind what you say… it’s the whole notion just reads better than it works in real life. So I’m seeing the case for our church on this basis probably does more to cement the already pre-disposed than bring in anybody new. Might put this down as the sort of “Don’t try this at home” theology.

  3. James, I like your pragmatism, but I don’t think Orthodox theology is about “getting traction”, finding nifty and clever ways to convince people. Nor do I think there’s an opposition or conflict between the practical and the theological, but rather see the two as complementary. So I think you are setting up a false opposition, and it is this with which I am taking issue. The notion of the appeasement of God’s anger with the sacrifice of Jesus is not only bad theology but it has negative practical implications as well. All the Church Fathers known as theological heavy-weights (for instance those with the moniker “The Theologian”) were no ivory tower types, overly concerned with abstractions and obsure apophaticisms. And yet they didn’t avoid such subject matter.

    Nevertheless I would join you in decrying those Orthodox “theological types” if indeed it is as you say it is.

    • Robert: Perhaps I should make it clear that: 1) I find our theology the pinnacle of what’s out there, very good, and very convincing (to me), and 2) that it is important to understand we do not have a angry god or that we do not accept the substitution or atonement theologies, but 3) most (not all) other folks out in the wide world give about 2 cents for this. They “know” what they “know”… no matter their church’s official documents. It’s kind of like catching someone with an expired driver’s license… most folks don’t know it’s expired and keep driving. Do they care? Maybe… if they get stopped and ticketed. Playing police man and stopping them for an expired license… well… that’s not usually a winning hand. No one says, “Priceless”. We gotta work with them where they are.

      On the other hand, I think our spirituality and the power of the poetic hymnody are a more winning presentation… and leave the theological stuff for when we’ve won an ear. I dunno… just guessing. What’s your experience?

  4. My experience is that they don’t give a rat’s ear about our spirituality or hymnody either.

    • LOL! Well… so we’re toast.

      Actually… I have no idea why anyone else becomes Orthodox. I’m not even sure I know why I did, either. It’s just something that happened because it did, and it seemed “more right” than the other choices. And for some reason, it was important enough for me to get it right and do something rather than nothing. I think it’s like falling in love… and it happens, it grows on you, and there you are. I have all sorts of explanations, rationalizations, and things that seemed important at the time. Could probably have done one of those “T-accounts” with “Pro” on one side and “Con” on the other. The factors would be all over the landscape. And I’m not sure I could do any better explaining why I remain Orthodox either… except that it seems to help.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with you James. This is also why I think we shouldn’t “do” hymns, or icons, or liturgies, or theology etc. etc. in order to consciously make an appeal to the non-Orthodox (I think it’s the old compulsion and approach to evangelism that would make us do so). The bottom line is, and I truly have come to believe this, that none of these things we do or have “make sense” to an outsider. If we believe that Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in His Church, than the appealing is also His. So let us theologize, make hymns, paint icons, all to the praise of His glorious name.

    BTW I enjoyed reading about your trip to Scotland.

  6. Funny you should mention that. I had an entire class on Jesus finding the blind man back in the church of Christ days about 30 years ago. That seemed to me to be the real focus of the story because that is when the blind man REALLY saw Jesus and established a “personal relationship” with Him. Illumination indeed is the theme of the post Pascha Sundays up to Pentecost. Water, healing, sight, walking… all because God finds us sitting next to wells, ponds and streetcorners begging.

    • Thanks for stopping by, SP. Yeah, I chatted with Fr. mid-week and he seemed to light up when I moved to the reading, and even get a little pumped on the last bit… as you say. He didn’t give his homily on it, but could have. Fairly, Photinia’s story shows some post-encounter follow-up, too. I am convinced the Church went back and followed up with all the folks… or nearly all they could find. I’d bet even the rich young man… the “I have done all these things from my youth” dude who can’t seem to give up his dough at the time, just to see maybe he’s had a change of heart. Then again, maybe when they caught up with him, he had two kids in college, one in grad school, a vacation home, a vcr, a dvd, a new chariot out back with two horses in front of the hood… and he just STILL had too much goin’ on to swing it.

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