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Maybe You, Too? — John 9:1–41

“IF YOU WERE BLIND, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty” (John 9:41, TEV).

C.K. Barrett writes: “Many have their own inade­quate lights . . . which they are too proud to relin­quish for the true light which now shines. The effect of the true light is to blind them, since they wilfully close their eyes to it. Their sin abides pre­cisely because they are so confident of their righteousness.”*

We all are capable of falling into such darkness. We see what we want to see, but we do not see what we ought to see.

That is why the insight of Jesus into our world-blinded eyes is both barb and bait. He pronounces judgment when we expect grace. He announces grace when we expect judgment.

The Pharisees said of Jesus, “The man who did this [healing] cannot be from God, for he does not obey the . . . law” (vs. 16), which was the only power the Pharisees could see. Jesus, who saw by the light of love, “split their ranks” and said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who [think they] see should become blind” (vs. 39).

Who of us has not harbored the fear that pres­ent calamity is punishment for previous sin? Or looked upon someone else’s plight and nodded, “Your sin has caught up with you”? So does Jesus, full of grace and mercy, catch up with us.

Naturally, the disciples contended that the poor fellow was blind because he reaped exactly what he had sown, or because he was visited by the “sins of the fathers.” Like the church most of the time, the disciples had trouble seeing it other­wise. Jesus saw the man’s blindness not as an op­portunity for condemning the man for sins either committed or inherited, but as an opportunity for grace, “that God’s power might be seen at work.”

He said to him: “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” Siloam meant “Sent.” Alter­nately: “Go, be rid of your dirt by the cleansing waters of the One who is sent.” “So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.” (vs. 7).

To rephrase the theology, the man was made whole again (able to see) by the power of God’s grace, by nothing else. The Pharisees objected because they believed preeminently in the fulfill­ment of the law as the only way to salvation. Jesus had broken the law for the sake of grace. “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the . . . law.”

But what is “from God”? The law? Certainly. To live up to the law? Yes, for Jesus.

But for us? Impossible. For us, “from God” means to live, to “see,” to be healed by grace.

So the man said to his accusers concerning himself: “I do not know if he is a sinner or not.” And that makes you want to laugh for joy, because it doesn’t matter. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see” (vs. 25). That does matter. Cry for joy! “Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?” (vs. 27).

*C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, An Introduction with Commentary and Notes of the Greek Text  (London: S.P.C.K, 1962), p. 293.

COPYRIGHT © 2023 (1982)  CHARLES DAVIDSON, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS FROM Today’s english version (TEV), American Bible Society, 1952
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “BIBLICAL INSIGHTS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION SHARED APPROACHES, VOL. IV, COURSE 3, APRIL 1982

 

 

What Has He to Do with Me? — Luke 8:26–39

IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THE ENCOUNTER OF JESUS with the Gerasene demoniac there appears the story of the stilling of the storm, in which “the wind and the raging waves” (Luke 8:24) are symbols of the fearful demonic powers of the deep that threaten to engulf us all. The story of the tormented demoniac follows as a picture of one for whom these destructive powers have become “legion.”

Tucked away in the place of the dead, the demoniac comes out of his hiding long enough to meet the One who has the power to rebuke the invisible curse. Yet this poor, captive recluse did not seem to recognize, much less desire, the available means of his release; if he did, his cynical despair did not think it possible. “What have you to do with me, Jesus…?” Nobody else had. Why should Jesus? Indeed, the dark side of reality had so overtaken and shackled the demoniac’s mind, body, and spirit that he cringed at the very thought of exposure to the One who could set him free. “I beseech you, do not torment me” (vs. 28).

Was the demoniac so long imprisoned in the darkness of self-doubt that he was afraid of his liberty? If he was unsheltered among the tombs, think how unsheltered he would be in a world that deemed him utterly crazy and irretrievably lost! “For a long time he had worn no clothes” (vs. 27). Vulnerable to the world and so completely identified with the demonic as to be called the “demoniac,” he epitomized the very thing the world is afraid of—abandonment.

Psychiatric wards, back alleys, and less obvious places are full of such people—psychotic, “possessed,” out of their minds. How remarkable that many of these divided selves, who come out so anxious—but at the same time not so anxious—to meet Jesus, raise the religious question for all of us: What have you, God, possibly to do with me, wretch that I am?

The story is a parable about us, about what to do about the staggering proportions of evil that daily take up residence within us. No one knows the extent to which this is true better than persons, any persons, whose conscious chaos matches the subconscious chaos of the demonic deep, “the lake” which even the most seaworthy traveler fears. The “abyss” within ourselves is the very region which sea-devils occupy and from which they are so reluctant to depart.

Luke suggests the preposterous possibility that Jesus really does have the power to rebuke “the wind and raging waves” in whatever form, to whatever extent they inhabit the human psyche, individually and collectively. Thus, even modern psychiatry and medicine, if they only would, could “cry out and bow down before” God (vs. 28).

The arch-demon is Fear. It stalks every spiritual burial ground. But Jesus, “Son of the Most High God,” is precisely the One who, by stilling the storm, conquers all the legions of Fear. We see that God has not abandoned us but has rendered the demons powerless, casting them into the deep.

Seated Demon by Mikhail Vrubel, 1890
COPYRIGHT © 2023 (1982)  CHARLES DAVIDSON, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS FROM THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (RSV), 1952
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “BIBLICAL INSIGHTS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION SHARED APPROACHES, VOL. IV, COURSE 3, APRIL 1982

 

The Elder’s Song — Psalm 71

WITH SUFFERING COMES WISDOM? With the advance of age, the increase of learning? Perhaps, but not without years of unbridled struggle with the tangle of contradictions that daily surrounds us. An enemy approaches? Indeed, a “wicked” enemy is near at hand (captor, oppressor, anxiety, disease) whose firm grip latches on with “the grasp of the unjust and cruel”!

A “lament” is not a supplication cushioned by casual thanksgiving. It is a plea of pain joined to praise. Like most other laments, this one is the cry of a person who knows both need and consolation. The advancing wisdom is not that the years have brought lessening of the pain; rather, with the years has come a closer identification of the pain-ridden with the One who is able to comfort and sustain. “Be thou to me a rock of refuge.” Who, indeed, has not sought that Shadow of Stability as the years crept snail-pace along, or in sudden debility leapt upon us?

Whether we live to be eighty or forty (and in many primitive societies only ten percent of the populace exceeded forty), the issue of our mortality and the taunt of our mortal enemies is of grave concern to any would-be psalmist (you, reader?) who knows our frail, earthly condition.

Hymn seventy-one of Israel’s songbook strikes a chord of universal disharmony, exposing a personal dilemma with which all of God’s creatures sooner or later must contend. The feelings of forsakenness, and of being the one who is “put to shame and consumed” are no respecters of age and circumstance. Yet perhaps oldtimers attend more resolutely (thus their wisdom) to the only lasting source of strength, which can out-distance “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks I That flesh is heir to.”*

This gray-haired songster gives a testimony. This music is obedient passing-on of the living traditions of the elders, whose mouths are founts of complaint and adoration, whose faith is a descant lifted “all the day long” but only slightly above the sonorous lament. Together they break forth in sacred chorus. The message? Either our earthly ballads are ended with a dread finale composed by the Enemy; or the last strains of hope are played by Hands whose grace redeems all death-dealing adversaries, including the “last enemy” itself.

In this oft-practiced chant, an ageless ancient’s voice transcends “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,”** holding forth in triumphant melody as though to say: Is not the praise of God our deepest fulfillment? Is not the trust of Yahweh our everlasting hope?

Pray you, wise and weary fellow traveler, chant the same.


* William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 3, sc. 1, lines 62-63
** Ibid., line 58.

COPYRIGHT © 2023 (1982)  CHARLES DAVIDSON, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS FROM THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (RSV), 1952
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “Biblical Insights for Christian Living,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION SHARED APPROACHES, VOL. IV, COURSE 3, APRIL 1982

 

 

 

Self-Denial? — Romans 15:1–13

“FOR THE WHOLE LAW is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself”’ (Gal. 5:14).

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1).

Self-abasement? Self-denial? Are they dirty words? Self-assertion, self-fulfillment, doing one’s own thing, the me-generation—are these not the hallmarks of an age preoccupied with self-actualization, with the responsibility for bearing one’s own burdens?

Perhaps lack of self-esteem leads us to compensate by self-indulgence. Hence the question should be raised: Does our age and culture destroy the self by being too concerned with preserving the self? The ancient myth of Narcissus may accurately reflect the poor condition of our modern self-image, namely that the self is consumed by having gazed too long upon itself. Too much egocentricity is not good! What if we were to gaze at Another? What if we were to turn toward this Other and give up some of the self-importance that results in the self-in-isolation, in order to gain the quality, value, and dignity of the self-in-relation?

Paul recalled the self-abasement of Christ, the humility of Jesus, whereby he “did not account equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:6-7). Christ Jesus refused to deify himself, but turned himself into a self-for-others.

It is true that we cannot love others unless we love ourselves. It is equally true, however, that we cannot love ourselves unless we love others. Being loved and loving co-exist in delicate, reciprocal harmony. Each is as necessary to the life of the spirit as bread and water are to the life of the body.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37,39). Is this not the only way to love? to love the self?

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” What If, in being obsessed with pleasing ourselves, we are so weakened by self-indulgence that we have no strength to bear the burdens of others? What kind of a world would that be? Perhaps something like the one in which we live.

It is holy paradox that by losing ourselves, and discovering Another, we find ourselves. This is what it means to be self-abased and self-fulfilled. The great hunger in our time is a craving for community larger than ourselves. “Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles… (Rom. 15:9). “Gentile” refers to the fact that real community is found only when we embrace the one who is stranger—the other.

“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7).

It is the only glory worth living.

Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin) by Vincent van Gogh, 1888
COPYRIGHT © 2023 (1982)  CHARLES DAVIDSON, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS FROM THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (RSV), 1952
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “Biblical Insights for Christian Living,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION SHARED APPROACHES, VOL. IV, COURSE 3, APRIL 1982