“Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.
Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”
The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”
His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”
So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”
“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” (john 9:13-25)
i was putting away groceries the other day and as usual i end up thinking of the most random things in the quiet. i was thinking about how most people i know in real life really don’t give a rip about systematic theology. they don’t care what this scripture was supposed to mean or not supposed to mean and all kinds of other things that people seem to spend a lot of time volleying around not only here on the world wide web but in a lot of other christian-y places, too. what many of my friends seem to care the most about is what i think most people actually care about when we get right down to it: where is God in my real life?
in my random thoughts this passage in john 9 came to mind, the story of the man who had been blind from birth but Jesus healed. i love this story because while the pharisees were trying to figure out the ins and outs of why he was blind, who sinned how and where, and a systematic way of explaining what had happened, and then all the reasons why it was wrong for Jesus to heal him on the sabbath, the man exclaims, “i don’t know…but i know this; i was blind, and now i can see.”
i think we can apply this to so many other things we think are so darn essential to the christian faith. all the picking apart of passages, all the in-club & the out-club, the “in-order-to-be-a-true-christian-you-had-better-believe-it-the-way-we-teach-it.” we’ve also been taught that if we don’t believe certain things in a certain way then our whole faith will somehow fall apart. it’s so fear-based that no wonder why lot of folks don’t want anything to do with it. i have discovered in my own faith journey & the many conversations i have with people all over the place theologically that this fearful notion misses the mark. regardless of all the ways we dot our i’s and cross our t’s, the gospel prevails. justice & mercy for the poor and oppressed, the message of death & resurrection & new life and the ways of Jesus’ love and grace always seem to remain.
this past weekend at the refuge we had a lovely evening of spiritual reflection stations around the theme of “rest.” i always like these nights because they are quiet and simple and create space for me to connect with God. the diversity of the stations was beautiful & i know that some of the more systematic conservative persuasion would have had a hey-day on some of the content, even though some of it was traditional. you see, some of my friends experience Jesus in lovely ways beyond just scripture. they don’t have the “right” answers for many systematic theologians; but they will be the first in line to say “i don’t know. all’s i know was i was blind and now i see.”
i left saturday evening proud of our openness and diversity, that we are safe enough for a wide range of theological expressions. God is big. and people are smarter than we think. many aren’t looking for others to tell them the right answers; they are looking for a tangible and meaningful connection with the Holy Spirit and that will be enough. they are looking for bread when they are hungry and shelter from the storm. they are looking for love & hope & peace in the midst of real life. they are seeking healing & change and connection with the living God.
and so am i.
i need a practical theology not a systematic one. i need a living Bible not just a “here’s-what-this-passage-means” one. i need to see hands & feets & hearts moving around me. i need to feel Jesus’ spirit & example move my hands & feet & heart in a practical way. i believe firmly and strongly this world doesn’t need more right words or right beliefs or right doctrine. i don’t think that will help us much. i don’t think it will change the world or help blind men see.
i think people all over the place, here and abroad, are wondering if Jesus cares about them. and how would they know? will they know when they discover the correctness of our version of what scripture says? or will they know it because we—Christ’s body here on earth—touched them, loved them, cared for them when no one else seemed to.
i believe the kind of healing Jesus offered in that moment to the blind man is available through us now. because Jesus is incarnate in us, we can bring what was dead back to life. we can be part of restoring sight & bringing hope & light to the darkest of places. i know many people who have done this for me that do not know the “right words” or believe the “right things” according to many “right-thinking-christian-standards”. but see, like the blind man, it doesn’t really matter. all’s i know is i was blind and now i see.
i’d love to hear some of your thoughts: what is practical theology for you?
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ps: after i already wrote this, at our wednesday eve house of refuge i facilitated a short reflection on this passage. we shared our own “i don’t know….but i know this: i was _____ and now i ________.” oh they were so beautiful. if you are willing to share any of your fill-in-the-blanks, i’d also love to hear.