We love leaders with vision and clarity, assuring us of the certain path ahead. The Gospel writers challenge the certainty of the religious leaders by offering a clear and simple vision of mercy - expressing gratitude for the mercy received and extending mercy to others.
Fr. Timothy Lowe shares the perspective of The Blind Man from the Gospel of John. Jesus extends mercy, bringing sight to the blind and revealing the blindness of those who presume to see through the certainty of self-righteousness.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And with me today is my co-host, of course, Fr. Timothy Lowe, former rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Christ is risen! Good morning, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:30
Indeed He is risen! Good morning as well, as we are now in the last week of the Paschal season.
Hollie Benton 0:35
So for today, let's talk about clarity, certainty. assuredness. These are qualities we love in our leaders. We call it vision - those who can clearly see the direction ahead. They speak with simple and straightforward logic. If A then B. The Pharisees use this approach throughout Scripture, asserting confidently for example, this man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath. If A then B, straightforward logic. But the gospel writers persuade us to look again, to gain perspective, to consider the greater vision of mercy presented by the whole of Scripture. Such is the story of the blind man, which Orthodox Christians will hear this sixth Sunday of Posca. Like many other gospel stories, Jesus challenges what is assumed in the religious culture, and offers a fresh, new perspective. Only, it wasn't new - it is the same simple proposition, even from the Old Testament - to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, extending mercy to your neighbor, as the Lord has shown you great mercy. And suddenly, this logic, this wisdom of mercy from the Lord casts even more light and more clarity, causing the blind to see and at the same time, demonstrating the blindness of those who are obscured and clouded by their own complicated self righteousness, however certain they do assert it. So Fr. Timothy, say a word about clarity, blindness, and perspective and help set the context for the story of the blind man from the Gospel of John.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 2:14
Well, you mentioned the Holy Trinity, clarity, certainty, assuredness, something we all want. Because as the ground is moving under our feet, as the world is crashing down, our world in particular, seems to get worse, the news gets worse, daily, overwhelmingly, we're looking for answers, we're looking for hope. We'll even sell our soul for it, we'll even lose our mind for it, if you will. So we need to be careful about who and what we're willing to follow, especially those leaders that know how to package it the best, know how to give us the best branding. We're Americans, right? Everything has to be packaged for us to buy into, and we see ourselves as autonomous beings, disconnected, so do we like this one? Do we like that? And so as we look at this gospel here in chapter nine of the book of John, I just want to say one thing about to whom is it addressed? I mean, all the Gospels in my book are addressed to the Christian community. So even when you have outsiders who Christ criticizes, chastises, as we'll see here, he's talking about our leadership, okay. We need to not think about it as a historical timepiece that's looking at back about the social, political, religious dynamics between Jesus and his time between the Romans and the religious leaders and blah, blah, blah, no, no, no, we need to see it as it's talking about our leadership, whether it's the Pharisees who are blind in this instance, we need to hear it and approach it this way. Because I think that's the intent. I mean, really, this guy is gonna write 21 chapters, and there's no printing press, there's just scrolls, it's not going to be distributed en masse to the local public. No, no, no, it is an inside, small, little reality. And what is John trying to say to us? And how does he do it? That's a larger question. You got to read chapter one through eight. See how we got here. John is a brilliant writer. And therefore, let us continue to see where he's taking us today.
Hollie Benton 4:12
The story of the blind man is a longer story in the Gospel of John. And as you said, let's encourage our listeners to read it in its entirety, not just chapter nine, but one through eight, what led us there. But for today, we'll focus on the bookends of the story, the first few verses of John chapter nine and the last. So reading now the beginning, "As he passed by, he saw a blind man from his birth, and his disciples asked Him, Rabbi who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in Him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night comes when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." So at the very beginning, we have so many interrelated words: seeing, blind, day, night, light of the world. And it seems significant to me that this man was blind from his birth. And already Jesus is dealing with the assumptions from his disciples, that sin was the cause of the blindness. If A then B. And Jesus instead reframes the blindness "for the works of God to be made manifest." Fr. Timothy, say a little bit more about the beginning of the story.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 5:35
Well, setting - blind from birth, utter hopelessness. It's like the last time you and I were on this podcast, we were talking about the paralytic, 38 years of an utter hopeless situation, and people were oblivious to it. So it just becomes the reality of people's lives. What I first find shocking, of course, is the behavior of the disciples, they see this guy in need, as you say, and for him, he's an object of a philosophical theological contemplation. Whose fault is it? Okay, this poor pathetic guy, okay, someone has to be blamed, who are we gonna lay the blame on? And it actually is a theological question within the time period, because of someone's sin, therefore, you're punished and blah, blah, blah. It just shows the disconnection from human life in the person of the disciples, that this person is not to be served, and they have nothing to offer. The Gospel writers pose questions from people or circumstances to launch off into a bit of a teaching. That happens in Matthew's gospel all the time. John the Baptist's question - when he sends his disciples to Jesus asked, you know, are you the one or should we be looking for another Messiah? It's just a launching pad for Christ to teach us something, to teach us something. While the question is inane, stupid questions, and the need of the person and this connection is real. And we see disconnections all the time. You talked about showing mercy, and how many times do we pass on by someone in need or a circumstance, and we don't lift our pinky finger, or we abstract it, because it'll disturb our reality. The whole point is Christ is about ready to disturb people's reality. And the whole rest of the chapter is one great troubling disturbance. Obviously, in the light of the religious leaders, the disciples are actually just sort of a side show. Back to my seminarian days, I would never ask a stupid question because I didn't want to look publicly humiliated. But there was someone in our class who had asked the stupid questions that we all had in our mind. So he would take the heat, and we'd get the benefit of the answer. Because our egos were fragile. So it's the same thing. The disciples are out to lunch, but he still is going to teach them, ultimately teach us, that's the point. So here we have our beginning.
Hollie Benton 7:56
And let's hear how the story ends. "Jesus heard that they had cast him out (the blind man.) And having found him he said, Do you believe in the Son of Man? He answered, and Who is he, sir, that I may believe in Him? Jesus said to him, you have seen him and it is He who speaks to you. He said, Lord, I believe, and he worshipped Him. Jesus said, For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to Him, Are we also blind? Jesus said to them, if you were blind, you would have no guilt. But now that you say, We see, your guilt remains." Fr. Timothy, I just love how the gospel writer makes you scratch your head and think, Whoa, something just hit me. It's like a verbal jujitsu, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Later on. If you were blind, you would have no guilt. But now that you say we see, now you're guilty. So it feels like a sick burn, right? I'm going to ask you, Fr. Timothy, like one raising his hand in the classroom, unpack this for us. At the same time, I do acknowledge back in Matthew and Mark's Gospel, Jesus just sighed and shook his head, "Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?"
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:26
I am a professional theologian, by definition, have the degree to prove it, graduated at the top of my class. So I have the pedigree, right? And therefore I know, okay? I've been taught, had great teachers, love my teachers. I was there for six years because I did two degrees at St. Vlad's. So I was a glutton for punishment. I'm just saying, the dynamic of assuredness,of certainty and what not, because we have the technical knowledge, we have the tradition, we have after the Sunday of The Blind Man, we're gonna move straight to celebrate the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, and we have glorified them because we think of the truth, the truth, the truth, as theological teaching. But I'm not convinced of its value anymore. I was ordained a priest on graduation day, right? I was the valedictorian, so I'm tooting my horn. And it was the feast of Constantine and Helen. What I have difficulty with is the marriage of church and state, and that to me is just problematic, to say the least. I'm talking about assuredness, certainty, arrogance, we have it all. We understand it, we can reiterate it, we can regurgitate it, we can even do it charismatically. But is that what it is supposed to be about? So I am 100% the pharisees in this gospel, and that's not even just a pious expression. No, no. It is absolutely true. And you spend a lifetime as a priest, you have to build your church because I was always in missions. I wasn't in established churches. Therefore, you have to bring people to the truth, to the true faith, to Orthodoxy. After we've been given all of this, been taught all of this, and it's all there. How do we acquire true humility? So that we see not just with our intellectual brain that's been over educated and over exercised very effectively. And I'm just one of everyone else, okay. I'm not exceptional. Okay. That's the joke, okay. That's the joke. It's how do we not succumb to arrogance? To cockiness? To false assuredness? Because we have the clarity. We have control. Control for me was understanding. If you can figure things out, then you can dominate. You can think you have some semblance of control, until your world starts falling apart. And we know, we know the world is falling apart on every level, not just in America, which we see daily. It's breaking down. Places are becoming unlivable. It is not enough water. It is people fleeing areas that cannot sustain life, and they have to move to other places. And it's immigrants. It's social, political. It's Russia and Ukraine, which is just another blip of regional wars that go on all the time. But just this one is more closer to home, so we pay attention to it. My point is, when it's falling down, and the ground is shifting, what then do we believe? What do we practice? Christ is the light of the world. He is the bread of life, He is the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE. He is the Savior. As we have here, who is the Son of Man? Oh, Lord, and he worships him. Whatever it is, he is the source of hope. Not his theological understanding. Is He eternal logos, is He not? Whatever. That to me is actually sort of just theological nonsense, because it doesn't bear any fruit per se. It is in the teaching. And here we have a story. Blind from birth, which means no education, no six years at St Vladimir's, no ordination. No, no, it means nothing. It means he has no value per se. And yet he is done unto by the mercy of Jesus, by the mercy of Jesus. And then it's not only at the end that he understands more who Jesus is and worships Him, calls him Lord, Kyrios, the one with power and authority. He simply comes with his message of what the Lord has done unto Him. Not even to prove anything. He becomes the lightning rod between the two parties, Jesus and the religious authorities. It's exposing the darkness of religious arrogance and assuredness. They thought they had things that they knew that were certain and their whole life was based upon it. And now somebody comes in and just takes a little bite out of it. And you see that it is based not upon the mercy and the love of God, but it's based on something else. In my book, it's fear. If you read the gospel, it's all about fear. People are afraid. People are afraid. People are afraid because their life has been undone. My point is, our world is being undone and the fear factor is going to go up. How are we going to deal with it? For us, it's the gospel of hope. Nothing else. Not in our missiles, not in our planes. So we wrestle. We're gonna wrestle with our lives, with the story of The Blind Man. Unbelievable blindness and hostility of those that cannot acknowledge the light that was brought into the world. Through The Healed Man. We can't call him blind man anymore. That's his past. And he comes in, he acknowledges, and he bows down and he gives thanks. Has the Lord done anything for us? Well, let us acknowledge and bow down and give thanks. Does he do anything for me today? Steak or chicken? Let us give thanks. The story of Jesus, the compassion. Forget about the theology of it all. The mercy, the power of God, the mercy of God, the healing of God, and then the bowing down and thanksgiving. That's what's given to us. Anything more than that, I'm not sure I'm going to get more nor I'm deserving of more. And what you said at the end, how long is he going to put up with this? He's asking the question. We don't have an answer. But the question has been asked, and there is an answer. So now is the time. Seize the moment.
Hollie Benton 15:30
That's right. Simple mercy and thanksgiving for the mercy shown. Thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 15:36
Christ is risen!
Hollie Benton 15:37
Truly He is risen!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai