As Jesus walked along 2nd Avenue, he saw John Knox Presbyterian Church. And he noticed that the members seemed to be in pain. He saw that there was a great deal of frustration, much fear and anger and far too much sadness in the congregation.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, the members of this church or the pastor that they are having such a difficult time?”
Jesus told them, “You’re asking the wrong question. These people are just normal human beings and their lives are the way they are so that God’s work will be revealed to them in a powerful way. Let’s get going. Now is the time to do the works of the one who sent me while we have the chance for a time is coming when no one will be able to work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After he said this, he walked into the church’s kitchen, turned on the spigot and filled a pitcher with water. Then he poured it in the baptismal font and invited the congregation to come and use it to wash away anger and fear and frustration and sadness. And some of them went and washed and when they went back to their pews, they felt renewed and energized.
The neighbors up and down 2nd Avenue who thought the church was closing down began to ask: “Aren’t these the people from that old church on the hill, the one that is pretty much shut down?”
Some were saying: “Yes these are the ones.”
Others said, “No, they must be from some other church. Maybe another congregation took over that place.”
And the people from John Knox Church kept saying, “We are the ones.”
But they kept asking them, “What brought about this miraculous change?”
They answered quite simply, “The man called Jesus came to us and invited us to let him wash away our fear and our frustrations and our anger and our sadness. So we went forward, washed and our lives were changed.”
The neighbors said to them, “Where is he?”
And the members of John Knox Church said, “We don’t know.”
This matter came to the attention of the Presbytery and it was determined that the members of this congregation needed to be brought before a special commission charged to investigate this matter. It had been noted that Jesus had been working as an independent, itinerant preacher and had not gone through the Presbytery process. No one from the Committee on Ministry had seen his ordination exam scores or interviewed him and it seems that he was not following the Book of Order, holding communion whenever and whereever he felt like it and not even baptizing anyone. His worship style was unorthodox, sitting down on the floor with the children and he dared to change the way offerings were presented in the church. Oh, the list of grievances against him was long and now this church had come to the attention of the leaders of Presbytery, they had the perfect opportunity to make an example of Jesus and those who would emulate him.
So they began to ask the members of John Knox Church how they had been changed. And those intrepid folks stuck to their story.
They simply said, “The man called Jesus came to us and invited us to wash away our fear and our frustrations and our anger and our sadness. So we went forward, washed and our lives were changed.”
Some of the Pharisees said,”This man certainly isn’t Presbyterian. He didn’t even get permission from Session to do a healing and wholeness service.”
But others began to say, “How can someone who is not from God has such an overwhelming success in this congregation?” and the body of Presbytery was divided. So they went to the members of the congregation again and asked them, “What do you want to about Jesus?”
And they said, “We don’t exactly know what you want to know, but we think his work is prophetic.”
There were some at Presbytery who didn’t believe that those people were even part of that original sad, angry, frustrated, fearful congregation. There must be new members. So they called some elders together and asked them, “Are these people the same members that have been with this church through three mergers, a fire, and a movie production? They have been so sad and afraid. We have heard nothing but anger and frustration from them. How then are they so incredibly changed?”
The Elders answered, “These are the same people, but we don’t know how this change came about, nor do we know who did it. Ask them, they can speak for themselves.” Now these Elders said this because they were afraid of the Presbytery. For the PCUSA had already agreed that whoever broke with the rules of the Book of Order and the long-time Presbyterian traditions would be put out of the church. That’s why they said, “Go ask the members.”
So for the second time, the Presbytery called the members to the floor and demanded: “You need to give glory God! We know that the man who did this for you is outside our process – a sinner and he cannot be the one who is making such a change in your lives.”
They answered, “We don’t know whether he is of the Presbytery or not. One thing we do know, that some of us were worn down by sadness and grief, and now we rejoice with new energy. Others of us were tied up with our frustration with many things and now we have been freed to be hopeful and excited. Others of us were bitter and angry and now feel an incredible peace. Still others of us were enslaved by a terrible fear of what the future holds and now we feel liberated to live our lives fully.”
The presbyters said to them, “What did he do to you? How did he change your lives?”
They answered, “We have already told you and you aren’t getting it. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to experience this change in your congregations?”
Then the presbyters voted to censure them saying, “You are his followers, but we are the followers of John Calvin and John Knox. We know that God has spoken to them, but as for this man, Jesus, we don’t know where he comes from.”
The congregation members answered them, “Here is an astonishing thing! You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he changed our lives. We know that God doesn’t listen to just anybody, but he does listen to the ones who walk in his will. Never since the world began had it been heard that just anyone has the power to bring such incredible healing to people like us. If this man were not from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything here.”
The presbytery leaders answered them, “You all are sinners and not experts in Presbyterian law. What makes you think you can teach us anything?” And they voted to remove the members of John Knox from the rolls of the Presbyterian Church.
Jesus heard that they had been driven out and when he found the he asked them, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
They answered, “We’re not even sure who he is. Tell us so that we may believe in him.”
Jesus said to them, “You have seen him – an active presence in your lives – in the touch of a beloved friend, at the communion table, at the baptismal font, in the faces of the children and in the lives of the people who have been blessed by your ministry.”
They said, “Lord, we believe.” And they worshiped him.
Jesus said, “I came into this world to discern who needs healing. Those who need to be healed will receive mercy and those who don’t think they need to be healed will remain in pain.”
Now some of the elders of the church were standing nearby and heard this. They said to him, “Surely you don’t mean us, do you?” You don’t think we need healing do you?”
Jesus simply said to them. “If you recognized your need for healing, you would not have sin. But you continue to sin when you say, “Surely we don’t need healing.””
Here ends the parable.
Like our gospel lesson and this fractured retelling it, we have a lot of questions. There were 16 in this passage if you’re interested in that kind of thing. As we have moved together in the ministry of this congregation, lots of questions have been raised. Many of our questions have a striking resemblance to the questions asked in this passage. For some, questions of fault-finding like the one asked by the disciples have already risen to the surface: “Who sinned to cause this man to be born blind?”
Disbelieving questions like those of the neighbors have run through the gossip mill. “Is this the same man who used to sit and beg?” And – “How were your eyes opened?” These echo our questions – Is this the same church I grew up in? How is it possible that such changes can happend in our lives?
Like the Pharisees, questions of appropriateness, questions about legalities have been spoken – some in whispered conversations, some in open confrontation. How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs? These are not much different from our questions about who is fit to lead and our concerns about change.
But if we listen closely to this passage, we will begin to hear a very quiet voice say, “You are asking the wrong questions.”
Jesus doesn’t speak much in this passage. He doesn’t do much. He performs an act of physical healing – described simply in two verses. And the remainder of our story is the controversy that was stirred up by others – by those well – meaning but misdirected neighbors, by those law-abiding, right worshiping Pharisees and even by the fearful but loving family of the blind man.
We would do well to listen to that healed man who states it so clearly: “All I know is I once was blind and now I see. You ask me, “How do I know he is from God? and I’m here to tell you that if he were not here to do God’s will, then I would not have been healed.”
We are in need of healing. Each one of us here has one place in our lives where we desperately need to feel the healing touch of Jesus. Each one of us needs to hear the voice of our Lord telling us that we are loved, that our deepest anger and frustration is known – that our heart-wrenching pain is felt – that we will be sustained when we feel crippled by grief. If we spend our days bitterly asking the whys and wherefores that rise out of the deepest anguish of our souls, we are asking the wrong questions. Hear the simple question Jesus asks us to consider: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” That is a question worth asking.