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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 03/30/2014

Years ago I remember seeing a play called Noises Off done by the Peterborough Players, a summer theatre company in Peterborough, the town where I lived in New Hampshire. A lot of professional actors from New York would come up and perform there, not big names necessarily but accomplished actors so the plays were always very well done, always enjoyable.

Noises Off is a comedy, a farce, I think it was made into a movie too, and while I don’t really remember exactly what it was about what I do remember is that the stage was pretty spare with just a wall in the back with a series of doors in it and throughout the play people or groups of people would come through one of the doors, and then leave, slamming it behind them; another door would open someone else would come through and so forth. It moved pretty quickly as doors were opening and closing, characters coming and going throughout the play.

This gospel story today about Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind always reminds me of Noises Off. I don’t know if John intended it to be humorous or farcical, he might have, but I can picture it being staged like Noises Off. You’d have the doors in the back, the man born blind in the middle of the stage and through door number one comes Jesus who asks a couple of questions, heals the man and then leaves through door number five. The neighbors come through door number two confused by the fact that this man can now see. Can it really be him, they wonder. They exit, closing the door behind them and through door number three come the Pharisees with their shorts in a bunch because a healing has taken place on the Sabbath. They call the man’s parents in to question them; they come through door number four, but the parents want nothing to do with any of this; “He’s old enough they say, talk to him and leave us alone” and they quickly go back through door number four. After a couple more questions about the man who had done the healing and not getting the answers they wanted, not really listening to the answers, in anger the Pharisees drive the man from the stage, sending him out through door number one and with that, they too leave through door number three slamming it behind them, leaving an empty stage.

After a short pause, the man born blind and Jesus come back through door number one, a few of the Pharisees quietly sneak back out through door number three straining to hear the conversation. Jesus turns and tells them that they are ones who are blind, that they are the sinners and then he and man born blind leave together through door number one, leaving it open as they go. The Pharisees are left alone, looking through the door, pulling at their beards saying “Who do you think you are anyway?” and there it ends. I think it could work; it could be a Wednesday night Lenten drama.

It really is quite a unique story; I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it in any of the gospels. What also makes it unique is that out of 41 verses, Jesus is only present for 14 of them; he’s absent, off stage for the other 27 having left through door number one, remember? In terms of verses, it’s his longest absence in any of the gospels. Most of the action in this story of the man born blind takes place in between Jesus’ first appearance and his second and that adds a twist for us, because isn’t that exactly where we are? Jesus has exited through door number one and we’ve come through one of the other doors and now we’re at center stage.

We’re at center stage, but we’re also in the audience. We have the added perspective, the added advantage of being able to watch the characters in this story to see what they do in Jesus’ absence and what they do and what we see leaves us with a lot to think about. In all of the gospels the Pharisees play the role of the bad guys, consistently focusing on the wrong things and in this story they are at their Pharisaical worst. They’re not the only ones though; bad behavior in this story starts with the neighbors.

As the audience, we’d expect the neighbors to celebrate when they find evidence of this miraculous healing. Instead though, they seem upset that the order of their world had been disturbed. This blind man had become part of their landscape; they were used to seeing him sit and beg. That’s where he belonged; that was his role. So instead of welcoming him back as a fully functioning member of their community they were more worried about themselves and the impact this change in the blind man’s status might have on them. As a result, it was like they didn’t even hear what the blind man said about the man who had healed him, the man that we in the audience know is Jesus; they were worried about other things.

Then there were the Pharisees, almost always portrayed as being ready to suck the joy out of life and they are true to form here, oblivious to the good that had been done, oblivious to the fact that this man can now see and live a fuller life. The Pharisees were mostly worried about identifying sin and sinners and they’re good at that. If this man was born blind, someone must have sinned, maybe him, maybe his parents, but that might be hard to pin down so instead they focus on the one who did the healing. He must be a sinner because he healed the blind man on the Sabbath when no work is permitted. A real man of God would have come back on another day.

That’s what we see from the audience and maybe we’re even at the point where want to yell at them and say “How can you be so stupid?” but then we remember it’s just a play and in the meantime another door has opened as the man’s parents are called in. They also don’t seem too happy that their son has been healed as they want nothing to do with him or the one who healed him, maybe like the neighbors worried that their life might be different now, maybe worried that the Pharisees are going to identify them as the sinners who caused their son to be blind in the first place, maybe worried that Pharisees would associate them with Jesus. “Just leave us alone!” they say as they quickly leave.

From the audience we watch then, as the story winds down and all the characters are gone; Jesus is offstage again, and all of a sudden, we’re at center stage, the spotlight is on us. In Jesus absence are we going to do any better than the characters in this story? What will Jesus find when he comes back through one of those doors?

Sadly, you could say that John got it right in how he portrayed the characters in this story. The neighbors were troubled by the order of their world being disturbed. On center stage, we struggle with that too. We want to follow Jesus but we want to follow at our convenience, we don’t want our lives upset too much. But following Jesus means that life is going to be different, the landscape and how we see things is going to change. Following Jesus, life won’t be the same and it might well be inconvenient.

The Pharisees were preoccupied with identifying sin. Think about how often the church has been preoccupied with identifying sin or at least how often it is perceived as being preoccupied with identifying sin. Surveys show that many people, young people especially, see the church as mostly being against things. It’s not that the church isn’t against things, but when identifying sin, and of course it’s always someone else’s sin, when that becomes the preoccupation, the message of the gospel can easily get lost. That’s the challenge that Pope Francis has put before the Catholic Church but it’s just as true in the Lutheran church as we too can look pretty bad when we wind up being defined by our own internal moral squabbles.

Then there were the blind man’s parents. They were kind of stuck in the middle of all this but they were unwilling to make a statement or a stand; they mostly wanted to avoid the issue and just get along for the sake of getting along. Sometimes that works, but as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, sometimes you also have to be ready to put yourself out there without being afraid that someone might get upset by the stand that you take.

On center stage, we often don’t do any better than the characters in this story. We experience our own spiritual blindness so that we don’t even see that there’s a problem. From the audience though, through all of these characters we do see that there’s a problem, but we also see the blessing and healing that Jesus can bring. From the audience and from center stage, we know that Jesus isn’t absent, he’s just backstage. He came through the door to meet the blind man at center stage, to meet him in his need, and he meets us there too. The door will open, and Jesus will be there so that we too can see.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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