When I was 15 years old, my sister brought home a new boyfriend to introduce to the family. He was a likable guy but the one real memory I have of him was of an argument. Apparently, I thought he was going to do something and he decided to not do what he said he would do. In my bratty teenager, little sister kind of way I told him “I assumed you would do it.” In a very angry tone, he got in my face and told me I should never ASS-UME anything. Saying that it made a ___ out of U and ME.
I did learn to stop assuming a lot… about him anyway. And, reluctantly I will say in some ways he was right. We shouldn’t make assumptions.
Unfortunately, this is part of who we are as humans and how our brains work. We take a partial piece of information about a person or situation and we transfer that information and apply it to a current event.When I do this today, it drives my husband, Jay, crazy. He will ask me a question like- is a restaurant open for lunch. I will then answer without looking it up. I assume people eat lunch, most restaurants serve lunch, surely this one will be open for lunch too. Only to drive 30 min out of the way to discover it is closed. My understanding of what is expected, and what is true are not the same.
The people in our scripture lesson from the Gospel of John today are no less vulnerable to this thought process. Jesus and the disciples are walking down the road when they see a man who has been blind since birth. They do the natural thing many of us do: We ask why. Why did someone get sick, be born with a disability, suffer from mental illness? It seems to be against the natural order of things so we question.
What did I/ they do to deserve this tragedy or problem? It is the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?When the disciples see the blind many they assume that he or his parents must have done something to deserve it. Jesus tells them: neither he nor his parents sinned to deserved this ailment. Their assumption is wrong because they don’t have all the information.
After the man is healed; his neighbors start making assumptions. This miracle is out of their realm of understanding, impossible. So instead they try to rationalize what they cannot understand. For some of them it is easier to believe that a man they’ve known all his life has a mysterious twin brother they have never met and somehow, they have now switched places. As hard as that is to understand, it is more plausible to them than a miraculous healing.We are not immune to this error either. We try to explain away what we don’t understand. We blame people for getting sick- not eating right, or exercising. We hear people blame natural disasters on some punishment from God for an assumed evil. Then when something miraculous does happen we try to explain it away too. It must have been a shadow on the scan- not a tumor that has now disappeared. The medicine did what scientists designed it to do, the mud must have had medicinal properties. Anything other than a miracle that we can’t explain.
Then the Pharisees put in their 2 cents. After they can’t deny the healing, they begin to discredit the source. These are the religious leaders who everyone looks to for faith in God. These, one would suspect, would be the most accepting of miracles from God. But, instead they assume that it is not from God because it doesn’t fit into their preconceived understanding of how God works.So, they try to explain it away. Either this man is lying or the cause of his healing is from an undesirable source. It can’t be of God because it doesn’t fit in their God shaped box. When they can’t make the situation fit with their assumptions, they refuse to accept they might be wrong. They assume that what they know about God is correct, that God will only act in ways that are suitable to their understanding, they insist the man who is healed is wrong and they cast him out of the synagogue.
Unfortunately, we can’t write this off as something these “Pharisees” would do, because we do it too. Even if we believe in miracles, even if we believe that God works in supernatural ways we still struggle to accept that things/ people are of God when they don’t fit into our understanding of God. We have rules, just like the Pharisees, of what God and godly people, look like, how they act and how they think.Nadia Bolz-Weber is kind of a Christian rock star at the moment. She pastors a Lutheran congregation in Denver Colorado, is an inspirational author and spends a significant amount of her time traveling and doing speaking engagements. On first glance some might challenge her call as a pastor, and as a Christian. First of all she’s a woman, she’s a recovering alcoholic, she is covered in tattoos, usually wears jeans and a black tank top and she cusses like a sailor.
She doesn’t fit our stereotype of a pastor, religious leader or Christian for that matter. We tend to assume “those people” are clean cut, well behaved, never curse, never drinks, always knows their place, and whatever else you’d want to add to that list of expectations. But I have never read anything like her. I have never heard anyone else speak of Jesus and faith in a way that is so loving and approachable.Through her writings and stories my eyes are open to see the Holy Spirit in ordinary people and places one wouldn’t assume Jesus would be. And through her, many broken people have found healing in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
But isn’t this the story of Jesus? Jesus does the unexpected with the unexpected. Jesus challenges all our assumptions of what it means to be a follower of God. Jesus challenges our assumptions as to what it means to be loved and accepted, just as we are. Jesus ate with sinners, with those the community had condemned as unclean, unworthy and unwanted and in that act of hospitality said “no! your brokenness is beautiful, you are loved and you are accepted by the one who made you.”
Jesus tells us that in God we are loved, we are accepted, our brokenness can be healed and made acceptable through the power of the Holy Spirit.Jesus spits and makes mud. Spit is gross, spit is full of bacteria and germs, spitting on the ground is what you to do expel something undesirable from your mouth or insult the person in in your presence. And mud. Mud is made from dirt, the stuff we wash off our hands before we eat, the stuff that everyone has been walking on, the stuff that makes us dirty. And yet, repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus uses dirt and spit, the things we reject, to bring healing to someone who has been rejected by the community.
This man whom Jesus healed is one of those outcasts. As a blind man, he is a beggar, an outcast, so forgotten that the people don’t recognize him without his disability. Even his family doesn’t welcome him with open arms. Instead of celebrating the healing of their son, his family throws him under the proverbial bus to save themselves from being expelled from the synagogue. The religious leaders expel him for not conforming to their understanding of what was right and for not cowering to their insistence that he defame Jesus.When everyone else rejects him, Jesus seeks him out. Jesus welcomes him, confirms his faith and tells him that he is good, worthy and acceptable to God.
This week in Bible study as we work through Mike Slaughter’s Renegade Gospel, we talked about why it is difficult to see Jesus. It is often because we assume we know how, where, when and through whom God will act. We are blinded to the true actions of the Holy Spirit in the world. Our assumptions prevent us from seeing God in the ordinary because we only expect God to work in specific and extraordinary ways.We assume God only shows up in faithful believers when God has dominion over all the world. Or maybe you assume that God would never work in you or them; sinful, broken, rejected by good “Christians”. All because life doesn’t fit in the expected Christian Mold.
But we see over and over that this is not how it is. Jesus is always at work. Jesus always offers healing to our brokenness and pain. The Holy Spirit is always moving, creating, re-creating. God is always there we just have to open our eyes. We do this by practice. Realizing that God can and does act in ways beyond our understanding, beyond our expectations. The more we look for Jesus, the more likely we are to find him.The way you know it is of God is not whether it fits in our box but by its fruits. Are people being healed, loved, accepted, treated with kindness and compassion? Are people serving, caring, welcoming and generous to those in need? Then no matter the box or the packaging. This is of God.
God broke the mold when you were made. God is constantly challenging us to break the cycle of assumption and disbelief telling us the more right you think you are- the less you truly understand and any time we think God can’t or won’t do something we are wrong.This is the beauty of Jesus, showing up when we least expect it and don’t deserve it. Offering grace upon grace, using ordinary dirt, ordinary us and making miracles happen. All we have to do is open our hearts to see.