I was out walking and listening to the PC(USA) Hear the Word (warning: they’re not perfect at keeping updated–the podcasts are there in the archive, but not always on iTunes for the new week) Lectionary podcast and the Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave podcast for Lent 4A (because I am just that much of a geek.) It’s my Saturday morning practice. I also read the RevGalBlogPals Tuesday Lectionary Leanings. I am way prepared for hearing the Word on Sunday mornings and my pastor almost always says something completely different than what I’ve read/heard along the way. Anyway… This is a reflection–not an exegesis of the passage. I’m not trying to force the passage to say anything, I’m just expressing where my thoughts went.
The Sermon Brainwave folks spoke about the blind man’s parents and their fear of exclusion from the synagogue, the community, “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22 NRSV). Then, in fact, when the man chooses Jesus, the Pharisees do drive him out of the synagogue, “‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him…” (John 9:33-35a NRSV). So the man is excluded from his community, but Jesus goes and finds him. Wow.
But I was thinking about the fear of the man’s parents, the fear of exclusion, and it made me think of the end of the Michael Radford directed The Merchant of Venice (2004) starring Al Pacino. (I’m borrowing liberally from ideas contained in my dissertation here, though I am writing this fresh.) I’m currently waiting to hear about a paper proposal I wrote for this film, so it’s not really surprising that it is in my head, but still. As a version of The Merchant of Venice this film’s success is arguable. Where it works best, though, is in its depiction of alienation and isolation. It ends with three moments of isolation. The first is the one the passage brings to mind. Al Pacino as Shylock, forced to convert to Christianity, stands before the gates of the Jewish ghetto, watching his people file in, unable to enter himself. He has been thrown out of the synagogue. He has been broken. That is his punishment. (I can’t find the scene on YouTube, but here is a trailer that gives an idea of what the film is like.) He has lost his community. That’s a different cultural depiction of the same isolation the blind man’s parents must have feared.
The film then shows a very 21st century moment of isolation, alienation, and exile as Jeremy Irons’ Antonio stands alone in the dark behind the three couples. Jeremy Irons claims he did “not play Antonio gay” (DVD Special Feature), but the subtext is clearly there. So the man who nearly gave his life for the friend he loves is done now; he is left alone in the world of heterosexual couplings. This is a powerful depiction of why I support Amendment 10-A and full inclusion in the church. The LGBTQ people I know who have tried–who continue to try–to live according to the so-called “chastity clause” are some of the most lonely and isolated people I know. Even when they choose to be “celibate for Jesus” churches look askance at them. They are not given full inclusion. They may theoretically be allowed to be in leadership roles, but those roles aren’t offered to them. (This is what I’ve seen and heard–other people’s experiences may be different.) They are the “other” even when they are following these strictures. Talk about isolated, alienated, and alone. I’ve been there in my own way, but nothing like I’ve seen for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. So maybe it’s time to change perceptions, the way we see (Hah! I can bring it back to John 9).
The final moment of isolation, and the final moment in the film, shows Zuleikha Robinson as Shylock’s daughter Jessica running for a moment from Belmont and the Christian enclave she has chosen over her father. She ends up at the water and gazes over it and then looks down at her mother’s ring on her finger and is clearly caught between her two worlds. And who hasn’t felt that sometimes? I feel that yet. It makes me debate all day whether to hit the publish button. I don’t always know just where I stand and I don’t want to hurt/offend anyone.
But in the text, when “Jesus heard they had driven him out…he found him” and the formerly blind man said “‘Lord, I believe’ and he worshiped him” (from John 9:35-38). Jesus went seeking, just as he does for the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost person. Karoline Lewis, in the Sermon Brainwave podcast, mentions that John 10 is the continuation, the exegesis, if you will, of this story. Jesus is the shepherd whose voice we hear, whom we follow. He is the one who seeks us when we have been excluded from everywhere else. So we, with the man born blind, can worship him. Amen.