Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The man born blind

Jesus was walking with the disciples and the encountered a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus spit on the ground and made mud from the dust and saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes. Jesus told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. When the man did so, his sight was restored. When Jesus found the man next, he asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. (From John 9:1-38)

When Jesus asked people if they believed, it was never belief in doctrine. He was always asking if they believed in Him. He was inviting them into relationship. He is still asking. He is asking us if we believe in Him. He is not asking us if we believe in the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed. He is not asking us if believe in the Virgin Birth or the existence of heaven or hell. He is not even asking us if we believe in the divinity of Jesus. He is asking us if we believe in the Risen Christ.

It is quite proper, at this point for us to ask, who is this Risen Christ. “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe.” And the answer still is, "The one speaking to you is he.” We are asked to believe that we can hear the voice of God and that the voice we hear is from God. We are asked to believe that we can know God and have a relationship with God. And we are asked to believe, not because someone has told us that this is so, but because we have experienced God and know it to be true.

God does not care what name we use. All we are being asked is to recognize the voice. We are being asked to believe in that inward sense of God, just as we believe in our spouses and our friends. We know them, trust them and love them and we know that they know, trust and love us as well. We are asked to trust and be faithful to the voice of God within, even when it is asking us to do things that frighten us to the core. God will show us things about ourselves that we are afraid to look at. God will ask us to do things that we may be afraid to do. Every fiber of our being may be trembling in fear and saying, “No.” And we are being called to the place and trust where we can say “Yes.” We are being asked to believe that this is a voice of power, that we will be held and protected. We are being asked to believe that even when there appears to be no way forward, a way will open. We are being asked to believe that we will be healed, that our eyes will be opened. We are being called into faithfulness in all things because we can trust this voice. We are being asked to follow this voice and no other because it is the voice that leads us to wholeness.


Will T


Blogger Elizabeth Bathurst said...

This is just perfect.

April 10, 2011 9:51 PM  
Blogger E. said...

A very poignant point you're making. Given me cause for thought. :) Thank you.

April 11, 2011 2:47 AM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Okay, Will, I’m going to be difficult (in a friendly way, of course). I want to ask you if it’s really as simple as that!

For instance, you say that Jesus was asking the man who had been blind from birth, whether they believed in the Risen Christ. But Jesus wasn’t risen yet when this incident happened. So is the belief in the Risen Christ a doctrine Jesus that was asking the man to believe in, beyond simple, straightforward belief in the person standing in front of him?

Or let’s forget the idea of the Risen Christ, since the gospel doesn’t actually mention it in this connection, and focus instead on the idea of the Son of Man, which the gospel does mention explicitly. Was that not, too, a belief about who Jesus was, which went beyond simple belief in the person standing in front of him?

If we throw out everything beyond what we actually see in front of us, we find that vanishingly few of us actually see the physical person of Jesus standing in front of us. Most of us see no more in front of us than Pharisees who refused to believe in Jesus, some of whom undoubtedly experienced spiritual transports of one sort or another, saw in front of them in the years that Jesus was alive. And yet Jesus condemned those Pharisees because they would not come to him. What does this mean?

The older I get, the more wary I become of simplicities such as that “God does not ask us to believe in doctrine”. Jesus himself taught doctrine right and left. Most of the red-letter stuff in red letter Bibles is doctrine that Jesus taught. How can one simply believe in Jesus, when one is rejecting the red-letter stuff he taught?

April 11, 2011 10:06 AM  
Blogger Cat C-B said...

Thank you for writing this post, Will.

I want to say more, but I'm feeling what may be a stop to doing so. Perhaps we'll be able to talk about it face to face at some point--but, whether or no, I wanted to at least say thanks.

April 11, 2011 11:32 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

I don't mind you being difficult. Of course it is not as simple as all that. What do you expect in 3 paragraphs? :^) After all, wasn't my whole exposition a statement of doctrine? Yes, Jesus taught doctrine but I don't recall anywhere where he made it a requirement for following him. He said his followers would be known by their love. He indicated that they would be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the imprisoned.
He always seemed to be more concerned with how people lived that with what they thought.

Maybe I wasn't clear. Jesus did not ask the man born blind to believe in the Risen Christ. He asked him to believe in the man standing in front of him. Likewise, we, living now, 2000 years later, are being asked to believe in the Risen Christ because that is the Christ we encounter today. And of course this whole discussion positively drips with doctrine.

This post is partly a reaction to those who would use doctrine as a way of judging who is deserving of being called a Quaker or even a Christian.

We are asked to have faith in the little we have seen or heard of Christ or God or Whatever, and if we are faithful in the little, we are promised that more will be given.

So thank you Marshall for being difficult, even if my reply is as long as my original post.

Will T.

April 11, 2011 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Steven Davison said...

Will, I really appreciate this post. I think you're turning us from shadow to substance by focusing on the actual encounter rather than any ideas about the encounter with God. And also on "believing in" rather than on beliefs, on the active dedication of heart, soul and strength, rather than dedication to a set of propositions.

As Marshall adds, though, the man standing in front of the blind man had made a lot of promises and was already delivering on some of them (including, of course, the healing that had just taken place), so believing in him, it seems to me, meant believing in those promises; that is, believing in the immanent coming of the kingdom, as Jesus the Christ had proclaimed it (not necessarily the same thing as the gospel as the church today proclaims it).

The intriguing thing to me about this particular healing is Jesus' invocation of the Son of Man. Jesus invoked the Son of Man at least twice when healing: in this instance, and in the case of the lame man who was lowered through the ceiling on a palette. In that story, Jesus uses the sign to prove a point in his argument with the scribes who were present: "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." (Mk 2:10-11)

"Son of Man" is famously the title Jesus claims for himself most consistently and unambiguously throughout the Synoptic gospels, yet the tradition has largely ignored the title. It does not sound as exalted as son of God, or even Christ/messiah. Clearly, though, Jesus linked his authority as a living man and also as the risen Christ to this title. We are forced to plumb its meaning if we are to understand either the active, healing Jesus or the risen Christ. Which gets us into the doctrinal swamp, after all, as Marshall suggests. And this one is especially dense, since there are so many very disparate sources for the title.

I've made a special study of these sources and I have come away with more questions than answers. What do we know for sure, though, at least from how Jesus uses it? That the "Son of Man" was a source of his charismatic power while on earth and that it's somehow linked to the apocalyptic son of man passages in the book of Daniel, involving a return for judgment in theophany. To the passage in Daniel, we can add the way that Ezekiel used the phrase to refer to himself as the direct recipient of God's revelation, and the First Book of Enoch, an apocalyptic pseudepigraphical work extant at the time with a long section about the Son of Man, in which he seems to be an angel.

I have some speculations about all this, but it's just such speculation that you are calling us off of, and back to the substance of the encounter. I love this kind of speculation, but it's good to be reminded regularly that it's not what really matters. Thanks.

April 12, 2011 8:30 AM  
Blogger Mr. Bishop said...

Bless you, Will!

June 26, 2011 5:46 PM  
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June 29, 2011 9:48 AM  

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