10th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Aug 17, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
“If one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
I know that Jesus is trying to make a jab at the Pharisees. Saying that they do not see was is actually important—that dietary laws are not nearly as important to bodily defilement as is what you say and how you treat your neighbors—but is not only the Pharisees who get insulted by this saying…the blind community does as well.
Using blindness as a disparaging remark makes it seem as if blindness is itself something to be ashamed of or that blind people should be avoided. Something that the Pharisee community couldn’t possibly want to be. I know that the circumstances of disability were different 2000 years ago, but nonetheless we can take this opportunity to think about the importance and power of words.
It is just like a horrible comment I made once on a school trip in Orlando, FL. One morning the theater teacher, who was one of the chaperones, boarded the bus and announced: “change of plans kids…today instead of going to Islands of Adventure as planned, we will be going to Gatorland,” as he held up the brochure he had picked up from the rack in the hotel lobby.
A couple of years prior, on a family trip, I had gone to Gatorland. It was a small attraction with some alligators and a wrestling show. It was interesting to my pre=teen self for about 5 minutes, and then I was over it, but others in my family insisted on staying for a long time. I got frustrated and board…that was my remember of Gatorland.
Since I had this negative memory and opinion of the park I (without thinking) proclaimed to the bus: “NOOO…Mr. B…that is so gay.” As soon as I said it, I realized my error and tried to scoop the words back into my mouth. Regardless of his sexuality is was not precise language, but the fact that he is homosexual made me feel all the worse.
You see, I wasn’t saying anything about the sexuality of the place or the people who might enjoy going there…I was simply unthinkingly using that word “gay” as I had heard it used by others…to mean stupid & lame. Thankfully my teacher saw immediately that I realized my error and played off my comment by saying: “Yes Leslie, that is why they call it Gay-torland.”
But there are million other examples too…when we use a slur that not only hurts the person we intend, but also the group the descriptor actual applies to—retarded, girly, dumb.
So this morning, let both Jesus and me be examples to you of the downfalls of lack of precise language, especially using one demographic as a negative slur against another.
But let me get back to what Jesus says. I am not sure about the services available for the blind in 1st century Palestine, but I am pretty sure that blind people were not just wandering around (whether together or alone) falling into pits all the time. If you think about things today, people who have been blind for any amount of time usually adapt fast and can get around pretty well. Sometimes I think that two blind people could probably get around a whole lot better than a rookie-sighted person leading a blind person could.
I know I am always a little clunky when leading someone—blind or simply unsteady on their feet—and I usually push wheelchairs too fast or take corners too wide, bumping some feet along the way. My sight does not make me the perfect helper.
And if you think about it, people with the same problems help each other out all the time.
- AA sponsors are usually alcoholics in recovery themselves, constantly working the program as they help others to do the same.
- Stand-up comics—those known for making people laugh—sometimes have a hard time laughing themselves. Look at Robin Williams, who brought so much joy to the world, but was plagued by depression and anxiety himself.
And the same is true of the Christian life. As Martin Luther said “we are all beggars” but we are still capable of leading one another to nourishment…one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. That is all sharing the gospel is anyway. We do not have to be perfectly pious Christians to tell someone about Jesus. We do not have to pray all the time in order to share God’s love. We do not even have to have read the entire Bible, let alone understand it, to do God’s work with our hands. We do not have to completely understand God to be able to teach others.
Look at the Canaanite woman, who understood who Jesus was and what he could do even though she was an outsider—not a sheep from the house of Israel. We know nothing about her, so we cannot be sure that she did not perfectly follow the Law, but we sure that she did either, but we do know that even after Jesus calls her a dog (another example of using a whole population as a negative slur), she has enough faith to fight for what she knows Jesus can provide—healing, new life, and ultimately acknowledgement of personhood. She calls out “Lord, help me” almost identical to Peter’s cry while attempting to walk on water “Lord, save me.” That does not immediately convince him, as it did for Peter, but eventually he sees her for the beloved child of God she is, deserving of love and respect, of equity and justice, of healing and new life.
The texts today say to me: following the rules is not as important as how we treat people. Jesus tries to show the Pharisees this, but is ultimately reminded of it himself by the Canaanite mother.
No matter how much it might seem like you less than others…
No matter how many times you have slurs used against you…
or about you…
No matter how often you are bullied—put down in an attempt for others to lift themselves up…
No matter how desperate things might seem…
I pray you remember that God has by no means rejected you, but instead gathers you in and offers you mercy. Amen.
 Matthew 15:14, NRSV.