Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blinder Than Blind


Last week we were talking about how Simon's name was changed to Peter, the Rock, the Stone; and how his name was changed in Spanish to Pedro, which is like Piedra, stone. And then Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven, which were invisible, or symbolic, or both; and quoted from Isaiah, so the other apostles would know that Jesus was putting charge!  Yes, just as Hezekiah's prime minister got the King's keys, so does Peter. Then Matthew's Gospel says, "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Now imagine the apostles: what? what?  Why would the scribes want Jesus dead...and what's this raising after 3 days stuff? Jesus, pleeeze stop talking strange and upsetting us! "And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." What's rebuking? No guesses, that's ok, it's an old word. It means to chew someone out, severely correct someone. It means Peter is going to straighten Jesus out!  "But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."  So Jesus actually straightens out Peter, and calls him Satan! But why? No guesses, don't worry. I don't think the apostles understood Jesus either. "Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Tell me, if you are taking up, carrying, a cross in those days, what does that make you? A criminal? Yes, and what will happen to you? You'll be crucified? Yes. I imagine the apostles are more confused than ever. They aren't criminals and neither is Jesus; why is he saying this? 'Cause he'll get crucified later? Yes, Jesus is making some prophecies that the 12 won't figure out for a while. "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." More prophet-talk, more confused apostles. "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he shall reward every man according to his works." Now the first part of that sounds like the prophet Daniel. A few months ago we looked at one of his prophecies which included "behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man...And to him was given dominion and glory." So the apostles would have thought, "Jesus is quoting Daniel...about himself!" And they might've calmed down some, thinking that later on all those other strange prophecies Jesus made over the last few days would make sense: eating him, drinking his blood, taking up crosses. And after the Son of Man, that is Jesus, comes in glory with his angels, "he shall reward every man according to his works." What are works? What you do? Yes. So, does Jesus care about what you believe, or what you do? What you do! Well, he cares about both; remember when Peter stepped out on the water, he was doing, acting. But why did he start sinking? He stopped believing! Yes! Peter had to act...and...believe! Yes, because Peter was made of a body'n'soul, yes, so he had to! Yes. So when Jesus says "he shall reward every man according to his works," does he mean he doesn't care what you believe? No...he just means you have to do good things too. Yes.  Hey, do y'all know anyone (don't say any names) who believes it's important to wear a seat-belt in the car, but never does? Yes. Because...they're uncomfortable. Uh-huh...who agrees it's more comfortable not to wear them...everybody. OK: if someone believes seat-belts are important, but never wears them, tell me about their belief. They don't really believe it. Oh...did you look into their soul? No, I see they don't wear the seatbelt. Yes...they may believe it a little, but not enough to change what they do. That's why Jesus always reminds those creatures that have a body'n'soul, that's us, that if we truly believe what he teaches, we can tell we believe it by...what we do. Yes. Soul and Body; Faith and Works; Believe and Do; Act in Faith.

About a week later, "Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain." Why bother going to the top of a high mountain? Try this: is it better to offer a sacrifice in a hole, or on a mountaintop? A mountaintop! Because? It's closer to God. Yes, so Jesus took them be closer to God. Yes. "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light." The apostles may have remembered that after Moses visited God on Mount Sinai, his face shone, too.  "And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him."  Now Elijah is the #1 prophet who raised people from the dead and performed food miracles like Jesus. And Moses made the Covenant with God, and brought the 10 bananas...10 commandments! oh yeah, right, to the Israelites. This shows the apostles that Jesus is at least the equal of these two very important guys. And if that's not enough, "a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Tell me, when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, what did God say? The same thing? Yes, so once again, God in Heaven quotes from Isaiah. "When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe." Y'all may remember when Manoah and his wife saw the angel zoom up to heaven, they fell on their faces, too.

A few seconds later they looked up, and Moses and Elijah were gone.

Trick question: were Moses and Elijah in Heaven? Yes!...No! Well? No! Right, why not? Jesus hadn't died yet! Yes. Heaven was closed to sinners. Were Moses and Elijah in Hell? No? Right, they weren't in Hell either. Purgatory? Good guess, but there's no Purgatory yet. They were in S-h-e-o-l [on the board], a place where the souls of the dead stayed before heaven was available. It's pleasant enough, but it's not Heaven. In Greek stories, who knows where dead people went? Hades? Yes, H-a-d-e-s [on the board], good. Sheol and Hades are similar. Well see later on that Jesus visits Sheol.

On the way back down the mountain, the apostles have Elijah on their minds. They asked Jesus, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Now, what sort of jobs did the apostles have before they followed Jesus? Fishermen?  Yes, and other regular jobs. They didn't spend their workdays studying scripture like the scribes and Pharisees. So they ask Jesus, who they know is the Messiah, to explain to them about Elijah coming before the Messiah. Jesus probably reminds them of the last prophecy of the Old Testament, when Malachi says "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." Jesus said "Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased." He means the scribes and Pharisees. "Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist." Of course the scribes and Pharisees knew who John was, but their pride blinded them to John's significance, that he fulfilled Malachi's prophecy.

Speaking of blindness, our next story, which is the whole chapter 9 in John's gospel, is one where Jesus heals a blind man. I'll be the blind man! Alright; and you two volunteers are his parents. The rest of y'all are the crowd and the Pharisees. "As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth."  Blind man, is that true? Yes? Parents, true: blind from birth? Yes. How would you know? We're his parents! Yes, just checking. "And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" The disciples have the common understanding of sin in those days: that if you sinned, or your parents sinned, or your ancestors sinned, God would punish you here on Earth. Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him."  Jesus means the man isn't blind because of his or his parents' sins, but so that Jesus can turn this into yet another teaching opportunity.

Then Jesus said "I am the light of the world." Now, I'm Jesus; blind man, stand by me. Shut those eyes! Now does anyone want to guess how I heal him? You lay hands on him! Good guess, that's sort of right! I do touch him. First I reach down and get some dirt. Now what do I do? No guesses? ptoo...ptoo...I spit in the dirt...ptoo. Close those eyes blind man! Now I make mud out of the dirt and rub it on his face? His face? What's his problem, that he's ugly? No, on his eyes! That's better. Hold still blind man, you volunteered for this; besides, this is make-believe spit-mud...there. Now go wash it your eyes...well? I can see! Yes. See your way back to your desk. Crowd, tell me about the it magic? No. Right. Was Moses' stick magic? No!  Was the tassel of Jesus's cloak magic? No! Elijah's cloak? No! Remember watching the comedian on the TV funny? No, the comedian! Right. The TV has no sense of humor, it's just the thing in the middle that conducts the humor from the comedian to you. So the mud is just another physical thing-in-the-middle, a medium, to carry God's power in our physical world from God to us. 'Cause we're made of a...body'n'soul!, yes, so God comes to us spiritually and...physically! Yes.

But everyone isn't happy about this miracle: "The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man."..."They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes." Uh-oh, Jesus is healing on the Sabbath again, doing doctor's work. "The Pharisees...asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them.  Oh dear, once again people are...getting...aggravated! Yes! "So they...said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." Well, let me assure you as a Pharisee that no blind man can recognize a prophet. I'm the expert in that department, and I don't see no prophet nohow in Jesus. Why, I bet this is a scam, a trick, and he was never blind in the first place! Let's ask his parents.  Parents, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" Parents, speak up! We don't know! Do y'all still say he was blind from birth? Yes? The parents were afraid of the Pharisees,  who "had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue." What's Christ in Hebrew? Messiah! Yes, so the Pharisees would throw anyone out of the synagogue who said Jesus was the Messiah. The parents aren't any help, so they ask the man again how he was healed. He says, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?" He wonders if the Pharisees want to follow Jesus! They must love that.  "They reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." And the man says, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes...Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." The formerly blind man now can see, and not just physically; he can see spiritually, too, and believes that Jesus is at least a prophet, and comes from God. Now the Pharisees go nuts! "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out of the temple area. See, this is plain old pride in action, just like Adam and Eve's in the Garden. The Pharisees just assume that the man is a worse sinner than they are, and that they know God better than any beggar.

"Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?"....He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him.  This reminds me of Isaiah's Christmas prophecy: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's manger; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand." The Pharisees are too proud to recognize the Messiah, but a blind, illiterate, humble beggar can.

Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Now the Pharisees are smart, and they know that Jesus's remark is aimed at them in some annoying way: "some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, "Are we also blind?" Which is their way of saying their eyes work just fine, and if Jesus means they can't see spiritual truth, well, he's flat wrong. Now what Jesus said is hard to understand, which makes it a bit of a prophecy. But can someone tell me, in this story, can the blind man now see? Yes. And can his parents? Yes. And the Pharisees? Yes...No! No? Don't their eyes work? Yes, but they can't see Jesus is the Messiah. Yes, they won't see; and this prophecy won't be limited to the Pharisees.

And finally Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."  Uh-oh. Not accepting Jesus's authority as the Messiah isn't just a matter of opinion, it's a sin.

Y'all are still kids, and someone always has authority over you. Your lives don't have a lot of room for pride yet: your parents feed you, house you, clothe you. Your teachers teach you what you don't know. You can't drive, can't make money, can't reach things on high shelves. Depending on others for so much tends to make you humble. But as you get older, you gain the knowledge of how to do all that yourself, and that makes adults proud...real proud in some cases. But every adult, even a king or president, is still under God's authority, and still depends on God even if they won't admit it to themselves, just like the Pharisees. It's always a struggle for adults to be humble; if pride's not a problem for you now, it will be a problem soon enough. Even nowadays one adult will tell another, "Your pride is blinding you to the truth."  So always remember the Pharisees in this story: they weren't obviously evil like King Herod, killing babies. But refusing to humble their intellects before God's authority was a big enough sin to keep them out of heaven.

That was the whole chapter 9 of John's gospel. Speaking of being humble and letting God be in charge, let's look a bit at chapter 10 and that'll be it for tonight.

In this chapter Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd; in Spanish, el Buen Pastor. Remind me, pastor is Spanish and Latin for...shepherd, yes. Remember last week the crowd looked "like sheep without a shepherd" to Jesus; and part of the Loaves and Fishes miracle was to show the people that the apostles had Jesus's authority. In this chapter Jesus has more to say about his sheep, his flock. Tell me about "sheep without a shepherd"...are they safe? No. Why not? Other animals would eat them. Yes. And if they're hungry, do they hunt rabbits? Ha, no they eat grass! Yes...does the shepherd just follow them around the countryside like a baby duck following the momma duck? No, I think he takes them to where they can eat good grass or something. Right, he leads them to food and water. So shepherds have two main responsibilities...which are...protecting the sheep? Yes, and...getting them food? Yes. Jesus says the shepherd will "find pasture" for the sheep. And he also says "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." So if a wolf attacks the sheep, the shepherd runs off? No he fights the wolf. Yes the shepherd will risk his own life to save the flock. Jesus is making a prophecy about his own death.

Now Jesus is a Jew, a descendant of David under the covenant God made with Moses, and preaches to Jews. So when he talks about his sheep, who's he talking about? The Jews? Yes, God's Chosen people, the Sons of Abraham. But he also says, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." This is a prophecy, too. Who would those other sheep be? Are y'all Jews? No. But are you part of Jesus's flock? Yes! So...we're the other sheep? Yes, all the people who believe in Jesus but weren't Jews.

So how many shepherds are there? One! Yes, who is...Jesus. Yes. So why does every parish have a pastor, a shepherd, if Jesus is the one shepherd? 'Cause Jesus is in heaven? Yes, he's not physically here for the time being. And centuries before Jesus, Jeremiah prophesied  "I will give you pastors, shepherds according to my heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." So even though there is one shepherd in heaven, he has lots of assistants on earth.

Now tell me about sheep and shepherds: who is in charge? The shepherd. Who knows best? The shepherd. Who has authority? The shepherd. Yes, it's very obvious. Suppose the sheep decided they didn't like their shepherd; could they fire him, run an ad in the paper and hire a new shepherd? Sheep can't do that. OK, how about Jesus's flock, we're people. If we don't like our priest or bishop can we fire him and hire another one? No. Right. We don't hire our pastor, he's appointed. Like the apostles: Jesus picked them, not his followers. He even picked Judas, who betrayed him; so shepherds aren't always saints. Catholics sometimes murmur and grumble like Israelites and Pharisees about not being able to fire their pastor and get one they like better. But if the people can fire the pastor, is the pastor really in charge? No. Who would really have the authority? The people! Yes, the flock, the sheep. And suppose half the flock liked the pastor and half wanted a new one...what then? Well, the unhappy people could get their own I guess. Yes, and split the flock. That is not what Jesus taught, and not what Jeremiah prophesied. If God "gives us pastors according to his heart, who shall feed us with knowledge and understanding," how can we hire or fire them?

Real sheep are naturally humble; they know they depend on the shepherd. But we prideful humans like to think we know better than God, or his appointed shepherds.

Class is over 13, 12, 11 seconds early!