Posture matters

by susan on February 13, 2018

We continue to move through the Narrative Lectionary & the art of seeing. Here are some words for the journey that were shared this Sunday. The text is John 9:1-41.

What is your initial posture toward “the other”?

Before you can answer that question, it may be helpful to name who the “other” is for you – who you prefer to keep at a distance, who you do not understand, who you struggle to even see.

For me, it’s often the person who doesn’t look or think or talk like I do. It’s the person who doesn’t care about the things I care about or believe what I believe or the person who finds themselves in situations that I cannot begin to understand.

Like the young woman I met at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. We were clearly from two very different stations in life because I have not yet had to ask a stranger for a ride home from the grocery store.

I had seen her as I was exiting our downtown grocery store. Her baby girl caught my eye. She was sitting all wide-eyed & giggly in the front of the cart. I smiled back at her & could not help but comment to the woman who appeared to be her mom, “She’s so beautiful.”

Moments later, this woman approached me as I was getting into my car: “Excuse me, ma’am. Would you possibly bless me with a ride home?”

Seriously. Did she have to use the word “bless”? It’s like I was wearing a “yes, I’m a minister” badge that made me the perfect candidate for this ask.

My initial posture was one of concern & questioning:
“Sorry. I don’t have a car seat. Don’t you need a car seat?”
“You mean you would take a ride from a stranger?!?”
“Sorry. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Then I looked into her eyes & her baby’s eyes & a feeling came over me to do this thing. I reluctantly said yes.

She lived near the post office on Kings Road, so it only took about 5 minutes to make the drive. During our short drive, I learned that she had just moved to town, that she takes the bus, but how inconvenient it is to take the stroller plus groceries plus her 6-month-old baby girl whose name I can’t remember but I remember it means “sunshine”.

I helped her get all of her groceries out of the car, she thanked me for the blessing & that was that.

As I drove away, all I could think was … this is how the world should be. We should be able to trust, to share, to connect like this.

I felt grateful & hopeful & yet I started wondering how often I miss moments like these & how often how often my posture limits my ability to see & embrace the “other”.

Posture matters.

When I hear today’s story from scripture, I am reminded of this. There are a variety of postures on display beginning in the first 8 verses we read together & beginning with the man who was born blind.

He was an outcast.
He was a beggar.
He was a sinner –
there was no other way to explain his suffering.

When we see this man in our mind’s eye, how do we imagine him? What are some words we might use to describe his posture as Jesus passes by him?

I imagine him bent over & weighed down with shame.

The disciples have their own peculiar posture as well. They pass by & clearly see this man as little more than the cause of someone’s sin. They turn him into an object lesson. “Was it him or his parents who sinned?” they ask Jesus.

Jesus, though, is quick to defend & quick to heal.
Jesus is clear. This man’s blindness is not a result of sin. Period.

Blindness just happens & so do a million other things that cause us to experience isolation & illness & we are not to blame & parents are not to blame when this happens to their children (although they are often made to feel this way).

Jesus is once again overturning a system that has benefited some while leaving others alienated & even bent over.

Notice something here though, about the way we have embellished Jesus’ words. We are so addicted to our explanations that we have even twisted Jesus’ words a bit to help us make sense of things.

The NRSV interpretation reads, “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’
The original Greek, however, does not include the words “he was born blind so”. We added that little bit & it changes the meaning, doesn’t it?

That little addition sounds a lot like some of the explanations we like to give in the face of suffering, doesn’t it? Explanations like … everything happens for a reason. Too often this is our knee-jerk response to suffering.

Jesus has a different response though. He has a different posture. Instead of being standoffish & seeing this man as sin, Jesus leans in. He’s open to what God can do from here.

He makes mud our of spit & dirt. Spit would have been familiar to this beggar on the city streets & the clay is reminiscent of the dirt or dust used to create the first human beings. Jesus places this new-life-inducing mixture on the man’s eyes & suddenly he is able to see. The Light of the world enables a blind man to see for the first time in his entire life & instead of throwing a party, there is about to be an interrogation.

Why?

Because this man’s healing creates a huge conflict for everyone. It confuses their categories. It overturns their preconceived ideas. So they start asking questions – a lot of questions.

First, it’s the man’s neighbors:

“Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

How would you describe the posture of this man’s neighbors? (take a minute to name what you see)

I see separation & speculation.
They talk about him. They still do not see him.

They miss the miracle because they are so focused on trying to make sense of it – so worried about safeguarding the only system they know.

Then, it’s the Pharisees.

Because they do not understand him, because he does not fit the manual, they are totally at a loss for what to do with this blind beggar who has been the recipient of divine healing.

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” … they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 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. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then 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.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 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.

How would we describe the posture of the Pharisees toward this man?  (take a minute to name what you see)

I see certainty & hostility. I see fear. I see arms folded & closed off to the “other”.

When I was an occupational therapist, I became somewhat of an ergonomic specialist. I would perform workstation evaluations for co-workers. I would look closely at their postures while performing everyday work-related tasks. I learned firsthand that having the wrong posture can cause pain & discomfort & even injury. It can have long-term effects. There is good posture & bad posture. There is posture that is life-giving & posture that is dangerous & life-suffocating.

Posture matters.

Neighbors & religious leaders had postures that kept them from seeing this man as a beloved child of God & postures that kept them from seeing God for who he was.

They were too blinded by their suspicion & their need for certainty.
Jesus, though has a different way of positioning himself in relation to this stranger.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him…

Again, Jesus leaned in. Jesus leaned in when NO ONE ELSE WOULD. Not even the man’s parents are around to celebrate his miraculous sight recovery.

What about us? Where do we see ourselves in this story?

How is our posture?

What is our posture when we encounter difference?
Difference in appearance? In smell or dress? In mannerism or ability? In politics or religion?
What is our posture when we encounter struggle?
Are we suspicious & standoffish or are we willing to lean in & to see with the eyes of anticipation what can happen from here…what God can create or give or heal from here?

There is one more posture we have to pay attention to –
it’s the one that has been ignored too long & too often.

He may have begun as a blind & bent over beggar, but as the story progresses, the nameless man born blind begins to stand a little taller. He begins to see himself in a new light. His need to explain himself becomes less & less. His confidence appears to be restored. He may have been driven out, but he is no longer alone.

He has seen the Light & he believes in a God who is with him.

I imagine him standing a little taller as he looks into the face of the Messiah & declares “Lord, I believe.”

What might happen if we learned from Jesus & began to both receive & imitate his posture of embrace? I imagine that we too would begin to believe that new life is possible at every turn.

Amen.

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