Yesterday I was in my doctor’s office for a routine lab test to confirm that the 10 mg of generic Lipitor is keeping cholesterol within my doctor’s prescribed limits. An issue of WebMD was the best choice among really lame publications in the waiting area. Passing over articles on reducing belly fat, seven ways to prepare chicken and secrets for a good night’s sleep I was attracted to a report out of Australia that older people who have an active social life – that is, friends – live 22% longer! Do we really need WebMD to tell us that?
Many bemoan the apparent disintegration of our families and communities. Millennials are disaffiliating from their parents’ religion at unprecedented rates. Schools, Scouts and service centers are finding it virtually impossible to recruit sufficient volunteers for essential programming. Sociologists chart the disintegration of urban neighborhoods as the rural areas continue to empty of population. Some frantically bewail an attack on the very definition of marriage and family. The result is a broad-based anxiety, heightened sense of isolation and fear for personal safety all the while we become more isolated. No wonder we don’t need a magazine in our doctor’s office to tell us that people with a rich assortment of friends are happier and live longer.
Our social reality is an ideal “place” from which to hear the Gospel for this Fourth Sunday in Lent – the story of the man born blind. Deborah J. Kapp, professor of Urban Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago brilliantly debunks the simplistic claim that families and communities of the past were more connected, attentive and supportive – that people took better care of each other! Kapp invites us to more carefully look at the story of the man born blind through this “lens of anxiety about collapsing social capital.”
We see that our prized and protected presumptions about some prior idyllic age are what collapse. Each of the social supports that were supposed to be in place for the blind man fails to deliver. The man’s communities, the religious authorities, even his family want to see a certain “reality” and fail to “see” him for who he is or appropriately “deliver” for the man. Religious leadership doesn’t want to believe the man’s story because it opposes the story they want to tell and the power they want to retain – authority to define sin and dispense grace is a blinding narcotic! Even the man’s parents put their own social standing before their son’s welfare. Perhaps we too are so blind to this overly-familiar text that we fail to see its compelling relevance for our lives.
Yesterday, something else I was reading jumped off the page. This time I was at home in my recliner, not the doctor’s office. Although it is not an ancient text nor reverenced as Scripture, it delivered a corroborating indictment of blindness in…
those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. … In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.
What do we see when we look upon our families, neighborhoods, work places, faith communities? How do we view and exercise authority? How are we called to receive, to heal, to serve? Are our eyes opened when we read the Scriptures? Do we truly recognize the Christ before our eyes?
The contemporary text is from Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, #94-95. You may link to the original [here] which opens to the entire document.
Professor Deborah J. Kapp’s insightful analysis of John 9:1-41 may be found in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 2 edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. pp.116-120.