God’s Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers: Empathy Today and Its Significance for Being the Best Neighbors, Authentically–The Wave Is Water: a Reflection on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9:1-12

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is like the oceans coming at the world as a unified tsunami. It is blinding perspective in so many ways and causing complacency on one hand and panic on the other. I prefer seeing the oceans of water coming at us, one wave at a time.

At the age of 45, Michael May regained his sight. May was blinded at age three, and lived 42 years of his life without sight. In 1999, he was given the possibility to see again through what was at that time a revolutionary transplant surgery. When the doctors removed the surgical bandages from his eyes, May couldn’t perceive space or see height, distance, depth, or three-dimensional shapes. Michael May didn’t get discouraged by the long learning curve. He knew that learning to see again would involve not just the operation, but a lifelong quest to learn, grow, take risks, and change. As he left the hospital, May peppered his wife with questions: “What’s this? What’s that? Is that a step? Is that a flower? He rode elevators over and over again for the sheer pleasure of finding the hotel lobby after the ride. May played catch with his son, horribly missing many balls before he finally got the hang of it. He continued to struggle with his transition to the reality of sight. The transformation was slow. As a result, every day and even every failure seemed like a new opportunity for Michael May to learn, grow, and change.[1]

Like Michael May, all of us have the opportunity to learn, grow and change given the blinding reality of COVID-19. Just as the man blind from birth experienced God’s hope, peace, joy and love, so can we.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic. California is under a “Shelter In Place” Order and as of this live-stream, four other states have joined California (New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois). We have been asked to sacrifice for the benefit of the common good. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but so is serious illness and death. As of 6:45am this morning, worldwide there are 317,308 cases, 13,642 deaths and 95,953 who have recovered.[2] Precaution and proactive hygiene are imperative. Sheltering in place and practicing social distancing when outside will prove to be lifesaving and a return to a more normal way of existence sooner than later.

We continue to see behavior motivated by fear. Fear limits an awareness that God is in our midst. Fear blinds us in perceiving and seeing what is really going on around us. Our worldview becomes clouded. We develop blind spots. Barbara Brown Taylor an Episcopal priest and the emerita Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, writes this about worldview, after spinning a globe laterally and then tipping it upside down with Australia being on top and Canada on the bottom when teaching a class at Piedmont College, “None of us have “a worldview” until we see the world from a new angle. If we are used to seeing ourselves on top, we may feel oddly combative the first time we see someone else up there. We may forget that the reason we are on top is because people like us made the maps.”[3] Right now, the pandemic has turned our world upside down.

The texts in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9:1-12 reveal that we must listen to God. Like Samuel and the man blind from birth, listening to God, in the many ways God speaks, is imperative. It is by listening to God that we gain courage to learn, grow and change.

In John 9:1-12, a man blind from birth is given back his sight. Jesus and his disciples encountered the man blind from birth and the disciples immediately tried to affix blame. “His disciples asked him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man or his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”[4] Blindness and sight are imbedded in this story and throughout the Bible for that matter. There was an understanding in Jewish culture that blindness was caused by the sins of the parents. And so, the implications of Jesus stating in the Gospel of John that he is the light of the world has significant meaning. Jesus as light healed the blindman’s sight, but Jesus’ teaching and healing also brought light on the darkness of the misleading thought that the sins of the parents brought on any number of life’s calamities, personal and collectively. The man blind from birth was given sight in more ways than one. He could see colors, shapes, people and all the things we can see. But his worldview about how life worked and his role in the community for the sake of the common good was also restored.[5]

Today is The Fourth Sunday in Lent. Through authentic self-reflection, we are assured that we belong to God and one another. And, we’re not to be intimidated or threatened by oceans of water coming at us like a unified tsunami, because it is really one wave at a time. We can see the subtle nuances of reality only when we can see reality from perspectives outside the familiarity of our comfort zone.[6] Again, Barbara Brown Taylor, the author of Holy Envy writes, “The quiet revolution of seeing the world in another way helped me …by reminding me that I am riding a wave made from the much greater ocean. My best view of divine reality is still a partial view… I am riding on the truth of that, trusting God alone. I am riding on the truth, trusting God alone to guide my wave and carry me to shore.[7] Like the man blind from birth, begin to see the subtle nuances of life. Authentic self-reflection will move you out of familiar comfort zones as you learn, grow and change.

Receive hope, peace, joy and love. Have your sight restored. For most of us it’s not a literal healing. Listening to God and hearing God say your faith has healed you still happens. Listening to God through prayer and reading the Bible assists you to receive hope which heals despair, peace which heals chaos, joy which heals sadness and love which heals hate. Listening to God shows us the middle way between complacency and panic. God has a warm relationship with you. God loves you and wants you to love others with that same warmth. Remember, a warm relationship is characterized by listening, being empathetic, caring, loving, acting and speaking with compassion. The man blind from birth listened to Jesus and was healed… And so can you.

In such a time as this, those who are religious and non-religious, are required to listen. We are required to listen to government and CDC directives. And, Christians are to listen to the voice of God, as we experience it through worship, reading the Bible and prayer.

In such a time like this, those who have spiritual leanings to those who have begun a relationship with Jesus, must weigh the value of learning, growing and changing. For only then is it possible to become a better person, one who exudes hope, peace, joy and love in times when despair, chaos, sadness and hate take hold on human experience.

Be authentic like the man blind from birth. Listen to Jesus. Experience Jesus. Show people Jesus.

[1]Adapted from an article written by Robert Kurson, “Into the Light,” in Esquire (June 2005).

[2]Stats taken from the Worldometer an organization run by an international team of developers, researchers, and volunteers with the goal of making world statistics available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format to a wide audience around the world. Worldometer is owned by Dadax, an independent company. Worldometer has no political, governmental, or corporate affiliation.

[3]Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2019), 43-44.

[4]John 9:2-3

[5]In the two paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Rebecca Abts Wright, Jane Anne Ferguson, Andrew Nagy-Benson and Michael L. Lindvall as found in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 77-79, 79-81, 88-90 and 90-92.

[6]Adapted from Michael L. Lindvall as found in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 2, 92.

[7]Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy, 60.

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