I can see but I am blind

John 9:1-45

The passage we heard begins with Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. In ancient times it was assumed that any ailment or disability was a punishment for sin and so the passage opens with Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about this. They carry the common attitude about disability and Jesus challenges that assumption. Jesus affirms that God is at work in this man who lives with blindness and that his blindness is not the result of sin. By making this assertion Jesus was giving value to a man who was probably seen as a burden by his family and community. It was pretty radical stuff for the time.

Jesus identifies himself as being sent by God to be light in the world. There are at least 18 words in Greek that may be translated as sent. The word used here may also be translated as exchanged and in this verse it may be related to the idea that Jesus will exchange light for darkness, that Jesus is being light in a dark world and that Jesus is exchanging common knowledge for uncommon. Jesus was sent by God to change the way people see and experience the world.

And that’s exactly what happens in this story. Jesus makes a paste of mud and puts it on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Silaom. When he returns from washing he can see.

Everyone sees him and questions whether or not he is the same person. They view him differently because he can see. Up until this point in his life he has been known as the man born blind who begs. He doesn’t have a name. He is known for his blindness and for the fact that he begs. He keeps saying to his neighbours…I’m still here. I’m still the same person but the people around him are unable to accept that he has changed or that he could be anything other than the blind beggar.

The Pharisees, who concerned themselves with observing proper ritual questioned the man and tried to make sense of who Jesus was. Is Jesus of God? Is he a sinner? He must be a sinner because he healed on the Sabbath. But if he is a sinner, how can he heal at all? They couldn’t agree on who Jesus was or the meaning of the healing. So they asked the man. He wasn’t much help. He affirmed Jesus healed him and that God was at work through Jesus but beyond that he couldn’t explain what happened to him.

Finally, the temple authorities spoke to the man’s parents. His parents didn’t want to get in the middle of this conversation and so referred the authorities back to their son. This scripture was written at a time when Christianity was splitting for Judaism. The author of this gospel was watching Christians being removed from temple membership. The temple so was central to the Jewish faith and community that being removed from the temple meant not only a loss of the ability to worship but a loss of family, community and identity.

The man’s parents were not prepared to be removed from the synagogue. They weren’t going to stop their son if he believed in and followed Jesus but they were not prepared to give up their identity and community. The split between Christianity and Judaism was more than a split between religions. It was also a split in families and communities. Throughout Christianity’s history there have been many splits that have torn families and communities apart. During the reformation, as a response to corruption, we see the powerful remain with the established church and the poor, along with those concerned for their welfare, split from what would become the Roman Catholic Church. In our own denomination, we can remember 1988 when we started talking openly about sexual orientation and ministry and the split that caused within church communities and sometimes within families. These splits when they happen are painful for all involved. For many the choice to go or to stay is one about how best to be faithful. For others there is a fear of losing their community and they will take the path of least resistance.

My own experience in 1988 was one of turmoil. I was thirteen and new to learning about sexual orientation but I couldn’t understand how a God of love would welcome some and not others. I agreed with our minister who was a strong defender of the general council’s decision but I remained silent because I knew that my opinion was a minority in my congregation and in my family. I was afraid that to speak out and voice my opinion would result in the loss of my faith community and create conflict in my own family.

In the story we heard this morning, the temple authorities are continuing to try and figure out what just happened. They go back to the man again and ask him about Jesus and how he was healed. The man who was healed seems to see this as an opportunity for evangelism. He had been touched and healed by Jesus so he thinks perhaps if he tells the story again, the temple authorities will understand and soften their position towards those who follow Jesus. Instead those authorities remain firm is drawing a line in the sand between the Jewish and Christian faiths by claiming their connection to Moses and reminding the man who had been healed that Jesus is new in town, no one knows anything about him. They suggest that he will disappear just as quickly as he came.

The man who was healed continued to try and reason with them by sharing his own experience of Jesus but there was no openness to hearing his story and he is removed from the temple. He loses his faith, his community and his family. But Jesus hears about what happened and goes looking for the man. When everyone walked away, Jesus returned. In returning, Jesus gives the man a new faith, new community and new identity as a follower. Jesus continues to change the way people experience the world with his closing statement to the Pharisees: “If you were blind you would have no sin. But now that you say, “we see,” your sin remains.” Sin was originally a military term that had to do with missing the mark. If you were blind, there was no way you could hit the mark. If you took a shot and missed no one would blame you. No one would expect anything of you. If you can see and you miss the mark—that’s another matter. Think of how important a good shot would be in the midst of a battle. If you could see a good shot and missed you would be blamed.

In this story, the Pharisees began by not knowing about Jesus. They were blind to who Jesus was. They hadn’t missed the mark, or sinned because they hadn’t had the opportunity to take a shot. There is no blame. The man who was healed, shared his story, gave them plenty of opportunity for learning and but they chose not to take the opportunity. He gave them the ability to see. Because they have the ability and opportunity to see but choose not to, they have blame for missing the shot.

There are lots of places in our world where we don’t know and don’t understand because we haven’t been exposed to something or haven’t had opportunities for learning. In this sense we are blind. Once those opportunities are placed in front of us, if we choose not see then there is blame and there is sin.

Today, the Truth and Reconciliation Process (TRC) wraps up in Edmonton. There was a time when residential schools were accepted as common practice. Through the TRC process we have had opportunities to hear stories and listen, just like the Pharisees and temple authorities had opportunity to hear the healed man’s story. Up until this process we could say that we were blind. Most of us had not had opportunities to hear the stories of residential schools. Now those opportunities have been placed in front of us and the choice becomes ours…Do we choose to pretend that we can’t hear and can’t see the stories around us or do we draw a line in the sand and choose to figure out what it means for us.

The man who was healed chose to struggle with his experience of Jesus even though it meant losing everything. Are we willing to struggle with what we have heard around residential schools even though it may make us unpopular in some circles? Will continue to ignore the experiences of those around us who need our love and compassion? Residential schools may not be a line that splits this congregation but it is certainly drawing a line between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. Which side of that line do we choose to be on? Do we choose to stand with the survivors and their families (the man who was healed) or do we choose to be like the Pharisees and temple authorities who are unwilling to take the story and experience to heart? The choice is ours.

Advertisements

Come and Drink the Living water

Come and drink of living water

This reflection is based on John 4:5-42 and tells a story of my own experience with this passage.

The story begins with Jesus hot and thirsty…again…In the temptation story we see Jesus hungry and thirsty as well. Here, he is stopped by a well and waiting for someone to come and pull water from the well for him. When the woman approaches he asks her for water and she questions his propriety in even speaking to her. He responds to her question by offering her living water. What a wonderful image this is. We might think about the elixir of life…One drink of this water and you will never die.

Those of you who read last week’s post may remember that I wrote about the word eternal which may also mean a long life. So here Jesus may be referring to not a life that lasts forever but life that is long and full.

In considering this passage, we need to remember that it was written, approximately 50-60 years after Jesus’ death and is not intended to tell a factual story. The author is trying to help the community understand who Jesus is for them. Many biblical scholars agree that the words we hear in this passage, and in much of John, are not attributable to Jesus himself. That doesn’t make them any less true but it does put their context in a different light. The words attributed to Jesus speak to what it is that he can do for people who are willing to risk trusting his presence in their lives.

In his conversation with the woman in this story, Jesus identifies that she has had several husbands and that she is currently living with a man she is not married to. We aren’t told anything about their relationship but we can make some assumptions and leap to some judgements. As an unmarried woman, living with a man her virtue would certainly be questioned. She would not have been accepted within the community and her status would be low. And yet this is the person that Jesus spoke to, made a request of and offered the gift of living water. She is the one that returned to a community that did not welcome her, told them what she had experienced and through her the community came to recognize Jesus as Messiah. With that, her status in the community would increase and she would no longer be an outcast. Simply by sending her to fetch the community, Jesus gives her living water: the ability to be a useful and valuable member of the community. The living water that Jesus gives changes from person to person.

I want to tell you a story of living water in my own life and share an experience I had of this scripture. A number of years ago I was on a silent retreat. Through the retreat there was a spiritual director who was helping to guide me and make suggestions about how I might engage more deeply with the Holy.

She suggested that I read this passage several times and after I had read it several times to imagine myself into the story. So I imagined myself into the story and became the woman at the well. Jesus approached me and asked me for water. I backed away in fear. He asked me what I was afraid of. I didn’t want to respond. I wouldn’t look at him and I wouldn’t respond. He eventually coaxed from me that I was afraid of other people: I was afraid of what they might think of me and how they might respond to me. He promised that he wouldn’t hurt me and held out his hand to me.

I have two beings that I carry around, that, for lack of a better description, might be described as spirit guides. I call these two the wise ones and sometimes they pop into my mind in situations where I am uncertain about something. As Jesus was promising not to hurt me and I was cowering in fear, the wise ones appeared and coaxed me to risk reaching out to him. As I touched his hand, water began to flow from the well and became a stream. The stream bubbled up and I could see Jesus and the wise ones in the middle of the stream. They were dancing and laughing. The water glistened on them and I realized that they were tossing something into the air that looked a lot like bubbles. The bubbles floated in the air, bounced in the water, some popped, some floated away. These bubbles were all my fear and insecurity. What had been a heavy weight became a gift, something beautiful, something playful. I could physically feel the weight lifting off me. This was my gift of living water.

All of us carry things that we would like to change about ourselves or regrets about our lives—things we wish could be different. One of the ways we can shift our spiritual and emotional energy and tap into the living water that Jesus offers us is through spiritual practice.

Spiritual practices are various forms of prayer. There are the prayers we are used to that use spoken words or thoughts. Spiritual practice may be written word such as journaling or poetry. It may be art or music. Movement such as yoga or dance or walking a labyrinth can be spiritual practice. There are some traditional forms within the Christian tradition such as Lectio Divina which involves reading the same scripture three times, each time with a different question to draw you deeper into it. There are multiple ways to engage spiritual practices. A spiritual practice is anything that we do that intentionally connects us with the holy and opens us to God’s spirit moving within us. Part of the key to spiritual practice is to listen for how God is speaking to you. It is sometimes much easier for us to talk but we forget to be quiet and listen. I want to encourage all of us to engage in regular spiritual practice.

The living water that Jesus offers in this passage changed the way in which the woman at the well was perceived by her community. It also changed her self-perception and her ability to see herself as loved and valued by God and by the messiah. Spiritual practice grounds us in God’s love for us. It renews us, refreshes us and allows us to be nourished by the water and bread that Jesus provides—the streams of life giving water and the bread of life.

Jesus: Personal or Political Savior?

This reflection is based on the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1-16 and uses the story of Nicodemus’ life to explore themes related to being born again. It also offers some alternative reflections on the question of what it might mean to be saved.

I’m going to begin by saying that the passage we heard today is one of my least favorites and one that over the years has caused me many hours of struggle and angst. It raises many questions for me. What does it mean to be born again? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What happens if you don’t believe in Jesus? What does it mean to have eternal life? What does it mean that the world will be saved through Jesus?

There are lots of questions without easy answers. This passage is also one that has gotten Christians into trouble historically because it speaks to a theology of exclusiveness and condemnation. This theology at times has been defended with violence, destruction and disrespect as seen in the crusades, missionary work around the world and residential schools here in Canada. The people engaged in these activities were promoting their faith in God through Jesus, often with good intent, but in many cases the results were damaging to individuals and communities.

I remember the first time someone asked me if I was saved. She was a Baptist friend from school when I was in about grade 7. I didn’t understand the question. She finally had to rephrase the question to “Do you believe in God?” My response was “Of course. I go to church every week and I just got confirmed.” In hindsight that’s probably not what she really wanted to know. She wanted to know if I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior which is different from believing in God. But it speaks directly to this passage in the question of what it means to believe in Jesus. In their book, The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that we need to ask two questions of ourselves in reflecting on our faith as Christians. The first is a common question, the one that my friend was trying to ask me: Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? Many of us have been exposed to this question in some form at various points in our lives. It speaks to the personal relationship that we have with God through Jesus and our sense that God is alive and active in our personal lives. The other question that Borg and Crossan suggest is central to our faith is this: “Do you accept Jesus as your political Lord and Savior?”[1]

In the story of Nicodemus we see these two questions coming together. In this passage Nicodemus wants to know who Jesus is. So far in this gospel we’ve heard the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding and Jesus clearing the temple. Both stories would earn Jesus some notoriety but for different reasons. Nicodemus presumably heard about or observed one or both of these stories and so he seeks Jesus out. He comes at night, in the dark, perhaps so none of the other Pharisees will see him. Nicodemus has a sense that God is at work in Jesus. When Nicodemus articulates his belief that God is at work in Jesus, Jesus responds by saying that you cannot see the kingdom of God without being born from above, or born again, depending on the translation.

Nicodemus questions this assertion by asking how anyone can be born after getting old. How can you be born a second time? Jesus’ response this time is to connect the kingdom of God to both the physical and the spiritual. You cannot enter the kingdom of God without a physical birth represented by water and a spiritual birth represented by the Spirit. Jesus is a asserting that both the physical and the spiritual are necessary to experience God. We cannot focus on one or the other. When we open ourselves to the spiritual realm we do not know what will happen or where we will be led.

So if we think about the stories of turning water into wine and turning over the tables in the temple it is unlikely that Jesus planned either event. He found himself in the situation and opened himself to God and look what happened: water became wine. And then he saw an injustice he could no longer tolerate and so responded by turning over the tables in the temple—all because of the spirit. He could not have done these things without a physical body. He could not have done them without God’s spirit. When we open ourselves to God’s spirit we don’t know where it will take us. The wedding at Cana very much deals with a story of the physical. The story at the temple deals with a physical injustice but very clearly moves Jesus from the personal into making a political statement.

And this is where the connection between the personal and political occurs. Jesus is trying the help Nicodemus understand this for himself. Pharisees, like Nicodemus, were concerned with trying to remain spiritually pure through physical laws which were concentrated in personal behavior and household ritual. The story seems to suggest that the way to God’s kingdom is not through spiritual purity as contained in the law and ritual but through an openness to the spirit which might lead people away from some of the rules advocated by the Pharisees.

The most famous part of this passage: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” comes not from Jesus but from the author of John. This is the only place in the Gospels where this idea appears and the scholars involved with the Jesus seminar, assert that this reflects the author’s theology. Part of what makes our reading of this passage so challenging is that in ancient Greek there are no punctuation marks. Tradition in translation has assumed that all these words come from Jesus and so the last seven verses are often placed in quotations. Current scholars believe that only three of these verses were intended to be spoken by Jesus and the remainder are the author’s continuation of the thought.[2]

So if we hear it the way scholars believe it is intended to be read it sounds like this: “Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

And then the author adds their own thoughts: And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

It is these last four verses that come from the author of John which have gotten Christianity into trouble throughout history.  Historical translation translates verse 16 as “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” There are three words in this verse that have multiple translations. The word translated as belief can also mean to trust. Perish can also be translated as lost or destroyed. Eternal can also be translated as long or as ages. So with this in mind the passage might sound something like this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may not be lost or destroyed but may live a long life.” In this sense the passage becomes grounded again in this world and the realities that surround Jesus. When we place our trust in Jesus and his way we find our life becomes much fuller and as Jesus identified earlier in this passage, we don’t know where that will lead us.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see the gospels connecting the spiritual life with the physical life. How we live our physical lives has a direct impact on our spiritual lives and our attention to our spiritual lives has a direct connection to physical well-being. But how does that connect with the two questions I spoke about earlier? Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?  And do you accept Jesus as your political Lord and Savior? The two questions go hand in hand and are directly related to our response to the gospel. We need Jesus and the spirit to sustain us, to lead us, to help direct us to God. Our response to that God leads us into the political realm. I’m not talking about partisan politics here but about our relationship with the people and communities that surround us. Nicodemus shows us how this gets lived out.

The idea of being born again is sometimes portrayed for us a particular moment when our lives change and left at that. Kee Boem So reminds us that while a birth is a one-time event, after the birth there is growth and learning. Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for something that would help him in his personal life to keep the rules and laws of the Pharisees. That conversation with Jesus touched him and changed his life but he still had to grow into it. Further on in the John we see Nicodemus following in Jesus’ footsteps as he defends Jesus. John 7:45-52 The police are sent to arrest Jesus but they find no evidence and so don’t arrest him. The Pharisees question the police and ask why he wasn’t arrested. Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus and says there needs to be proof before he can be arrested. After Jesus’ death it is Nicodemus who brings the spices and oil for anointing the dead.

So putting all these pieces together, the story of Nicodemus reminds us that our personal relationship with Jesus is only helpful if it leads us into more faithful relationship with the people around us. It reminds us that we cannot separate our own personal spirituality from our engagement with others and that our faith is grounded in a physical reality. If it is only about a spiritual realm in a future life we have missed the point of the gospel message.


[1]. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week: the Day by Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem (New York: HarpersCollins e-books, 2006), 215.

[2]. Robert W. Funk at al., The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1883.

Choosing God’s Path

This reflection is based on the story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11.

We are entering the season of Lent. Lent is an introspective time—a time to look within and identify what our values and priorities are. In the process of taking us closer to the cross—and to death—Lent leads us into dark places. In the passage of scripture we heard this morning Jesus is struggling with his own identity and who God is calling him to be.

Just before the passage we read is the story of Jesus’ baptism. In Matthew it is the first story we have of Jesus as an adult. It is the first time that Jesus has appeared publicly. I often think of Jesus as a young man but for his time Jesus was quite elderly. Life expectancy in first century Palestine was around 29 years. So what we see in this passage is not the struggle of a young man trying to figure out his life’s direction but an older man trying to make sense of what his life has been about and what legacy he wants to leave behind. He also has nothing to lose because whether he dies a natural death or dies on the cross his life will be short. Will Jesus give in to the temptations set before him or will he make his choices matter?

In order to make sense of this passage there are a few words that need some explanation. We begin with Jesus being led into the wilderness to be tempted. We often think of tempting as being enticed into something but in the Greek the word used here also means “to test, to try, to examine, to prove.”[1] So Jesus is in the wilderness not to be enticed by evil but to be tested or to be examined.

And the person tempting him is known as the devil or satan. For the Hebrew people satan was originally an adversary or an accuser and could be a normal human. But satan was also a position in the heavenly court who had the responsibility of identifying evil and presenting a case to God. Eventually satan became a corrupt prosecutor.[2] As this idea evolved we see satan becoming the one who would try to lure people towards evil. With this tradition comes the idea that there is an actual being called satan or devil that works to destroy.

For many of us, we understand that there is evil in the world. People do terrible, horrible things to themselves and each other but the idea of evil as an incarnate being doesn’t sit well for many of us but in Jesus time that concept would not have been uncommon. In this story the author seems to be using the image as the prosecutor who is trying to prove a case.

So first we see Jesus being tested with food. He’s been fasting in the wilderness, is presumably hungry and weakened. Most of know that we will eat today and tomorrow and many of us will eat well. But for the people in Jesus’ context starvation was a very real possibility. Most didn’t know where their next meal would come from. With starvation a reality, having stones turn into bread would be amazing but it doesn’t solve the problem. It gives Jesus bread for the moment but it doesn’t change the reality that the unjust system keeps many people in poverty and starving. Jesus reference to the life-giving word of God is a quote from the book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6-8) where the people are being given instruction to live faithfully by loving God with all their heart, soul and strength. So Jesus has to decide what is more important—his immediate need or the big picture which involves living faithfully.

And then Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem and put on the highest point. The tester tells him to throw himself off the temple to prove that God will protect and save. The temple would be a busy place and if Jesus threw himself off the highest pinnacle hundreds of people would witness his miraculous salvation. It would propel Jesus to instant stardom but what would it accomplish? People would follow him around and he would be known for his theatrics but would it really change the world? And does God really go around changing the laws of physics? If you throw yourself off the top of a high building you will be hurt and so Jesus responds essentially by saying “don’t mock God.”

And finally Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain and shown all the nations of the world. The challenge for Jesus here is whether he will opt for political power which would put him in control and he could implement whatever type of kingdom he wants or whether he would choose the path of the suffering servant. The trade-off for having power over the world is worshiping Satan who is corrupt and in doing so Jesus would give up his voice that speaks for God.

The cost is too high and so Jesus refuses the tempter’s offer yet again. But this story raises questions for us. Where do we draw our lines in the sand? Are our individual and immediate needs more important than living faithfully? Do we choose to do things we know can only end badly by saying “God will protect…If I have faith it will all work out”? Does then end result of behavior justify how we get there? Jesus answered “No” to all these questions. He chose God’s path. We are also given opportunities throughout our lives to make similar choices about how we will live and where our allegiance lies. Our commitment to following God isn’t something we do once but we need to reaffirm that commitment on a regular basis.

Jesus didn’t choose this path as a young man. He chose this path as someone in his later years. In this story we see Jesus fully commit himself to God and God’s ways. We sometimes have this idea that changing the world is for the young and yet Jesus chose to change the world in his old age. Change is not necessarily the realm of the young and I know many seniors who are changing the world a bit at a time. God can work through us at any point in our lives.

Lent is a time for us to make a similar commitment. In many Christian traditions Lent is a time when people give up something but in recent years it has shifted to reflect the idea of taking on something new—of reorienting ourselves to God and God’s work in our lives.

May the season of Lent be a time for us to re-orient ourselves to God’s path in our lives and the world.


[1]. Adams, James Rowe. The Essential Reference Book to Biblical Metaphors: From Literal to Literary. (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2005). 292. 

[2]. Adams, James Rowe. The Essential Reference Book to Biblical Metaphors: From Literal to Literary. (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2005). 292.

Being Busy

This reflection is based on the Transfiguration story in Matthew 17.

Jesus takes Peter, John and James and goes up the mountain. Suddenly Jesus begins to shine. He is lit up from the inside out. Then Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus. You might remember Moses and Elijah as ancient leaders of the people.

And the disciples are shocked and surprised. Up to this point they don’t really understand who Jesus is.  They don’t understand what it is that Jesus is being called to do or how they are participating in his work. Peter gets a bright idea: he’s not really sure what’s going on so the impulse is to keep busy so he suggests that first task that comes into mind: let’s build tents. Tents suggests the idea of getting comfortable and settling in for a while so perhaps Peter expects that Jesus and Moses and Elijah will be spending significant time together on the mountain.

One response to discomfort is to appear busy so we don’t have to look at whatever is making us uncomfortable. It is a coping mechanism so that we seem to be dealing with whatever is happening around us. In this story we have Moses and Elijah suddenly appearing to Jesus. I would be shocked to see a couple people from the ancient past suddenly appear within my line of vision. Having something else to focus on, some busy work can be helpful in the moment to ease the discomfort and keep us from panicking but when the busy work is done the problem is still there.

So when Peter offers to build the tents as a way of helping him cope with something that shouldn’t be happening the Holy Spirit comes on the scene. Peter and the other disciples don’t get the opportunity to escape into busyness because now there is light coming through the clouds and a voice speaks to them:  “This is my own, my chosen one. Listen to him!” Okay so now they can panic. And they do.

There aren’t supposed to be people from the past. There isn’t supposed to be this kind of light from the sky and there isn’t supposed to be disembodied voices speaking to them.

How often do we see something that disturbs us and in order to avoid really addressing the problem we end up keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have the time, the energy or even the perception to address the issue.

Sometimes after a death people try to keep busy. Maybe there’s all the banking and legal issues that need dealing with. There are funeral arrangements that need to be managed down to the finest detail and then there’s work to go back to. And it is true that these are all real and necessary activities but when there is a stop in the activity the person we love is still dead and there is still grief to attend to.

We see violence somewhere else in the world but it doesn’t touch us, we are busy and have our own lives to live and so we keep busy without really stopping to look. But the violence is still there and it is still real.

In our own congregation we can see that what we are doing is not sustainable but if we keep busy with worship and activities and fundraising (all of which are a part of who we are) we feel like we are doing something to keep ourselves afloat. As soon as we pause we see we are still in the same situation. It’s like someone who is miles from shore treading water to keep from drowning: as soon as they stop treading water they will drown.

So the disciples don’t want to see what’s happening around them. Before and after this story Jesus talks about his own suffering and death and resurrection. None of this makes sense to the disciples and so they try to keep themselves busy.

What’s our response to discomfort—collectively and individually? Are we willing to look directly at whatever it is that is making us uncomfortable or do we keep busy so that we can avoid seeing and feeling our discomfort?

In speaking to the disciples, Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was to come. He was trying to help them understand and make sense of his life and ministry but they didn’t want to understand and so missed the opportunity that is given to them in this story. Both Moses and Elijah brought messages to the people that required some convincing. Moses had to convince the pharaoh to let the people go. Remember the signs? Who would believe those signs? And then once in the desert Moses had to constantly convince the people that they were following God and that God was present when it seemed they were alone. Elijah convinced the widow to feed him even though it seemed like there would never be enough food for them to survive. He convinced the people that there was only one God through his fiery showdown with the prophets of Baal. These are thing that should not have been able to happen and yet they did. But in order to see God the people needed to look beyond their disbelief at the events around them. They had to stop and really see.

When we come to places in our own lives that are painful, uncomfortable or frustrating we also need to stop being busy. We need to look directly at whatever is causing our pain and wait for God. It can be difficult when we feel like we are drowning to stop treading water but another response, like swimming,  might be more helpful.

What are the places in your life that you are keeping busy to avoid seeing or feeling something? Are you able to stop being busy and wait for God to speak into those places and offer direction or guidance?