Poor, Crippled, Lame, and Blind

Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee by Pierre Subleyras, c. 1737

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost  |  Luke 14:1,7-14

“Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” he said.

Watching the people around him while they watched him, Jesus noticed the not so modern trend of people befriending those from whom they expected to get something—social speculative investment, if you will.

Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Artus Wolffort, 17th century
Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Artus Wolffort, 17th century

In response, Jesus urged them to invite a new class of dinner guests—those from whom nothing was expected. No return invitation. No ride on the social escalator. No benefit to the host. Invite those who cannot repay you, he said. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

We want to understand it theologically. Spiritually. Theoretically. Metaphorically. Anything but literally.

Most of the time we improve our understanding by thinking of scripture in terms of metaphor. This may be an exception.

Here a metaphorical understanding, a spiritual interpretation, would free us from having to do anything. We could tell ourselves that our friends were already poor, lame, crippled, and blind, at least spiritually, and most of us would not be wrong. Of course, our own friends could do the same, and they would not be wrong, so we have little room for self aggrandizing. And nothing would change.

Try hearing the admonition as a literal instruction. Invite the poor to dinner. Share your meal, your food, your living, with the lame and the crippled. Put your best china out for the blind. Two things change—our circle of acquaintances, and the circumstances of the people who need change the most. Poor people get fed, clothed. The crippled, physical and mental, get help, maybe some medical attention. The blind see a better life.

As for a spiritual interpretation, most of us may find that in the eyes of God, we ourselves are the “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Try reading the third chapter of Revelation and the letter to the undistinguished folk in Laodicea, in what is modern day Turkey.

It is a humbling thing to see oneself with the eyes of those who are not as blind as we.

Still, take heart. There is a word of grace here for all of us, no matter how humbling it may be. Once we know ourselves for what we are, we might warrant an invitation to the feast.

Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee by Pierre Subleyras, c. 1737
Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee by Pierre Subleyras, c. 1737

Blind Expectations

Liturgy of the Palms  |  Mark 11:1-11, John 12:12-16

Lectionary Project

We know the story. The image is iconic, even to those who have only a passing familiarity with Christianity: Jesus riding a donkey, palms and cloaks covering the ground, a crowd calling out his name and welcoming him to Jerusalem.

The trouble is that the crowd were expecting someone else. They did not see the man they welcomed, the one riding the colt and accepting—perhaps tolerating—their accolades. Instead, they saw the person they had been expecting, a savior, a deliverer, a king.

To be sure, there were many ideas in the minds of those people, just as there were many ideas swirling in the minds of Jesus’ closest followers. The inner circle had heard Jesus pronounce enough strange and dark predictions that they were not certain what lay ahead of them in the great city. The crowd along the side of the road expected a great deal, though little of what they expected would come to pass.

They were blind to what was before them, seeing only what they wanted to see. They believed that God was going to deliver them from the Romans and restore the monarchy, and they thought this man Jesus had come to accomplish it. It is what they wanted to believe, and which of us will question our own beliefs?

Cherry BlossomsThere is our problem. People of faith have certain understandings of God, certain beliefs that we hold as true, even though we may be just as wrong as those people shouting on the side of the road two thousand years ago. Like them, we make the mistake of holding blindly to our expectations of God, regardless of what God intends, regardless of what God might do right in front of us.

We confuse our expectations of God with our faith in God.

It is a paradox. Rather than consider that we might, in some particular or major way, be wrong, we hold blindly to our belief system, thinking that it is the same as faith. We substitute our beliefs about God for our faith in God.

We are happier with a belief system that does not change than we are with a God who might not meet our expectations. Questioning our beliefs feels like questioning God.

That is why there are so many angry religious people, why there are always people who will shout and strut and do great harm, physical or otherwise, rather than question their own ideas. Their beliefs give them certainty. Doubt fills them with fear, and fear too often is expressed as anger.

Here’s the thing. If God is God, then we may lay aside our entire religious framework and rest certain that when we put our thoughts back together, God will still be there. If God is God, our opinion of the matter changes nothing.

It is another paradox of faith—we may feel undone by our doubts and still pray to a God about whom we feel we know very little, or in whom we have little faith remaining.

We think that prayer is a request, a petition, and perhaps it is. We say that in prayer we offer thanks, praise, love, as we communicate our thoughts and feelings to God, and perhaps we do. At its base, prayer is a confession of faith. We pray because on some level, beyond our doubts, we still believe God exists. We still believe that God hears us. We still hope that God responds, though it may be in ways that do not meet our expectations.

They stood by the road and shouted to Jesus. Few, if any, believed that they were welcoming God into their midst: they thought they were welcoming a king. Nevertheless, like other blind men who sat by the road and called out for help, Jesus heard them. He knew what they wanted, and he knew that in a few days he would disappoint them. He also knew that despite their mistaken beliefs, regardless of their misinformed shouts, he would far exceed their expectations.

Cherry Blossoms 3


Fourth Sunday in Lent  |  John 9:1-41

The story of the man who was born blind is one of the longest in the New Testament. Maybe we should think about that.

The people following Jesus see a man, begging by the side of the IM001059.JPGroad. They point to him and ask Jesus, for whose sin was he born blind?

What a question. In the entire passage, the only people who have a grasp of God are Jesus and this nameless blind man. (Surely someone knew his name. Either the gospel writer did not, or perhaps the anonymity of the man frees him in our minds.)

His blindness has nothing to do with sin, Jesus tells them. He might have said, Your ideas of God are wrong, extinct, yet you carry them around, use them to blind yourselves—this blind man sees better than all of you.

We stir up our ideas about God and smear them like mud across our eyes.

Wash it off, he says. Open your eyes.

We want reasons. The gospel writer gave us a story. We want to know the purposes of God. The gospel writer only gave us one.

HandInPool2 009Love.

Why can’t we see that?