How easily do you let yourself off the hook?
I was hungry on Thursday – and it was still a few hours before I was to meet a friend for dinner. Mr. Uthoff and I had finished our usual Thursday walk at Norwood, (sometimes called golf) and I was sitting at the bar, enjoying my usual Lenten glass of water. The complementary jar of mixed nuts, dried fruit mixture and other salty goodies were there on the bar beckoning. I had my first handful. And then I remembered – I had chosen NOT to eat between meals. What was I going do? Now I know this is not an end of the world kind of temptation – but I was hungry, and it was going to be a while before I ate. It would have been so easy to let myself off the hook. I had already started. What are a few more cashews in the grand scheme of things? It was then that one of the things I had noticed about today’s gospel in my preliminary homily preparation struck me. It was the tendency that a lot of the characters in the gospel fell prey to – to let themselves off the hook for what they knew/saw. It is almost shocking, how deep the self deception goes, or at what cost people let themselves off.
The blind man’s parents do it at the expense of the relationship with their own son. Can you imagine THAT conversation the next day around the dinner table? “Really, mom and dad? You were the first one’s I ran to tell. And you didn’t even have the courage to tell them what I told you? That’s all you would have had to do. They wouldn’t have blamed you. Thanks for throwing me under the bus…” Because of their fear of the social and political consequences of being associated with Jesus, because of the obvious pressure of the Pharisees, bent on their own agenda, they let themselves off the hook. “He is of age, ask him.”
The Pharisees do it at the expense of their own integrity. Their questions make it clear that they are not seeking the truth, only their version of it. They let themselves off the hook from the miracle by focusing only on the DAY the miracle was performed – the Sabbath. Because it was against the laws to do work on the Sabbath – Jesus OBVIOUSLY was a sinner – and they OBVIOUSLY did not have to listen to him or change their life because of him. How easily, by clinging on to ONE piece of the story, did they let themselves off from the implications of the rest of the story.
In fact, the blind man is the only one who follows the chain of experience where it should lead. It starts with his healing. “I was blind, but now I see,” becomes the bedrock experience of faith for him. He repeats it over and over again, each time, gaining new confidence, new strength. “What this man did for me – it is enough to believe in. It is enough to follow.” Once he accepts that truth as a starting point, then everything else follows – including his choice NOT to let himself off the hook. You see that gradual progression in the ‘titles’ he has for the one who healed him. “The man called Jesus”, ‘a prophet’; ‘a man from God’; and finally, “Lord” “Who is he, that I may believe in him?” “He stands here in front of you.” “I do believe Lord…” And he finds himself thrown out of the temple and by extension – from the very society and religion he had followed – because he chose NOT to let himself off the hook.
And you and I – at what price do we let ourselves off the hook? Or what are the areas or arenas in our practice of the faith where we lightly excuse ourselves from the consequences of being a follower of Jesus? Because the temptation of these wonderful but LONG stories that John tells so well – last week, today and next week – is to let ourselves off the hook by believing they are only the story of that woman at the well, that man born blind, that Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Don’t do that. Don’t let yourself off so easily.
- Perhaps it is our blindness about the social justice teachings of the church. We hang on to some of the truths of the church, but not the whole picture. The prophetic call of the Bishops to end the death penalty, the invitation to protect the sanctity of life in the womb, or the challenge to look at the inequities between poor and rich that are furthered by our tragically flawed public education system in our cities – too difficult to face – so we let ourselves off the hook.
- Maybe it is our complicit silence in the face of ‘politics as normal’ in Washington DC, where any budget for this coming fiscal year is frozen in gridlock – and we don’t raise a voice or send an email or anything. We elected them – it’s their responsibility…
- I’m just a college student. It is okay to get stupid drunk on occasion. It is okay to experiment with sexual boundaries. It is okay not to take responsibility for my own prayer life – God will understand if I skip Sunday mass because of the big test on Mon. am. And we let ourselves off the hook…
- Maybe it is our apathy in the face of our civic responsibility. “It’s only a municipal election – a few fire board and school board and local leadership: My vote doesn’t matter.
It was a handful of mixed nuts that nearly undid me – that made me want to let myself off the hook. I suspect I am not alone in that tendency. This week – pray for the grace the blind man received – to see, and then to not let ourselves off the hook for the consequences of that seeing…